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Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Rex Upsets The Hoodie

27 Dec

On this, the final week of the National Football League’s regular season, two old rivals who date back to 1960 and the arrival of the American Football League square off – the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Our final Throwback Thursday post goes back to a divisional round playoff game these 2 franchises played on January 16, 2011. It was one of the few postseason setbacks the mighty Patriot dynasty suffered in the last 20 years, as the Jets and their bombastic coach, Rex Ryan, pulled off a 28-21 upset right in the Pats’ backyard at Gillette Stadium, where they’ve been practically unbeatable over the years. It was the game of a lifetime for Jet quarterback Mark Sanchez, at the time a bright, young prospect who was expected to become the team’s savior, the next Joe Namath. He threw for 3 touchdowns – to Ladanian Tomlinson, who was closing in on the end of his Hall of Fame career, to Braylon Edwards, another rising star at the time, and to Santonio Holmes, who would go on to have a memorable Super Bowl moment later in his career with Pittsburgh.

The real story of the game was Ryan’s Jet defense, which shut down the New England ground game and forced Pats’ QB Tom Brady to pass. Although that never turns out to be a negative result for the Patriots, on this day Brady, arguably the greatest signal caller of all time, couldn’t match Sanchez when it counted. New York sacked him 5 times and intercepted him once. Ryan, who had a habit of tweaking his nose at New England coach Bill Belichick, the dreaded evil genius in the hoodie, with lines like “I respect him but I’m not gonna kiss his Super Bowl rings”, was the surprise winner on this day. The Jets couldn’t sustain the success, however. They lost the AFC Championship game to Pittsburgh 24-19 the following week. Also, Sanchez regressed to the point where his Jet career ended with an embarrassing “butt fumble” play in later years, Tomlinson retired and both Holmes and Edwards became divas who were run out of New York for their attitudes, although Holmes, as previously noted, revived his career later on with the Steelers.

 

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Tom Brady wasn’t the GOAT in the AFC Championship game for the 2010 season

(photo from NFL Memes)

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Dan Marino’s Demise

20 Dec

The 2018 season is winding down for the National Football League, and on this, the second-last week of that season, a pair of Florida-based teams meet on the schedule, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll venture back to an AFC playoff game played between these 2 teams on January 15, 2000. This game would turn out to be the final one in the illustrious career of Miami quarterback Dan Marino, but on this day the Jaguars didn’t exactly give him a royal sendoff. Marino retired after this game holding most of the league’s passing records, but he certainly didn’t add anything positive to his resume in this contest. Coach Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars dominated the game from the opening kickoff. Mark Brunell threw a pair of touchdown passes, to Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, and Taylor added a 90 yard scoring run. The Jags’ defense got in the act, also, with Tony Brackens returning a fumble 16 yards for a TD. In what amounted to a complete steamroll, Jacksonville piled up a 41-0 first half lead before Marino salvaged a little pride with a touchdown toss to Orande Gadsden to cut the margin to 41-7 at the half.

The Jaguars didn’t let up in the second half, even though they replaced Brunell with backup QB Jay Fiedler. The second-stringer added 2 more touchdown throws and Chris Howard scored on a short run to continue the carnage. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson mercifully pulled Marino from the game in the second half and the Dolphins’ backup, a non-entity named Damon Huard, was subjected to the same abuse as the future Hall of Famer he replaced. After the wreckage was cleared, the result was a monumental one-sided blowout. On offense, the Jags wracked up 520 total yards. Taylor carried the ball 18 times for 135 yards and scored twice, on the long run and a pass. Smith, the team’s top receiver, grabbed 5 catches for 136 yards and 2 scores. The defense dominated also, holding Marino and company to a paltry 131 total yards. They also sacked the Miami QBs 5 times, held the Miami rushing attack to 21 yards on 18 carries, and forced 7 turnovers. The final result on the scoreboard was as bad as the difference in the statistics – Jacksonville 62, Miami 7.

To be fair, for the 1999 season at least, this wasn’t an evenly matched game before it even started. Jacksonville was one of the AFC’s strongest teams, entering this game having amassed a 14-2 regular season record, while Miami limped into the playoffs at 9-7. Still, with a Super Bowl-winning coach in Johnson and an all-time great passer in Marino leading the offense, a defeat this epic in scope was a total shock.

