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Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tittle’s Revenge

10 Nov

Two once-proud NFL franchises who have fallen on hard times this season meet on this week’s schedule. That would be the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, and our Throwback Thursday feature goes way back, to November 17, 1963, for a game played between them. It was a week prior to the Sunday slate of games that the NFL decided to play after President Kennedy’s assassination, which would turn out to be a controversial decision. This game, although not particularly significant, was the first encounter that Giants’ quarterback Y.A. Tittle had against the team that traded him away – the 49ers. Tittle was part of San Francisco’s vaunted “Million Dollar Backfield” of the 1950s but in 1961 he was dealt to the Giants, a trade he wasn’t thrilled about. If a trade had to happen, he would have preferred to stay on the West coast and be dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. He wasn’t initially received well by the players in New York, who were loyal to their current QB at that time, veteran Charlie Conerly. He eventually won the starting job, won his teammates over and guided the Giants to 3 consecutive NFL title games, although they lost them all.

In this particular game, it was the first chance for the venerable old signal caller to get “revenge” on his former team. Tittle, however, wasn’t really a vindictive person and never really vowed to make the 49ers pay for trading him, like fiery Bobby Layne did when the Detroit Lions dealt him in the ’50s. If Tittle did have any designs on revenge, however, he accomplished them this day. He threw for 284 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Giants won in a rout 48-14. He hit Joe Morrison for a pair of TDs and spread the wealth by hitting Del Shofner and Frank Gifford for a TD each. Morrison also ran for 98 yards while Phil King rushed for over 100. New York called off the dogs and pulled Tittle later in the game, and backup QB Glynn Griffing added another TD toss to Gifford. The Giants wound up amassing 568 yards in total offense, an unheard of amount in those days, in blowing out the lowly Niners.

The assassination of the president 5 days later left this game all but forgotten but it was a milestone in the long and successful career of Tittle, a Hall of Famer and one of the sport’s all-time legends. I have featured Tittle on quite a few Rayonsports blog posts over the years, even though I was a die-hard Cleveland Browns’ fan at the time and the Giants and Browns were bitter rivals. It’s just an example of how a person gains respect for the game’s true warriors as time passes.

 

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Y.A. Tittle rallies the troops beside a 1960s version of the sideline heater

 

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Sea of Hands

02 Nov

This week’s Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to a classic playoff game between 2 teams that match up on this week’s NFL schedule, the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins. Played on December 21, 1974, it went down in football lore as the “Sea of Hands” game because of the way it ended. The Raiders and Dolphins were both NFL powerhouses at the time, and this game figured to be a good one. Oakland was one of pro football’s winningest regular season teams of the era, while the Dolphins were defending champions coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins and seeking an unprecedented third consecutive title (and fourth consecutive appearance).

The game got off to a great start for Miami as Nat Moore returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. However, it was the only score of the first quarter as the defenses of both clubs dug in. In fact, Oakland scored the only other touchdown of the entire first half as their swashbuckling QB, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, hit Charlie Smith with a 31 yard scoring throw. The Dolphins’ signal caller, Bob Griese, was anything but a swashbuckler. His stat line for the day was very pedestrian, as he threw only 14 passes, completing 7 for a paltry 101 yards. That was Miami coach Don Shula’s standard game plan at the time. The Dolphins routinely won mixing  tough defensive play by their “No-Names” with a bruising running game that on this day accumulated 213 yards. Larry Csonka had a typical day for them, rushing 24 times for 114 yards. Griese did manage to hit his future Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield with a 16 yard TD pass as the teams traded third quarter touchdowns. Stabler hooked up with Fred Biletnikoff on a 13 yarder. The offensive fireworks picked up in the final quarter to provide the thrilling ending. Garo Yepremian booted a Miami field goal and Stabler hit speedy Cliff Branch with a 72 yard touchdown pass that was a Raider trademark – the vertical passing game. Shula’s run game produced another six-pointer with Benny Malone scampering 23 yards to give his club a 26-21 lead, setting up Stabler to begin an iconic drive. He methodically guided Oakland down the field to Miami’s 8 yard line. With no timeouts left and a first and goal from the 8, Stabler dropped back, looked for Biletnikoff, who was blanketed by multiple Dolphin defenders. He scrambled back to his left and within milliseconds of being dragged down for a sack, lofted a pass into a crowd of players in the corner of the end zone. Most of the players in that crowd were Miami defenders, but somehow, miraculously, the Raiders’ Clarence Davis clutched the ball, and the game-winning touchdown, out of the “Sea of Hands” of opposing players. Miami had a chance to counter the score as they trailed by 28-26 at that point. Needing only a field goal, Griese started a drive only to have Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano seal the deal by intercepting him.

