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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Unitas Rediscovers Moore

20 Sep

The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off an upset defeat at the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, try to rebound against the Indianapolis Colts this week on the NFL’s week 3 schedule. So we’ll highlight a game played between these 2 franchises for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It was played on November 21, 1965 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium (the Colts wouldn’t move to Indianapolis for another 20 years or so). The Colts, under coach Don Shula, were having a great season, with a 9-1 record entering the game, while Philly was mired in a losing campaign at 3-7. Baltimore took command early, jumping out to a 14-0 lead as Colt quarterback John Unitas, arguably considered the best in the game at the time, hit Lenny Moore with a 52 yard scoring pass for the first touchdown, and safety Jerry Logan intercepting an Eagle pass and returning it 36 yard to paydirt. The Colts added a field goal but the Eagles showed some grit by netting a field goal of their own and adding a pair of touchdowns before the half, with Norm Snead throwing to his tight end, Pete Retzlaff, for one TD and future Hall of Famer Ollie Matson running for another, leaving the teams deadlocked at 17-17 at the midway point.

The third quarter belonged to Philadelphia as they jumped out to a 24-20 lead and looked poised to pull off the upset, but the Colts asserted their superiority in the final quarter, led by Unitas. He led a pair of late game scoring drives, which was his trademark back then. Jimmy Orr was a recipient of a 22 yard touchdown throw to give Baltimore the lead, while Moore scored again, this time on a 1 yard plunge, to seal the victory, 34-24. Unitas played his usual excellent game in the win, passing for over 300 yards and spreading the ball around to his favorite targets – Orr, Raymond Berry and tight end John Mackey. For this contest, however, he rediscovered the receiving talents of his halfback, Moore, who grabbed 7 of his throws for a whopping 163 yards and a TD. Moore added 54 yards on the ground to the attack, piling up 217 total yards. The NFL has always been a copycat league, and in an era where star halfbacks like Frank Gifford, Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell were transitioning into becoming “flankerbacks”, Shula realized that Moore, who had always been a receiving threat in his earlier years, was perfect for the role.

 

shula-gallery1Colt legends Unitas, Moore and Shula

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Out Of The Bears’ Shadow

13 Sep

Week two of the NFL schedule includes a match between two nomadic franchises, the Rams and the Cardinals. The Rams began their existence in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, relocated to St. Louis where they had a measure of success, then bolted back to the West Coast to L.A., although technically they are currently playing in Anaheim. The Cardinals started out in Chicago, moved to St. Louis where they stayed for a pretty long period, then ran off to the desert and became the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals in the late 1980s. So the contest this week between teams that both bolted the Gateway to The West city could be deemed The We Screwed St. Louis Bowl.

Anyway, the game we harken back to took place on September 23, 1960. It was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, on the opening day of the ’60 season. It’s significant in that it was the first game the Cards played as the St. Louis Cardinals. After toiling in the shadow of George Halas’ Bears in Chicago since the NFL’s inception in 1920, team owner Violet Bidwill Wolfner petitioned the league to relocate to St. Louis after the 1959 season. At the time, the American Football League was forming to begin play in 1960, so the league allowed the Cardinals to move, mostly to claim the St. Louis market before the fledgling AFL could. Minnesota and Dallas were added as expansion teams during this period also, in proactive moves by the NFL to shut out the new league.

 

ramscards1960Rams vs. Cardinals game program 9/23/1960

The Rams had been an offensive powerhouse in the 1950s, behind future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin was now quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles, while Waterfield was the Rams’ head coach. Billy Wade, now L.A.’s signal caller, opened the scoring with a touchdown pass to Clendon Thomas. In the second quarter, Wade threw another scoring pass, a 57 yarder to Red Phillips, while John David Crow scored the first 2 touchdowns for the newly anointed St. Louis club, the first on an 18 yard throw from King Hill, and the second on another passing play, this time a 52 yarder from John Roach, who replaced Hill at quarterback. A pair of Bobby Joe Conrad field goals and a safety put St. Louis ahead 22-14 and the Cardinals coasted from there, led by a spectacular performance from Roach. He connected with star split end Sonny Randle for touchdown throws of 37, 57 and 24 yards to break the game open. Amazingly, Roach only completed 6 passes on the day, and 4 went for touchdowns. The Rams could only muster one more score, as they replaced Hill with backup Frank Ryan. Ryan hit rookie Carroll Dale with a 54 yard TD pass, but in the end the Cardinals, in their inaugural game as the St. Louis Cards, prevailed 43-21. The win launched the Redbirds to a winning season, as they finished 6-5-1, a marked improvement over their 2-10 finish in their last season in Chicago in 1959. (The NFL season only consisted of 12 games back then).