 

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For Dolphin QB Dan Marino, it wasn’t a pleasant goodbye

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Return of The Dutchman

13 Dec

The Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams meet on this week’s NFL schedule, and our Throwback Thursday feature for the week is a game played between these 2 franchises on November 22, 1959. The game is significant in that it was the first and only time that future Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, a Ram star in the 1950s, played against his former club as a Philadelphia Eagle. He had led a powerful Ram attack for most of the decade, but decided to retire after the 1957 season. He later changed his mind, but the Rams had moved on and instead of bringing him back for the ’58 season, traded him to the Eagles. It wasn’t exactly a “return” for the player nicknamed “The Dutchman”, as the game was played at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field and not in L.A., and it also wasn’t exactly a triumphant display by Van Brocklin in the game either. The Eagles did win, 23-20, to improve their season record to 6-3, but it was a struggle against a Ram club that had won only 2 games all year. The Rams produced more offensive fireworks, as halfback Jon Arnett included an 80 yard run for a touchdown among his 108 yards rushing, while Ram QB Billy Wade fired a TD throw to Red Phillips.

Van Brocklin was efficient enough, completing 19 of 38 passes for 260 yards, spreading the ball around to all his favorite targets – Bobby Walston, Tommy McDonald and Pete Retzlaff among others, but the Eagle TDs came on a 3 yard run by Clarence Peaks and a defensive score on a fumble recovery in the end zone by Jerry Huth. You could actually make the argument that a more important contributor to the Philly win was another ex-Ram who had been exiled and found a home with the Eagles, kicker Paige Cothren, who booted 3 field goals, including a short 14 yarder in the final quarter which proved to be the game-winning points.

The Eagles did go on to finish the ’59 season in second place in the Eastern Division, a vast improvement over a 2 win record in 1958, then won the NFL championship in 1960 in The Dutchman’s final season. The Rams, meanwhile, didn’t win another game, finishing 2-10 after posting an 8-4 mark in ’58. That led to the departure of head coach Sid Gillman, who moved on to the American Football League’s Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, where he was highly successful.

 

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QB Norm Van Brocklin, “The Dutchman”

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tough Day For Broadway Joe

08 Nov

The 1968 American Football League season was a magical one for New York Jets’ future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, who led his team to the AFL title with a win over previous champ Oakland, then “guaranteed” that his Jets would beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Of course, he delivered on that promise and the rest is not only history, but pro football lore. There was a major speed bump in that ’68 season for Broadway Joe, however, and it came against the AFL’s lowliest of the low, the Buffalo Bills, on September 29 of that year. With the Jets and Bills facing off this week on the NFL schedule, we’ll explore that game for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature.

The Bills’ organization at the time was in total chaos, with their back-to-back AFL championship seasons of the mid-1960s long in the rear view mirror. However, one component of the Bills’ glory years was relatively intact – their proud defensive unit. On this day, that defense rose up to provide a monumental effort against Namath and the Jets. They didn’t, by any means, completely shut down the Jets’ offense. Led by Matt Snell’s 12 carries for 124 yards, the Jets ran the ball effectively, while their passing game wasn’t throttled either, as Namath threw 4 touchdown passes, 2 to George Sauer and one each to Don Maynard and Snell. New York outgained the Bills with 427 yards compared to 197 on the day. The difference? The Jets turned the ball over 6 times, including 5 interceptions by Namath. Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium, better known as “The Rockpile”, was never one of Namath’s favorite places to play, but on this September Sunday he couldn’t get out of town fast enough. In between his TD tosses, the Bills turned 3 of their 5 interceptions into pick-sixes. Tom Janik returned his 100 yards for a score in the second quarter, while the Bills’ All-AFL cornerback tandem of Butch Byrd and Booker Edgerson ran back their picks 53 and 45 yards respectively in the fourth quarter to provide the winning margin in a shocking 37-35 upset. The win was Buffalo’s only victory of the ’68 season as they finished 1-12-1, a record that allowed them to draft O.J. Simpson in the college draft. The Jets, meanwhile, as previously noted above, were able to put this nightmare behind them as they went on to capture the AFL’s first Super Bowl triumph to cap off their season.

 

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Buffalo’s Butch Byrd heads for the end zone with his pick six

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Seahawks Break Through

01 Nov

Week nine of the NFL’s 2018 regular season schedule includes a matchup of 2 clubs who at one time were AFC West rivals – the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks. We’ll travel back to November 16, 1981 for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature game, played between these two franchises. It was a Monday night game, and the Chargers, of course, were still based in San Diego. The contest took place at Seattle’s Kingdome, when the Chargers were at the height of their “Air Coryell” era when they dominated opponents with their explosive offensive attack. The Seahawks, meanwhile, were still a relatively young club, having only come into existence as an expansion team in 1976. They were coached by Jack Patera, who was in his sixth year as their  head man, having been hired as their first coach in ’76. Patera, who passed away recently of pancreatic cancer, carried the extra burden into this game of having never beaten the Chargers in 8 previous tries since they entered the league.