NBC’s game announcer, Curt Gowdy, called the contest the “greatest game I ever saw”, and his analyst counterpart, Al De Rogatis, concurred. The Raiders, who had lost only 2 games all year, were pretty confident that they were on their way to their first Super Bowl title, especially after dethroning the two-time champion Dolphins. However, they would be thwarted in that effort the next week by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game, beginning the Steelers’ four-time Super Bowl-winning run of the 1970s.

 

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Oakland’s Clarence Davis makes the “Sea of Hands” catch

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Curse of Bobby Layne

26 Oct

The Detroit Lions face the Pittsburgh Steelers on this week’s NFL schedule, which takes this week’s Throwback Thursday feature back to an obscure game played between these two franchises on November 8, 1959. Both of the clubs were league bottom feeders that year, even though the Lions had been a dominant force in the decade, winning 3 NFL titles. The game was significant, however, in that it was the first time future Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne, who had led the Lions throughout the decade, was to play against the team that traded him prior to the ’59 season. Layne’s old coach in Detroit, Buddy Parker, was now coaching the Steelers and made the trade to try to lift the lowly Pittsburgh club out of their losing doldrums. At the time of the trade, Layne was so upset that he proclaimed that the Lions “wouldn’t win again for the next 50 years!” And of course, Detroit to this day hasn’t won a title and has made only rare playoff appearances. They, along with the Cleveland Browns, are the only non-expansion teams to have never reached a Super bowl in the game’s 51 year existence. Layne’s proclamation has grown into what is now considered a hex on the franchise known as “The curse of Bobby Layne”. While baseball’s Boston Red Sox finally overcame their “curse of Babe Ruth” after trading the legendary slugger, the Lions’ “curse” has now surpassed the 50 years Layne put on them.

As for the actual game, it was pretty non-descript. Only about 24,000 fans were in attendance at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh to witness the two losing clubs battle to a 10-10 tie. Layne didn’t get revenge on his old club, but he could take solace in the fact that he provided his Steelers with all of their points, tossing a 20 yard scoring pass to Tom Tracy, kicking the extra point and adding a 29 yard field goal. The season rebounded for the Steelers after this game. They won 4 of their last 5 to finish with a 6-5-1 record, the only winning season they would enjoy with Layne calling the signals.

 

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Bobby Layne was prominently featured on the 1959 Steelers/Lions game program 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Rozelle’s Regret

19 Oct

Politics and football are crossing paths in a big way these days with NFL players staging National Anthem protests over police brutality and other issues, but there was a weekend in 1963 when there was enormous political controversy in the game. It was on Sunday, November 24th of that year when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to play a full slate of games even though President Kennedy had been assassinated 2 days earlier. The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, who clash on this week’s NFL schedule, also met on that infamous Sunday, and their game that day is the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. The NFL was in full competition with the American Football League at the time, and the AFL cancelled all their games that Sunday out of respect for the fallen president. Rozelle made the decision to have all of his league’s games go on as scheduled, although none were televised since the country’s major networks were all carrying non-stop news coverage of the aftermath of the assassination, including Jack Ruby’s murder of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald at the Dallas police station that Sunday morning. Rozelle later stated that the decision to let the games go on was the biggest regret he had during his long term as commissioner. He certainly drew a lot of criticism for making that call. In his defense, Rozelle sought the counsel of Kennedy’s press secretary, his old University of San Francisco classmate Pierre Sallinger. Sallinger advised him to go ahead and play the games, citing that the country needed some semblance of normalcy. The game itself was played in Philadelphia. Had it been scheduled for the nation’s capital, it certainly would have been difficult to play with the president’s funeral taking place there. It wasn’t much of a game either. Both teams were Eastern Conference bottom feeders that year, and the players, still in shock over the weekend’s events, didn’t have their hearts, or their heads, in the game. The Redskins won, 13-10 by virtue of a pair of Bob Khayat field goals. Washington’s Norm Snead and the Eagles’ Sonny Jurgensen each threw a touchdown pass, to Dick James and Timmy Brown respectively. Ironically, Snead and Jurgensen were traded for each other following the ’63 season. That game, and the rest of that weekend’s NFL slate, are likely the least watched games of the modern NFL era, since only fans who attended them in person saw the action.

