Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Gateway To A Victory

16 Dec

We’re headed into the home stretch of the NFL season, and one of this week’s games matches the team with the best record, the Arizona Cardinals, against the club with the worst mark, the Detroit Lions. These 2 teams met in a game played on October 1, 1967 at St.Louis’ Busch Stadium, when the Cardinals were located in the Gateway To The West city. Both of these teams were perennial also-rans in the 1960s, but it didn’t keep them from providing fans with some exciting games during the decade. This game veered from the usual “three yards and a cloud of dust” style of 1960s NFL football. It turned into what qualified as a shootout in that era between Detroit veteran signal caller Milt Plum and the Cardinals’ young second year gunslinger, Jim Hart.

The Lions came out swinging and took an early 7-0 lead with a drive that ended on a one yard scoring plunge by Mel Farr. Detroit then pinned the Cards deep in their own territory, and when Hart tried to throw out of his own end zone Larry Hand picked it off at the 2 yard line and walked into the end zone to up the lead to 14-0. St. Louis finally found their bearings in the second quarter and Hart guided them to a couple of scores, with halfback Johnny Roland finding paydirt from a yard out and Jim Bakken booting a 39 yard field goal to put the game within striking distance at 14-10. Plum took to the air and found his favorite target, Pat Studstill, on a 37 yard touchdown throw to extend the lead to 21-10. When Roland found the end zone again for the Cards, on another 1 yard run, the gap was closed to 21-17 at the half.

The Cardinals came out of the locker room rejuvenated in the second half, and took the lead when Hart hit his tight end, Jackie Smith, with a 57 yard touchdown bomb. Roland scored his third rushing touchdown, from 6 yards out, to end the third quarter scoring, and St. Louis suddenly found themselves up 28-17. The Lions fought back in the final quarter, and Plum and Studstill connected again, on a 23 yard scoring pass. Plum finished with 206 yards passing for the day, a sizable amount for a game in those days, with Studstill amassing 107 of those yards on 5 catches. Hart had a favorite target that day also in split end Billy Gambrell, who also had 5 receptions, for 117 yards. The biggest of the connections for the Cardinal duo resulted in a 48 yard touchdown that completed the scoring. When the final gun sounded, St. Louis had themselves a hard-fought 38-28 victory.


Johnny Roland stopped by the Lions’ defense


Both clubs settled into their usual mediocrity as the season wore on, with the Cardinals finishing third in the league’s Century Division at 6-7-1, and Detroit also winding up third in the Central Division at 5-7-2. There was at least a hint of hope in Detroit in the ’67 season as the Lions boasted both the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of The Year in Farr and Lem Barney.


Cards vs. Lions game program




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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Enigma Quarterback

09 Dec

The oldest rivalry in pro football gets renewed this week on the NFL schedule as the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers. For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to November 4, 1973 for a matchup between these 2 historic franchises. By the ’73 season, the Packers were long past the Vince Lombardi dynasty years, and the Bears’ founder, owner and coach George “Papa Bear” Halas had moved from the sideline into the front office to run the club. The teams were now coached by a couple of forgettable names – Dan Devine with Green Bay and the large, jovial Abe Gibron for the Bears. Both teams were foundering, with the Packers at 2-3-2 and Chicago a lowly 2-5, entering the game.


Bears’ coach Abe Gibron, large and in charge

The Bears’ quarterback at the time was an NFL enigma. A novelty in 1973 but perhaps a player well ahead of his time, he was Bobby Douglass, a 6’4″ 225 lb. corn-fed Kansas boy. Douglass was a couple of things that didn’t mesh with NFL football quarterbacks at the time. He was left-handed, and he was a runner rather than an effective passer. His career passing statistics are cringe-worthy – in 10 seasons, he threw for 36 touchdowns and 64 interceptions and had a career QB rating of 48.5. Nevertheless, he paved the way for southpaw throwers like Ken Stabler and later Steve Young to be accepted despite being lefty and having run game skills. It could be argued that Douglass was the original lab experiment and Young the perfected final product.

