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Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

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 grinds out yardage 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.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tittle’s Record-Setting Day

29 Dec

The NFL enters their final week of play this weekend, and the schedule includes a match between 2 NFC East rivals who we already featured in a TBT post earlier this year – the New York Giants and Washington Redskins. In fact, this is the third time we’ve featured this matchup, having highlighted a 72-41 Redskin victory over the Giants in 1966, back in 2013. This game, like the one we featured earlier this season, took place in an era when the Giants were a dominant force in the league, while the ‘Skins were an also-ran. On this day, October 28, 1962, Giant quarterback Y.A. Tittle became only the fourth signal caller in pro football history to throw for 7 touchdowns in a single game, a feat that to this day has only been accomplished 7 times in history and still stands as an NFL record. Prior to this game, the only times a QB had done this happened in 1943, by Sid Luckman of the Chicago Bears, in 1954 by Adrian Burke of the Philadelphia Eagles, and in 1961, in the old American Football League, by the Houston Oilers’ George Blanda.

 

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Giants – Redskins 1962 Game Program

The game was a see-saw battle in the first half as Tittle and Washington rookie Norm Snead took turns filling the air with scoring passes. Tittle, who would wind up being league MVP in ’62, took charge in the third and early fourth quarter, racking up 4 of his 7 TD throws to turn a tight 21-20 game into a 49-20 rout. Snead led a late charge to close the gap to 49-34 at the final gun. Tittle’s feat overshadowed a pretty good showing by the rookie Snead, who threw for 346 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a couple of long bombs to future Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell. It was Tittle’s day in the sun, however, as he passed for a remarkable 505 yards and the 7 TDs on 27 of 39 passes, numbers that are common in today’s game but were extremely rare in the “three yards and a cloud of dust” era. The venerable old Giant quarterback connected all day with his 2 favorite targets, as Del Shofner caught 11 balls for 269 yards and a TD, and Frank Gifford hauled in 4 for 127 yards and a score. It was a sweet revenge game for New York tight end Joe Walton, who had played for Washington for 4 years before being traded to the Giants prior to the 1962 season. Walton caught 6 passes from Tittle for 63 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the record-tying seventh one.

Not only did Tittle and the Giants take control of this game in the third quarter, they took control of the Eastern Conference, as the loss was Washington’s first of the season after a 4-0-2 start, sending them on a tailspin to a 5-7-2 final record. The Giants used the win as a springboard to a 12-2 final record and a second straight NFL championship game appearance against the Green Bay Packers.

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Y.A. Tittle pressured by Redskins’ defense

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Baseball Game?

22 Dec

This week’s Throwback Thursday game features a look back to a playoff game from the 1970 season between two teams who are scheduled to play on this week’s NFL schedule, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. This game may have been one of least exciting playoff games in league history, unless you’re a fan of great defense or inept offense, depending on your perspective. The Cowboys, at the time, possessed one of the NFL’s toughest defensive units, the “Doomsday Defense” as they were aptly named, and this game was a showcase for them. They totally throttled Detroit’s offense and harassed Lion quarterbacks Greg Landry and Bill Munson, coming up with 3 sacks, an interception and 3 total turnovers, while holding the Lion passing attack to a meager 80 yards.

The problem was that Dallas’ passing offense was worse, as their quarterback, Craig Morton, completed only 4 of 18 throws for 22 net yards. Luckily, the Cowboys had a top-notch running back in Duane Thomas, and coach Tom Landry fed him the ball. The talented but moody Thomas carried 30 times for 135 yards in a workman like performance in which his longest run of the day was 16 yards. The Cowboy defense wound up shutting out the Lions, but Dallas could only muster an early field goal. Late in the final quarter, defensive linemen Jethro Pugh and George Andrie combined to sack Landry in the end zone for a safety, boosting the final margin of victory for Landry’s club to 5-0. It was more likely of a score between the cities’ baseball clubs, the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, than a football score.