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JFK’s funeral procession on November 24, 1963

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Rookie Meets The Old Pro

12 Oct

The Kansas City Chiefs take on the Pittsburgh Steelers this week on the NFL’s week 6 schedule, which takes this week’s Throwback Thursday feature back to November 15, 1970, when these 2 franchises clashed. The game was a match between an old seasoned pro quarterback, Kansas City’s Len Dawson, and a Steelers’ still-wet-behind-the-ears rookie prospect named Terry Bradshaw. Dawson and the Chiefs were defending NFL champs, having throttled the Minnesota Vikings in the previous year’s Super Bowl, while Pittsburgh was in the early stages of a major overhaul under coach Chuck Noll that would transform them into four-time Super Bowl champs later in the decade.

On this day, Dawson schooled the rookie, as he put together a strong passing day in a game in which neither team mustered much of a ground game. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 257 yards ( a big amount in those days) and 3 touchdowns, one to his favorite target, Otis Taylor, and a pair to a player nearing the end of a long career, Billy Cannon, and the Chiefs wound up winning handily, 31-14. The Chiefs’ defense made life difficult for Bradshaw, limiting him to 8 of 19 completions for a meager 74 yards and intercepting him 3 times. Noll eventually benched the “Blonde Bomber” for backup Terry Hanratty, but KC picked him off twice also. Two of the interceptions came from Chiefs’ safety Johnny Robinson, a player who has been overlooked for the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the years  mainly because most of his career was spent in the AFL. Bradshaw today is rightfully remembered as one of the all time great signal callers and is a deserved Hall of Famer, but it’s easy to forget the brutal start he had to his career, which included being berated and benched by Noll numerous times in favor of Hanratty and later Joe Gilliam.

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Chuck Noll and his prize young QB Terry Bradshaw

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Packer/Cowboy Playoff “Classic”?

05 Oct

The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, who have a storied playoff history of games played between them, meet on this week’s NFL schedule. In the past, we’ve featured a pair of classic 1960s battles between these 2 teams that were both won by Green Bay in our Throwback Thursday stories. They renewed their postseason rivalry in the 1990s and Dallas dominated those meetings. But for this week’s TBT post, it won’t be a Bart Starr vs. Don Meredith matchup from the ’60s or a Troy Aikman vs. Brett Favre meeting from the ’90s, but rather an obscure playoff clash that took place on January 16, 1983. The opposing quarterbacks? How about Danny White and Lynn Dickey? Starr was Green Bay’s head coach at the time, and for this contest he matched wits with Dallas’ legendary head man, Tom Landry.

Technically it was a divisional round game, but the 1982 season was shortened by a player strike and a total of 16 teams qualified for the playoffs in a special format the league devised to try to crown a Super Bowl champion for the year. Both the Cowboys and Packers won their special “wild card” games to get the opportunity to play each other and move on. Although both franchises have won multiple Super Bowls, the 1980s weren’t a time when either team was much of a championship threat. The Cowboys wound up winning 37-26 as White mostly outplayed Dickey, but Dallas would wind up losing to eventual champion Washington in the title game. White’s favorite target, Tony Hill, caught 7 passes for 142 yards and Tony Dorsett had a decent day running the ball for the Cowboys, while future Hall of Famer James Lofton had a big day for the Packers, snagging 5 passes for 109 yards and also running for a 71 yard TD on an option play.The difference in the game turned out to be the three interceptions thrown by Dickey, all to Dallas defensive back Dennis Thurman, who returned one of the picks 39 yards for a touchdown. White’s career was similar to that of the recently retired Tony Romo. He was a very good player but never really achieved greatness.