Incidentally, both Wade and Ryan would be traded later on, and both went on to great success. Wade led his new team, the Chicago Bears, to the NFL title in 1963 while Ryan quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to a championship in 1964. Dale, who had a great statistical game in the loss for the Rams (5 catches for 106 yards and the late TD), would later be traded to Green Bay, where he helped the Packers win 3 titles, including the first 2 Super Bowls.

 

1960gridcardinals1960 St. Louis Cardinals

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Jim “Wrong Way” Marshall

06 Sep

Another new NFL season is upon us, which means Rayonsports kicks off it’s weekly Thursday Throwback post featuring a contest from yesteryear played between two franchises that are scheduled to meet on the week’s slate of games. The Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers match up on the opening week’s schedule, so we travel back to a meeting between these clubs that was played on October 25, 1964. This particular game between Western Division rivals lives on in NFL lore because of a play made by one of the greats of the game, Viking defensive end Jim Marshall, but Marshall would just as soon forget the game. In the fourth quarter of that game, he recovered a 49er fumble and returned it 66 yards, the wrong way, into his own end zone, resulting in a 2-point safety for San Francisco.

The game started out with 49er quarterback John Brodie taking early control, scoring on a 2 yard run and throwing an 80 yard touchdown pass to Dave Parks to give his club a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. Tommy Mason ran for a Viking TD and Tommy Davis kicked a field goal to give San Fran a 17-10 lead at the half. The only third quarter scoring came on a Fred Cox field goal for Minnesota, but the Vikings took control in the fourth quarter, led by their Purple People Eater defense. QB Fran Tarkenton ran for a score, and defensive end Carl Eller scooped a fumble and ran 45 yards for another touchdown. Eller’s recovery, incidentally, was made possible by a Marshall sack/strip. Marshall’s infamous gaffe came later in the final stanza, but didn’t really affect the final outcome as the Vikings won the game 27-22.

It’s really a shame that the legendary Viking defender is mostly remembered for his wrong way run. He played 20 years in the league and was a dominant defender, and with this summer’s induction of Jerry Kramer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marshall now stands as perhaps the biggest “snub” as far as Hall voting is concerned. He really deserves to be inducted, but doesn’t even draw minimal consideration now that his playing days are so far in the past.

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A distraught Jim Marshall after realizing his mistake

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Saturday Night Surprise

28 Dec

The final week of the NFL’s regular season will be played this weekend, and one of the matchups is between 2 old rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. The Steelers are headed to the playoffs with a first round bye secured, while the Browns are winless and are the league’s ultimate bottom-feeders, having won only one game in the past two seasons. Our final Throwback Thursday feature for 2017 harkens back to October 10, 1964 to a meeting between these 2 franchises back when their fortunes were reversed. The Browns were a powerhouse in the league and were on their way to claiming the NFL Championship that season, while the Steelers were half a decade away from hiring Chuck Noll as head coach and turning the team’s fortunes around. Pittsburgh was a rough team that played hard-nosed, and sometimes dirty, defense, while routinely losing games.

In what was an annual tradition at that time, the game was played on a Saturday night rather than the usual Sunday afternoon, and on this night, the Steelers pulled off a Saturday Night Surprise, as they dominated the Browns on their own home field, the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Using a power running game that featured future Hall of Fame fullback John Henry Johnson,  Pittsburgh threw the ball only 11 times all night, and wound up gaining 354 yards on the ground on 64 attempts. Johnson carried 30 times for an even 200 yards and scored all 3 of his team’s touchdowns, while Clarence Peaks added another 96 yards on 21 tries. Meanwhile, the rugged Steeler defense neutralized Cleveland’s star fullback, Jim Brown, holding him to only 59 yards for the night. They also harassed quarterback Frank Ryan, sacking him 4 times (although sacks were not an official statistic at the time). In all, the Steelers outgained the Browns in the game, 477 total yards to 217 in securing a 23-7 victory. It was Cleveland’s first loss of the year, dropping their record to 3-1-1, while the win lifted Pittsburgh to 3-2 and within a half game of overtaking the Browns.

Pittsburgh reverted to their losing ways, however, finishing the season at 5-9 while the Browns, as stated earlier, went on to capture the league championship. Coach Blanton Collier’s Browns also got revenge on the Steelers later that year, going into Pitt Stadium and pulling out a 30-17 win in November.