Back to the November 1973 game. It was at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, an intimidating place for visiting teams in the Lombardi era but not so much now. This was a matchup between Douglass and the heir apparent to Bart Starr, a not-so-legendary signal caller named Scott Hunter. The pair traded first quarter touchdowns as Douglass opened the scoring on a 1 yard run, with Hunter answering on a 5 yard scoring toss to MacArthur Lane. In the second stanza Hunter ran in from a yard out and the clubs traded field goals, putting Green Bay ahead 17-10 at the half. The second half turned out to be the Bobby Douglass show. He accounted for all the scoring with 3 more short TD runs, giving him a total of 4 six-pointers on the day as he amassed an even 100 yards rushing on 18 carries. His passing stats were unspectacular but efficient, as he hit on 10 of 15 throws for 118 yards in his team’s 31-17 victory. In all the Bears rushed for 230 yards while their defense made life miserable for Hunter. He completed only 3 of 15 passes for a meager 17 yards. The only offensive bright spot for the Packers was the 119 yards gained on the ground by Lane and John Brockington, who was a very underrated running back in the post-Lombardi Packer era. Unfortunately for the Bears, this would be the last game they won in the ’73 season as they finished 3-11 for last place in the NFC Central Division. Green Bay managed a bit more success, but not much more as they wound up just ahead of the Bears in the standings at 5-7-2.



Packer defenders spent the day chasing Douglass

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Archie Has A Day

02 Dec

This week on the NFL schedule, the Dallas Cowboys meet the New Orleans Saints, and we’ll feature these 2 teams as our Throwback Thursday game. They met on October 17, 1971 at Tulane Stadium, the Saints’ home field at the time. The Saints, who entered the league as an expansion team in 1967, hadn’t gotten off the ground in the first 4 years of their existence, but in 1971 were ready to finally find some success behind their shiny new rookie quarterback, Archie Manning. The ’71 season started slowly for the Saints, as they entered this contest with a 1-2-1 mark, while Dallas, having endured a crushing last-second Super Bowl loss in 1970, won 3 of their first 4 games. Cowboys’ coach Tom Landry, trying to get his club past the “can’t win the big one” curse, brought in seasoned veterans for the ’71 campaign who had won titles with other clubs, players like Mike Ditka, Herb Adderley, Lance Alworth and Gloster Richardson. New Orleans had at least shown some respectability and competitiveness so far this season, but this was a chance to show they were ready to emerge as a rising team.

They did just that as they came out playing inspired football, dominating the first half. Manning threw a 29 yard touchdown pass to Tony Baker for the only scoring in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Charlie Durkee connected on a field goal and Manning finished a drive by taking matters into his own hands, scrambling 13 yards for a score to give his team a shocking 17-0 lead at halftime over the defending NFC champs.  Landry made the decision at the half to replace ineffective starter Craig Morton, who had been intercepted twice, at QB with the dangerous Roger Staubach, who was a scrambler that could create some offense. The move worked, as Staubach fired a 41 yard touchdown pass to Richardson for the only score of the third quarter, then hit “Bullet” Bob Hayes  from 16 yards out to bring the Cowboys to within 3 at 17-14. However, when Manning ran in from 2 yards out for another score, the Saints secured a 24-14 win and sent their fans home happy and with hope for a winning season.

It didn’t work out that way, as New Orleans stumbled to a last place 4-8-2 record. Dallas, on the other hand, took some positives from the loss. Landry, who had foolishly entered the year with a plan of alternating quarterbacks with Morton and Staubach, eventually settled on Roger the Dodger as the starter, and he led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl title that season, a resounding victory over the young Miami Dolphins. The club’s first championship win, exorcising the losing demons at last, took place right back at the site of this game, Tulane Stadium.