 

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Danny White, coach Tom Landry discuss strategy

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Orange Crush

28 Sep

On this week’s NFL schedule two old American Football League Western Division rivals clash – the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos. Their rivalry continued in the NFL after the merger, but it was pretty one-sided up until the 1977 season. It got pretty heated that year, as coach Red Miller’s Broncos and their vaunted “Orange Crush” defense came out of nowhere to challenge the Raiders in the AFC West. Oakland’s club was the defending Super Bowl champions, yet the two regular season meetings between these teams were a wash. They played each other twice in a three week span in October, with Denver’s defense dominating the first meeting, intercepting Ken Stabler 7 times and sacking him 3 times en route to a 30-7 rout. Oakland got some revenge two weeks later with a 24-14 win, and both teams advanced in the AFC playoffs to set up a “rubber match” in the AFC Championship game. Denver was actually the higher seed as AFC West champs so the game was played in the Mile High City but history-wise, the Raiders had a distinct advantage. They were coming off their first-ever Super Bowl title, and had been one of pro football’s winningest franchises since the mid-1960s. Denver, however, had been the losingest team in the old AFL, and had never even qualified for a playoff berth in their history prior to the ’77 season. They were post-season infants.

The title game was played on New Year’s day, January 1st, 1978. It was mostly a defensive struggle, and neither team could muster much of a ground game. The Broncos held Oakland’s main weapons, running back Clarence Davis and receivers Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, in check while their journeyman quarterback Craig Morton found his favorite target, Haven Moses, 5 times for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Stabler found his tight end, Dave Casper for a pair of scores in the fourth quarter but the home team hung on for a 20-17 win to advance to the Super Bowl. Denver’s defense was led by Bronco legends like Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Lyle Alzado, Steve Foley and Rubin Carter. The “Orange Crush” club was a bit of a one hit wonder, though. They lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl and didn’t have much post-season success after the ’77 season. Miller, who passed away just this week, coached 3 more years in Denver before being dismissed.

 

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Tom Jackson pursues “The Ghost”, Dave Casper, in 1977 AFC title game (AP Images)

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The 1964 NFL Championship

21 Sep

The Cleveland Browns meet the Indianapolis Colts on this week’s NFL schedule, which takes our Throwback Thursday feature back to the 1964 NFL Championship game, played between these 2 franchises. Growing up as a Browns’ fan in this era, this was one of my favorite football games of all time. In fact, the Browns and Buffalo Bills of the AFL were my favorite teams at the time, and both won their respective league titles that year. The Colts were a heavy favorite going into the game. They were coached by the man who would go on to become the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula, and their roster was loaded with talented offensive weapons like John Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, Tom Matte, Jim Parker and Jimmy Orr. Defensively they were an immovable object, led by Gino Marchetti , Don Shinnick, Ordell Braase, Steve Stonebreaker and Lenny Lyles.

The Browns were a year removed from a player uprising that led to the firing of their legendary founder and head coach Paul Brown. He was replaced by the very capable Blanton Collier, who had one advantage going for him. The players, led by all time great fullback Jim Brown, were determined to prove they could win despite Paul Brown’s departure. Surprisingly, after a scoreless first half with the weather affecting both offenses, Cleveland dominated the game in the second half. The Browns’ underrated defense shut out the high-powered Colts as they did in the first half, while Browns’ quarterback Frank Ryan began to put drives together. He hit flanker Gary Collins for a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, and the Browns added a Lou Groza field goal to take a 17-0 lead into the final stanza. Another Groza field goal and a third scoring throw from Ryan to Collins sealed the victory for the Browns, 27-0.

It was the last title the Browns would win to this day, but it was a sweet one as the players proved their point about winning without Paul Brown’s disciplinary style. Jim Brown made his usual contribution to the attack, rushing for 114 yards and adding 37 receiving yards. Collins was the game’s MVP with 5 catches for 130 yards and the 3 TDs. It was a sweet victory for Ryan, who had been a journeyman in the league before the Browns traded for him from the Rams in 1962 to back up starter Jim Ninowski. Unfortunately, Ninowski broke his collarbone and Ryan took over as the starter in ’63, and never relinquished the job.