Dallas advanced through the NFC playoffs to the Super Bowl that year, where they lost a heartbreaker to the Baltimore Colts on a late field goal in a game that became known as the “Blunder Bowl” since both teams made so many mistakes. Landry ran out of patience with Morton’s inconsistency the following season and made a change at quarterback, launching the dynamic career of future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach.

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Dallas QB Craig Morton and coach Tom Landry discuss strategy (photo courtesy of Spokeo.com)

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday – An Overtime Classic

15 Dec

The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, who match up on this week’s NFL schedule, have played some memorable games over the years as AFC East rivals, but for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature game we’ll go back to September 21, 1986, when these 2 teams hooked up in a classic overtime shootout in which the Jets prevailed 51-45. The game saw two quarterbacks from the famous 1983 draft matched up against each other, Miami’s future Hall of Famer Dan Marino and the Jets’ Ken O’Brien, who didn’t have the Hall of Fame career that Marino and fellow ’83 draftees John Elway and Jim Kelly had but did have his moments in the sun over the years. This game was definitely one of those moments, as he matched Marino throw for throw in leading his Jets club to the OT win. The 2 teams combined for 1,066 yards of total offense in the game, mostly aerial yards as both had a pair of receivers go for over 100 yards receiving. Miami’s “Marks Brothers” duo of Mark Duper and Mark Clayton both had awesome days, with Duper catching 7 passes for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Clayton snagging 8 for 174 yards and a score. Marino, in his usual style, ignored his running game and threw for 6 touchdowns on 30 of 50 passes for 448 yards. O’Brien threw less times for more yardage, connecting on 29 of 43 for 479 yards and 4 scores, all of which went to his star wideout, Wesley Walker, who had a career day with 6 catches for 194 yards and the 4 TDs. Fellow Jet receiver Al Toon also went for over 100 yards. The O’Brien to Walker vertical passing attack was something Miami’s defense never figured out all game long. The duo connected on scoring throws of 65, 50 and 21 yards in regulation, then hooked up on a 43 yarder in overtime to get the win.

The Jets also mixed in a semblance of a rushing attack, with Johnny Hector gaining 82 of his team’s 132 rushing yards while also scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns. The Jets went on to finish the season 10-6 to earn a wild card playoff berth. They defeated Kansas City in the wild card round but lost a double overtime heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos in the divisional round.

 

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Jets’ QB Ken O’Brien eludes Dolphin defenders

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Sad-Sack Bucs Break Through

08 Dec

The surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the New Orleans Saints on this week’s NFL schedule, trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. There was a time when the Tampa Bay franchise couldn’t dream of making the playoffs, and that’s the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday feature. It happened on December 11, 1977 – a game played between these 2 teams, the Bucs and the Saints. It was historic because it was Tampa’s first victory in franchise history. A team’s first win ever is always a memorable moment, but this day was even more historic, because the hapless Bucs went nearly 2 full seasons before finally breaking into the win column. The NFL played a 14 game schedule at the time, and the Bucs went winless, 0-14, in their inaugural season in 1976. They followed that up with 12 straight losses in ’77, before meeting up with the equally inept Saints on this day.

Tampa’s first 2 years in the league were so laughable that if you check out the old NFL films “blooper” features from the mid-’70s, you’ll find that they’re loaded with Buccaneer lowlights. Their head coach, John McKay, had been a highly-respected college coach at Southern California before taking the Bucs’ job, and luckily, for his own sanity, he had a great sense of humor. Once he was asked in a post-game press conference to comment on his offense’s execution. He answered “I’m in favor of it.” Another time, summing up his team’s performance in a game: “We didn’t tackle well today, but we made up for it by not blocking.” After a 42-0 loss to the Steelers, McKay was asked what his thoughts were during the game. He responded: “I felt like leaving the stadium and hitch-hiking home.” His joking manner and the team’s play earned the Bucs the nickname “The Yucks”.