Saints’ Archie Manning challenges the Doomsday Defense

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Tragedy In Detroit

25 Nov

It’s Thanksgiving week, and the NFL celebrates the holiday with a trio of games. However, this week’s Throwback Thursday feature is a somber one. It involves an event that happened on October 24, 1971 in a game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, who clash this week on the 2021 NFL schedule. The game was basically just your average NFL contest of the era, although both clubs were off to good starts for the season, with the Lions a game ahead of Chicago in the standings after 5 weeks of play. Don Shy’s 21 yard touchdown run for the Bears was sandwiched between a pair of Errol Mann field goals in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-6 lead. In the second stanza Bobby Douglass completed a 54 yard scoring pass to George Farmer to add to Chicago’s lead, but when Ron Jessie returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, the momentum swung back to Detroit. Greg Landry then led the Lions on another scoring drive that he completed with a 16 yard TD throw to Larry Walton, giving the Motor City club the lead for the first time at 20-14. Douglass hit Bob Wallace from 15 yards out to finish the first half scoring, and Chicago went into halftime back in the lead at 21-20.

Both defenses stiffened in the third quarter, with the only scoring coming on another Mann field goal for Detroit, giving the Lions the lead back. Douglass, a swashbuckler of a signal caller, rallied his team to another score and did the honors himself by plunging in for the touchdown to put the Bears back ahead 28-23. Landry and the Lions didn’t give up the fight. With under 2 minutes to play, Detroit began a drive to retake the lead. The Lions’ QB found receiver Chuck Hughes for a 32 yard gain. Hughes jumped up and raced back to the huddle, knowing time was working against his club. That reception was the 15th and final catch for Hughes. A couple of plays later, both of which were incompletions, Hughes grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. In the confusion, the Bears’ bench thought he was faking an injury to get the clock stopped, and the Lions thought Bears’ linebacker Dick Butkus had leveled Hughes with a dirty hit. But when Butkus, who noticed the fallen player was convulsing, began frantically waving to the Lions’ bench for the trainers to come out, it became obvious there was a problem. Detroit’s team doctors worked to try to revive the Lions’ player, and an ambulance was brought out, transporting him to the hospital. It wasn’t known to anyone in the stadium at the time, but Hughes was already dead from a heart attack. The last minute of the game was played in a hushed silence as the stunned crowd looked on. Chicago hung on to win but almost nobody cared. The tragedy of this day remains the only time a player has died on the field in an NFL game, and Hughes left behind a wife and a not-quite 2 year old son. Ironically, earlier in the season Hughes had complained of chest pains, and was checked out by doctors and eventually cleared to play. The Detroit franchise to this day does not issue Hughes’ number 85 jersey to any player unless permission is given by the Hughes family.



Lions’ Chuck Hughes lies prone on the field

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NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Snow Globe Game

18 Nov

It’s time for another Throwback Thursday feature, and this week we’ll look back on a game from just a few years ago, played in a blizzard in Orchard Park, NY between 2 teams that meet this week on the NFL schedule, the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. It was December 10, 2017 when this contest for the ages took place, and the weather conditions were indeed blizzard-like, leading it to be dubbed “The Snow Globe Game”. In all, 17 inches of lake effect snow fell during the day, including 8 inches while the game was played. The Colts were dressed in their all-white uniforms and were barely visible on the field or on television, while the Bills stood out in their all-red alternate “color rush” uniforms.


Hearty Bills Mafia fans enjoying the weather


Obviously, the conditions were not conducive to either offense, and the first quarter went scoreless as both teams tried to establish some sort of footing on the snow covered field. Bills’ quarterback Nathan Peterman finally was able to steer his club to the end zone in the second stanza, finding Kelvin Benjamin on an 8 yard scoring toss to put his team ahead. The third quarter was scoreless also. Despite rushing attacks dominating the day for both teams due to the weather and lack of visibility, the Colts managed to tie the game in the final quarter just as the Bills had scored the game’s first TD, on a short pass. Jacoby Brissett found his tight end, Jack Doyle, from 3 yards out and kicker Adam Vinatieri booted the extra point. In the third quarter, Peterman had left the game with a concussion, leaving the Bills’ fate in the hands of little-used backup Joe Webb III, who was on the roster mainly as a special teams contributor. Buffalo struggled to mount any attack with Webb as their signal caller, and late in the final period the Colts intercepted him to set up a potential game winning field goal from Vinatieri. He missed the kick in the swirling winds, however, and the Bills had life as the contest went into overtime.