The Seahawks finally broke through on this night, winning handily 44-23 as their defense did a reasonably good job of containing San Diego’s vaunted passing attack, which was led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Although tight end Kellen Winslow had a terrific night statistically, with 7 catches for 106 yards, Seattle’s secondary basically shut down the Chargers’ vaunted wide receivers, Charlie Joiner and Wes Chandler, holding them to a combined 4 receptions for 61 yards. The bulk of the Charger offense, in fact, came from their rushing attack, with Chuck Muncie grinding out 151 yards on 20 carries. The Seahawks used a balanced attack to engineer the win, as their savvy southpaw signal caller, Jim Zorn, threw for 212 yards and a pair of scores, while running backs Theotis Brown and Dan Doornink led a rushing attack that amassed 156 yards and 3 TDs on the night. Brown and Doornink each scored twice, Brown on short plunges and Doornink on a short run and an 80 yard catch-and-run on a pass from Zorn.

 

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1981 Chargers vs. Seahawks game program

It was a satisfying victory for Patera and the Hawks, one that was a long time coming. It wasn’t really a portent of things to come for either club, however. The Chargers rebounded to finish 10-6 and qualify for the playoffs, where they advanced to the AFC Championship game with a dramatic overtime win in Miami. Seattle didn’t gain a lot of momentum from this Monday night moment, finishing 6-10. Patera survived the season but was fired early on the following year during the 1982 player’s strike.

 

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Seahawks’ QB Jim Zorn barks out signals

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The AFL’s Firewagon Football

25 Oct

The old American Football League, which played for 10 seasons before merging with the NFL, was always known for its’ exciting “firewagon” style of football, featuring lots of big plays that included kick returns, runs and passes which ran up high scores that engaged the fans of the new league. When discussions of the AFL’s exciting style of play happen, the teams usually mentioned are the Houston Oilers, led by George Blanda and the league’s champions in its’ first 2 seasons, and the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers, coached by passing game guru Sid Gillman. However, it wasn’t just those clubs that put on high-scoring exhibitions in the AFL years, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll highlight a game played on November 1, 1964 between a pair of old AFL rivals who meet on this week’s NFL slate of games – the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.

The game was a one-sided affair for most of the first 3 quarters as Chiefs’ quarterback Len Dawson engineered a passing attack that focused on throwing to his pair of outstanding backfield mates – halfback Abner Haynes and fullback Curtis McClinton. The pair combined for 9 receptions totaling 209 yards and 3 touchdowns. In all, Dawson threw for 6 scores, also hooking up with Frank Jackson, Chris Burford and Fred Arbanas for six-pointers as the Chiefs ran up the score to take a 42-10 lead over the hapless Broncos, who entered the game with only a single victory on the season to their credit. Late in the third quarter, however, Denver inserted backup QB Jacky Lee into the game in place of Mickey Slaughter. Lee was an interesting case in that he started his AFL career with the Oilers and was “loaned” by them to the Broncos in ’64, then returned to Houston 2 years later. Upon entering this game, Lee immediately lit a fire under his flailing club, firing long touchdown throws of 62 yards to Hewritt Dixon and  82 yards to Al Denson to close the score to 42-24. The resurrection of the offense also inspired the Bronco defense to rise to the occasion, as Tommy Janik  intercepted Dawson and galloped 22 yards for a score, followed by Ed Cooke’s 42 yard fumble return to the end zone that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 42-39, with momentum clearly favoring the back-from-the-dead Broncos. Kansas City righted the ship, however, putting together a late-game drive culminating in a 7 yard touchdown run by Haynes that put the Chiefs up 49-39, which ended up being the final score. Along with Dawson, Haynes was the star of the day for K.C. as he rang up 261 total yards  to go with a pair of touchdowns.

Denver didn’t have much success as a franchise in any of the 10 years that the AFL played, as they never managed a winning record in any of the years in the decade of the league’s existence. However, they did supply their share of exciting moments that the AFL’s style of play exhibited throughout its’ life in the 1960s, helping expand the popularity of pro football with the public.

 

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Denver Broncos’ “borrowed” QB Jacky Lee