Although they were a butt of all kinds of jokes in their early days, the Buccaneers’ defense had always been a decent unit, fighting hard in most games even though they had little chance of ever winning. Against the Saints on this day, however, they took matters into their own hands. On a day when the offense, led by journeyman quarterback Gary Huff, played with its’ usual ineptness, the defense hammered the Saints all day, forcing 7 turnovers, including 6 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns by Mike Washington and Richard Wood. Also, Greg Johnson recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD. That meant 3 of the Bucs’ 4 touchdowns that day were provided by the defense in a 33-14 thrashing. Huff pitched in with a short scoring pass to Morris Owens, but he threw for only 96 yards total on the day. In fact, the 2 teams combined for only 488 total yards on the day. In today’s game, the top-flight quarterbacks have passing yardage totals for a single game like that regularly. There were also 18 penalties called on the day against both teams, totaling 157 yards, another sign that it was a game played between 2 sad sack franchises.

All jokes aside, this was a day for the Tampa Bay franchise to celebrate, especially the defense, which was a proud unit despite all the losing and finally was rewarded for it’s efforts.  Players like Washington, Wood, Johnson, LeeRoy and Dewey Selmon, Dave Lewis and Jeris White finally got a moment in the sun. Incidentally, the Bucs finished the ’77 season on a high note, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 17-7 in their finale to finish 2-12.

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Tampa Bay’s first head coach, John McKay

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Fergy’s Coming Out Party

01 Dec

The Oakland Raiders, one of 2016’s surprise teams, host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in a game with massive playoff implications for both teams. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature game, we’ll travel back to opening weekend of the 1974 season for a matchup between these two old AFL clubs. Played on September 16, 1974, it was the opening Monday Night Football game of that season, and featured the powerhouse Raider club of coach John Madden against the Bills and their record-breaking running back, O.J. Simpson, who had eclipsed the 2,000 yard rushing mark the previous season. “The Juice” was the featured player in the Bills’ offense, which was a classic ground and pound rushing attack that relied on the elusive running style of Simpson and the blocking and bruising running style of his backfield mate, fullback Jim Braxton. The other member of Buffalo’s backfield was a young second year quarterback, Joe Ferguson, who had been a rookie third round draft pick out of Arkansas in 1973 and was coach Lou Saban’s choice to become the team’s starter in his rookie campaign. Despite being an inexperienced first year player, Ferguson didn’t have to worry much about carrying his team on his shoulders in ’73, as his main job was to turn around and hand the ball off to Simpson, and occasionally Braxton. The plan entering the ’74 campaign was pretty much the same, and on this opening nationally televised Monday Night game, the Bills attacked the rough and tumble Raider defense with a steady diet of their running backs. Ferguson completed a short scoring pass to J.D. Hill for the only touchdown of the first half, with the Raiders countering with a George Blanda field goal.

The Bills entered halftime with a 7-3 lead, but shortly before the mid-game break, something happened that changed the course of this contest – O.J. suffered a sprained ankle and would not return in the second half, putting a ton of unexpected pressure on Ferguson’s shoulders to produce some offense with his arm in the second half. Getting an obvious lift from Simpson’s absence, the Raiders scored on a 15 yard Clarence Davis run and added another Blanda field goal to surge ahead 17-13 going into the final quarter. Ferguson came of age in that final stanza, however. He drove his club downfield and hit wideout Ahmad Rashad with an eight yard TD toss to regain the lead. Then Oakland’s Art Thoms picked up a Buffalo fumble and ran 29 yards to paydirt to give the Raiders a 20-14 lead. Fergy responded again, driving the Bills downfield, without the aid of Simpson’s running, and capping the drive with another scoring pass to Rashad, this time from 13 yards out, as the Bills captured a hard-fought 21-20 win. Ferguson would go on to prove his worth as a solid NFL signal caller, playing 12 seasons with Buffalo and 17 total years in the league.

 

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Buffalo Bills’ QB Joe Ferguson