In the extra session neither team could find any footing, and they traded punts until Webb suddenly completed an improbable pass of 34 yards to Deonte Thompson, setting up a 25 yard scamper to the end zone by LeSean McCoy to win the game for Buffalo 13-7. McCoy, a notorious bad weather runner who had excelled in similar conditions while playing for Philadelphia, wound up with an incredible 156 yards on 32 carries for the day. Similarly, the Colts’ offense was almost exclusively rushing yards from their workhorse back, Frank Gore. He dashed his way through the snow for 130 yards on 36 carries. It turned out to be an important win for Buffalo, as they snuck into the playoffs a few weeks later on the season’s final day, ending a 17 year postseason drought. The feat would not have happened without this hard-fought winter battle victory.


LeSean McCoy rambles to the winning TD in overtime



NFL – Throwback Thursday: Battle Of The Bills

11 Nov

Week 10 of the NFL season is upon us, and an intriguing matchup on this week’s slate of games has the Cleveland Browns visiting Foxborough to meet the New England Patriots. For Throwback Thursday this week, we’ll feature a playoff game between these 2 clubs played on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 1995. The game matched mentor against student in the head coaching ranks, as New England’s Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl winning coach with the New York Giants earlier in his career, faced off against his former New York defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, now the head man with the Browns.


Parcells and a young Belichick meet before the game


The Browns entered the game with a better record and were favored at home in venerable old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The only first quarter scoring came on a 30 yard Matt Stover field goal for the Browns, as the defenses of both clubs stymied the offenses. In the second quarter, New England’s young second year quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, put his team in the lead with a 13 yard touchdown pass to LeRoy Thompson. Cleveland matched that as their signal caller, Vinny Testaverde, tossed a short scoring pass to Mark Carrier to put the Browns ahead 10-7. A Matt Bahr field goal for the Patriots tied the score at halftime, and it was sure to continue to be a defensive struggle for the final 30 minutes. When all was said and done, the Cleveland defense did more damage than Parcells’ squad. They harassed Bledsoe all day and forced him into throwing 3 interceptions. One of the Browns’ biggest defensive contributors on the day was backup safety Louis Riddick, starting due to injury. The future Monday Night Football analyst had an interception and led his team in tackles. Testaverde, the journeyman QB who was expected to be outplayed by Bledsoe, had perhaps the game of his career. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards, and engineered a third quarter drive that ended with LeRoy Hoard scoring on a 10 yard run to put Cleveland up 17-10. It was all the scoring the Browns would need. The teams traded field goals in the final quarter, and the Browns earned a 20-13 victory. Testaverde’s favorite target on the day was wide receiver Michael Jackson, who moonwalked his way to 7 catches for 122 yards.

Cleveland’s win propelled them into a showdown with their bitter division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the following week. The success would end there, as Pittsburgh soundly defeated them 29-9. Things got worse from there. Browns’ owner Art Modell announced during the 1995 season that he was moving the franchise to Baltimore, becoming the most hated man in the city.



