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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

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 grinds out yardage 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

 

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