Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

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.


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.


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.




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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


Dallas QB Craig Morton and coach Tom Landry discuss strategy (photo courtesy of


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.



Jets’ QB Ken O’Brien eludes Dolphin defenders