Browns’ QB Vinny Testaverde


NFL – Throwback Thursday: A New Era Begins

04 Nov

Last week’s Throwback Thursday post featured a very historic Super Bowl game, and with the Green Bay Packers meeting the Kansas City Chiefs on this week’s slate of games, we’ll revisit another title game of historic proportions, the first Super Bowl. It was played between the Packers and Chiefs, and technically wasn’t a Super Bowl because the annual championship contest hadn’t been given that name yet. The established National Football League, with commissioner Pete Rozelle leading the way, engineered a merger with the newer American Football League, led by Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. Under the 1966 merger agreement, the 2 leagues would henceforth hold a common draft of college players, ending the wild bidding war between the rival leagues, merge into one league beginning with the 1970 season, and immediately following that ’66 season, hold an annual championship contest between each league’s best to be played at a neutral site. The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFL title, while the Chiefs steamrolled the Buffalo Bills to emerge as the AFL champ.

The title game was dubbed the “AFL-NFL Championship Game” for the first couple of years, and this first one was carried by both networks that televised each league’s games. The Los Angeles Coliseum was chosen as the venue for the game, and it was treated more as a curiosity than anything. It didn’t sell out, and the NFL clubs basically ridiculed the junior league, dubbing it a “Mickey Mouse” league made up of NFL rejects. For anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the match (like me), however, the sight was incredible. Seeing these 2 teams from different leagues on the same field was unheard of, and the pre-game handshake between the coaches, Vince Lombardi of Green Bay and the Chiefs’ Hank Stram, was like nothing ever seen before. It was new and fresh and exhilarating, even if it wasn’t given a lot of credibility by the established NFL.


Hank Stram, Vince Lombardi pre-game handshake


Lombardi entered the game under tremendous pressure to win the game and show the NFL’s dominance. He was a smart football man and realized that this young K.C. club was talented and wouldn’t be a pushover. He also had confidence in his players, who had won 2 consecutive NFL titles and been champs 4 times in the previous 6 years. The Packers were dealt an early blow when their starting flanker, Boyd Dowler, went down with a shoulder injury. An unlikely hero then emerged to start off the scoring in the game. That would be Dowler’s backup, old veteran Max McGee. Rumor had it that McGee, not expecting to play on Sunday, had defied Lombardi’s curfew on Saturday night and was hung over when he entered the fray. McGee snagged a Bart Starr pass over his shoulder and rambled 37 yards into the end zone. It was the first of many big plays the old receiver would make in the game. Kansas City stayed competitive, and Len Dawson led a drive that culminated in a 7 yard scoring toss from him to his fullback, Curtis McClinton, to tie the score. Green Bay’s fullback, Jim Taylor, put his club back in front with a 14 yard touchdown run, and when a Chief drive near the end of the half stalled, Mike Mercer booted a 31 yard field goal to shorten the Packer lead at the break to 14-10.

Rozelle, whose background was in public relations, attempted to boost the game’s overall look from just another gridiron clash to an event. The halftime show included doves being released, singer Carol Channing and a couple of guys in football uniforms flying around the stadium with jet packs. It was a far cry from today’s lavish halftime shows, but it was a modest beginning to what was to become practically a national holiday in the future.



Halftime show included release of doves, Carol Channing and flying rocket men


The Chiefs put up a competitive fight in the first half, but the Packers’ experience and power took over in the second half. Elijah Pitts scored on a 5 yard run and Starr targeted McGee again on a 13 yard score to open up a 28-10 lead after 3 quarters. The lead allowed Lombardi’s forces to tee off on Dawson in the final quarter, and when a heavy pass rush forced an errant throw, Willie Wood intercepted and returned it 50 yards to set up the game’s final score, a 1 yard plunge by Pitts to secure Green Bay’s victory at 35-10. Starr was deservedly named the game’s MVP, although he got a lot of help from McGee, who staggered his way to a game-high 7 catches for 138 yards and the 2 TDs. The Chiefs never mounted much of a rushing attack, but Dawson and his receivers, Chris Burford, Otis Taylor and tight end Fred Arbanas, all put forth a good effort. Lombardi, who pleased his NFL counterparts by winning the game handily, praised the Chiefs as a very good squad but also threw a dig at the AFL, saying he felt there were numerous teams in the older league that were better than Stram’s club.