 

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Jim Brown takes on Colt defenders in the 1964 title game

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Jim Hardy’s Redemption

14 Sep

One of the matchups in week two of the 2017 NFL season features a game between 2 teams that are looking to rebound from tough losses on opening day – the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. For this week’s Throwback Thursday post, we’ll go a long way back into NFL history to a game played between these franchises when both played in different cities. It took place on October 2, 1950 at Comiskey Park. The Cardinals were located in Chicago then, and this game was actually the only one that ever took place between the Chicago Cardinals and the then-Baltimore Colts. They wouldn’t play each other again until 1961, when the Cards had already relocated to St. Louis. Chicago was a powerhouse club at the time, having won the NFL title a couple of years prior, led by future Hall of Fame back Charley Trippi. The game was extremely one-sided, with the Cardinals posting a 55-13 victory on the strength of a big passing day by quarterback Jim Hardy, who threw 6 touchdown passes on only 13 completions for the day. Five of those TD throws went to end Bob Shaw, who grabbed 8 passes for 165 yards on the day. It was a day of redemption for Hardy, who just the previous week had a nightmare game for the ages, throwing eight interceptions in a 45-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles to set an NFL record for futility that still stands today. Trippi contributed a pair of rushing touchdowns to the winning cause also, but it was Hardy’s day, as he shrugged off the previous week’s disaster and led his team to the big win. A couple of other future Hall of Famers were involved in this game also. The Cardinals at the time were coached by Curley Lambeau, legendary founder, player and coach of the Green Bay Packers who had moved on from Green Bay under controversial circumstances (a story for another day) and wound up with the Cardinals. Also, Baltimore was quarterbacked that day by a young Y.A. Tittle (although it’s hard to imagine a “young” Tittle). He had a forgettable day, completing only 9 passes for a paltry 91 yards and throwing 2 interceptions.

 

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Chicago Cardinals’ QB Jim Hardy 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Los Angeles Chargers

07 Sep

It’s the start of another NFL season tonight, which means Throwback Thursdays are back for another season also. On Monday night, the Chargers visit Denver to play the Broncos and for the first time in 56 years, they won’t be representing the city of San Diego after moving to Los Angeles in the off-season. Actually, they moved back to the city of angels. It’s almost forgotten, but the team played their inaugural season in the old American Football League in Los Angeles, way back in 1960. For this week’s TBT, we look back at a matchup between the Broncos and the L.A. Chargers of 1960 that took place on December 10th of that year. Played in cavernous L.A. Coliseum, it was a typical rousing AFL game, the kind the league was known for in its’ early days, with the Chargers pulling out a 41-33 victory. The Charger offense, orchestrated by future Hall of Fame head coach Sid Gillman, was a balanced attack. Paul Lowe ran for 106 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Jack Kemp, Gillman’s field general, threw for 3 scores and ran for another. Denver kept the score close with some pretty good offense of their own. QB Frank Tripucka found his favorite receiver, Lionel Taylor, for 9 catches for 171 yards and a TD. In the days when position players did double duty as kickers, Denver halfback Gene Mingo, an early AFL star, accounted for 21 of his team’s 33 points with a rushing touchdown, 3 extra points and 4 field goals.

The Broncos held a 30-24 lead entering the fourth quarter, but Kemp guided his club to 17 final quarter points to secure the win. Gillman’s team was an AFL powerhouse in those early years. They won the Western Division crown in  3 of the league’s first 4 seasons, losing to the Houston Oilers in the title game in ’60 and ’61, before finally winning a championship in 1963 with an eye-opening 51-10 thrashing of the Boston Patriots. They made it to the championship in 1964 and ’65 also but lost both times to Buffalo. However, the 5 Western Division crowns in the AFL’s first 6 years of existence were quite an accomplishment.

 

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The Los Angeles Chargers’ 5 man coaching staff of 1960 included 3 future Hall of Famers – Sid Gillman, Chuck Noll and Al Davis.