 

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John Henry Johnson grinds out yardage vs. Browns (Getty Images)

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tie A Yellow Ribbon

21 Dec

The Philadelphia Eagles face the Oakland Raiders on this week’s NFL schedule, taking our Throwback Thursday feature back to Super Bowl XV, played between these 2 franchises on January 25, 1981 in New Orleans, to decide the NFL’s championship for the 1980 season. The atmosphere surrounding the game was patriotic, as the Iran hostage crisis had ended just 5 days earlier. The episode was a hostage situation in which 52 American diplomats were held hostage in Iran for 444 days, and minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new U.S. president, they were released. A national symbol of the crisis saw Americans tying yellow ribbons around trees as an expression of hope that the hostages would be freed, and for the Super Bowl game, the New Orleans Superdome was adorned with a giant yellow ribbon.

The game itself was a contest between two organizations that were diametrically opposed. The Raiders had a reputation of being rebel castoffs who were free spirits, an image their owner, Al Davis, not only cultivated but advanced with his own behavior as a renegade owner. The Eagles, on the other hand, were a button-down, by the book team that mirrored their stiff, high-strung coach, Dick Vermeil. The Raiders, being their usual loose and fun-loving selves, took advantage of the nervous Eagles and jumped out to a quick 14-0 first quarter lead on the strength of a pair of Jim Plunkett touchdown passes – a short 2 yarder to Cliff Branch and an 80 yarder to running back Kenny King. Philadelphia got on the board in the second quarter on a Tony Franklin field goal, but the Raiders countered that when Plunkett again found Branch for a score, this time from 29 yards out. That gave Oakland a 21-3 lead that they never relinquished. The Eagles finally managed a touchdown when Ron Jaworski found Keith Krepfle for an 8 yard TD, but they never seriously challenged the Raiders, who added 2 Chris Bahr field goals to complete a 27-10 victory.

It was a day of redemption for Plunkett, who had been considered a major bust after failures in New England and San Francisco to start his career. On this day, he completed 13 of 21 passes for 261 yards and the 3 touchdowns to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award. Vermeil took a lot of criticism for being too rigid and having his team wound too tight to the point where they didn’t perform well, but he learned his lesson later in his career, when he coached the powerhouse St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show On Turf” club to an NFL title.

 

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Yellow ribbon tied around the Superdome for the Iran hostages

 

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

 

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 follows a convoy of blockers in the muddy 1965 NFL title game

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Tuck Rule Game

16 Nov

The Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots meet in Mexico on this week’s NFL schedule, taking this week’s Throwback Thursday feature back to an AFC Divisional playoff game contested on January 19, 2002 between these two clubs. It was a controversial game that, because of a play in the fourth quarter in which an obvious fumble was turned into an incomplete pass due to an obscure rule, went down in NFL lore as the “Tuck Rule Game”. It was one of many controversial and memorable games involving the Raiders over the years, and also served as a springboard for young Patriot quarterback Tom Brady on his journey to 5 Super Bowl titles. It was the final game ever played at old Foxboro Stadium, and was a classic NFL “snow globe” game, as it was played in a heavy snowstorm. The Patriots won in overtime, 16-13, on an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The New England kicker had booted a 45 yard three-pointer with less than a minute left in regulation to tie the game, but it was the controversial play earlier in the drive to set up that score that would become a flashpoint for arguments over the league’s convoluted rules.

Brady was sacked while dropping back to pass by Oakland’s Charles Woodson, forcing what appeared to be a fumble, which the Raiders recovered. In all honesty, for every NFL game played in the history of the league prior to this, and for any gridiron contest played at any level ever, the play would have been ruled as, and was, a fumble. Brady had cocked his arm to pass, then pulled the ball back and attempted to tuck it into his body just as Woodson hit him. However, the officials reviewed the play and invoked the little known “Tuck Rule”, changing the call to an incomplete pass and giving New England the ball back, thus allowing Brady to continue the drive to the tying field goal. An Oakland recovery of the fumble would have basically sealed the victory for them. The wording of the tuck rule left a lot open for interpretation by the officials, as does a lot of current league rules, which leads to those officials often looking like buffoons. It was such a bad rule that the league quietly and quickly got rid of it in the off-season.

Oakland owner Al Davis insisted the call was terrible and was only made because the NFL had it in for his team, due to the court battles he had with the league as a rogue owner. Davis was also furious with his head coach at the time, Jon Gruden, claiming Gruden hadn’t protested the call loudly or persistently enough. Bad blood ensued between the two, and Gruden eventually departed to become head coach in Tampa Bay.

 

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Oakland’s Charles Woodson about to dislodge the ball from Tom Brady on the “Tuck Rule” play