Green Bay QB Bart Starr, the obvious MVP


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Doug Williams Conquers The World

28 Oct

Super Bowl XXII, a very historic championship game, is the subject of our Throwback Thursday feature this week, the eighth week of the NFL season. On this week’s slate is a game between the Denver Broncos and the Washington Football Team, the 2 franchises who played in that historic title game on January 31, 1988. History was made before the game even started, as Doug Williams was announced as Washington’s starting quarterback, becoming the first African American to start at the position in a Super Bowl. He was an unlikely starter. He had entered the year as a backup and was 0-2 in the only starts he did make in the regular season. After leading the Redskins to their 2 playoff wins to reach the big game, he earned the start in the Super Bowl. His start hit a snag when he had to undergo an emergency root canal the night before the game, but he was pronounced fit to play. Denver, behind star QB John Elway, was making their second appearance in the title game in a row, having lost to the New York Giants the previous year.

The game started out slowly for Williams and the Redskins. Elway hit Ricky Nattiel on a 56 yard touchdown pass and Rich Karlis added a 24 yard field goal to give Denver a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. Near the end of the quarter, Williams twisted his knee awkwardly while dropping back to pass and had to leave the game. He returned in the second stanza, with a vengeance. The Redskins’ receiving corps at the time was small and speedy, and were collectively nicknamed “The Smurfs”. They also earned the moniker of  “The Fun Bunch” for their colorful touchdown celebrations. In the second period of this game, they got to celebrate a lot. Williams engineered an incredible 5 touchdown drives, throwing touchdown passes of 80 and 50 yards to Ricky Sanders,27 yards to Gary Clark, and 8 yards to Clint Didier. Also, the game’s other hero, Timmy Smith, ran 58 yards for a score. When the dust settled, the Redskins found themselves with an astonishing 35-10 lead going into halftime. The halftime show of the game was the first time a major act was booked to entertain the crowd and the television audience. The performers? Chubby Checker and The Rockettes. In another tidbit of trivia involving this game, Herb Alpert played the National Anthem on his trumpet, the last non-vocal performance of the song to date.


The Fun Bunch celebrates another TD


The third quarter of the game was scoreless, but the outcome had already pretty much been determined. Smith wrapped up a record-breaking day on the ground with a 4 yard touchdown run in the final quarter to give Washington a 42-10 victory. Williams was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, deservingly so with his play. Smith would have been a good choice also, as he set a new Super Bowl record with 204 yards rushing on 22 carries, a mark that still stands to this day.


Doug Williams enjoyed an historic victory in Super Bowl XXII


NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Ol’ Ball Coach Was A Player, Too!

21 Oct

It’s week 7 of the NFL season, and one of the matchups this week finds the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Indianapolis Colts. Our Throwback Thursday feature travels back to the 1969 season for a game between these 2 teams played on October 26th of that year. Coach Don Shula’s Colts were coming off the huge disappointing loss in the Super Bowl the previous season to the New York Jets. They were battling inconsistency as they started the year with 2 straight losses, then rebounded with a pair of wins. The 49ers were a team they hadn’t lost to since 1962, so a third consecutive win looked like a sure thing, especially with Baltimore being at home. San Francisco was enduring a down period in their history at this point. They were in the midst of a decade of mediocrity and coach Dick Nolan was struggling to make any headway in his quest to turn the franchise around, as the Niners entered this game winless at 0-4-1.

After a scoreless first quarter, Tommy Davis opened the scoring with a short field goal for San Francisco, but the Colts answered that with a drive that ended with Tom Matte hauling in an 11 yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to take a 7-3 lead. Quarterback Steve Spurrier, a career backup getting a rare chance to start, then guided a drive before the half with Ken Willard running in from 5 yards out, giving the 49ers the lead back at the half. San Francisco came out in the third quarter on fire. Spurrier led another drive in which he cashed in for a touchdown with an 18 yard scoring toss to Dick Witcher, then the defense took command by pilfering a Unitas throw, courtesy of John Woitt, which he ran back 57 yards for a touchdown to give San Francisco a shocking 24-7 lead. The proud Colts rallied as Unitas found his favorite target on the day, Jimmy Orr (8 catches for 146 yards), for a short touchdown pass, then closed the gap again with a one yard touchdown run by Matte. That was the end of the scoring, however, and Baltimore found themselves on the short end of a 24-21 score at the final gun.

Nolan’s 49ers won only 4 games in the ’69 season, and ironically half of those wins came against the Colts, as they upset them again later in the season. He was building something for the future, and the team won 3 straight Western Division titles to start the 1970s. The Colts were underachievers at 8-5-1 for the year, and Shula departed for Miami after the season, where he would find great success on the way to becoming the winningest coach in NFL history. Shula’s departure didn’t initially hurt the Colts, as they won the Super Bowl under Don McCafferty in 1970.


Steve Spurrier shined in a rare starting performance


NFL – Throwback Thursday: More High-Flying AFL Action

14 Oct

The Denver Broncos face off with their AFC West rivals, the Las Vegas Raiders, this Sunday in a week 6 game on the NFL schedule. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll go back to the high-flying early days of the American Football League, to a game played between these clubs on December 15, 1963. The Raiders were based in Oakland at the time and this contest was played at Frank Youell Field, a glorified high school stadium that was Oakland’s home then. Prior to 1963 the Raiders were one of the AFL’s weakest franchises. They had finished the 1962 season with a 1-13 record, and Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson had to loan the club $400,000 just to keep them afloat at one point. The Raiders’ fortunes turned around that season, however, when they hired a brash young assistant from the San Diego Chargers’ staff, Al Davis. Of course, Denver was the ultimate sad sack franchise of the AFL for the entire 10 year existence of the league. This game was the penultimate regular season contest of the ’63 season, with the Raiders enjoying an 8-4 record while the Broncos wallowed in last place of the Western Division at 2-9-1.

The game started out as expected with the Raiders scoring twice, on touchdown passes of 32 yards from Tom Flores to Bo Roberson and 18 yards from Flores to Art Powell, one of the AFL’s brightest stars in it’s formative years. Denver rounded out the first quarter scoring when rookie fullback Billy Joe rambled in from 9 yards out to cut Oakland’s lead to 14-7. Flores answered that by hitting his running back, Clem Daniels, with a 26 yard touchdown pass. The Broncos mustered up a field goal from Gene Mingo, and the clubs went into halftime with the Raiders holding a 21-10 edge.  When Flores threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, from 43 yards out to Daniels again, Oakland took a sizable 28-10 and it looked like the lowly Broncos were finished.

Denver quarterback Mickey Slaughter rallied the troops, however. He threw a 9 yard touchdown pass to Gene Prebola, and then led a drive that ended in a short scoring run by Hewritt Dixon, and suddenly Denver entered the final quarter down by only 28-24. The Broncos’ defense was their Achilles heel in 1963, as they allowed a total of 473 points overall for the season, by far the highest total in the AFL’s history. So it was easy pickings again for Flores, and he found Powell again for his fifth TD toss of the day. Slaughter didn’t give up easily. He engineered another drive and hit his All-AFL split end, Lionel Taylor, with a 29 yard scoring throw to pull his club to within 4 points again at 35-31. That would be all the scoring for the day, and Oakland held on to improve to 9-4. They finished the regular season the following week by outscoring the Houston Oilers in a 52-49 barnburner to end their season at 10-4, a miraculous climb from the previous year. It was only good enough for second place in the West as San Diego won their third division crown in 4 years. The Broncos put up a game effort on this day, and Taylor and Prebola both garnered over 100 receiving yards, but their reward for the “moral victory” was a date with the mighty Chargers in the regular season’s final week. The Chargers demolished them 58-20.


Al Davis transformed the Raiders’ franchise in 1963