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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Saints Come Marching In

24 Nov

The New Orleans Saints face the Los Angeles Rams on this week’s NFL schedule, so this week for our Throwback Thursday feature we’ll travel back to opening day of the 1967 season, when the Rams took on New Orleans in the Saints’ very first game in the history of their franchise. NFL owners weren’t very kind to expansion franchises in those days, allowing them to only stock their teams with aging veterans and castoffs through an expansion draft, although they were allotted extra picks in the college draft. Coached by Hall of Famer Tom Fears, New Orleans went for a big name in the expansion draft when they plucked star running back Paul Hornung from the powerhouse Green Bay Packers, but the move backfired as a spinal cord injury forced Hornung to retire before ever playing a game for the Saints. Their roster was dotted with past-their-prime players like Billy Kilmer, Jim Taylor, Ernie Wheelwright, Doug Atkins and Jackie Burkett.

Fans in the Crescent City found reason to be optimistic after the Saints finished 5-1 in the preseason, and when rookie John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff in the opener against the Rams 94 yards for a touchdown, there was outright jubilation. One fan supposedly jumped up and yelled “this is going to be the greatest football team in history!” when Gilliam reached the end zone. Reality set in eventually, however, and Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel ran 2 yards for a score and threw a TD pass to Les Josephson, while Dick Bass ran for another touchdown as the Rams prevailed 27-13. The Saints finished the ’67 season with a 3-11 record, finishing last in the Capitol Division but playing competitive football in nearly every game. Some bright spots came out of that inaugural season for the new franchise, as defensive back Dave Whitsell came up with 10 interceptions to lead the league and set a team record that still stands to this day, earning him a Pro Bowl berth. Also, a young rookie receiver named Danny Abramowicz emerged as a rising star, one who would continue his excellent play for seven years with the Saints, becoming one of only a few bright lights to shine during a dismal losing stretch that would last over 20 years.

 

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John Gilliam returns opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Monsters of The Midway

17 Nov

On this week’s NFL schedule, there is a clash of 2 of the oldest franchises in the league, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Our Throwback Thursday feature harkens back to the 1963 NFL championship game played between these teams on December 29, 1963 at Wrigley Field, and was the fifth and final title game played at the venerable old ballpark. Wrigley was without lights in those days, and then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle asked Bears’ owner George Halas to move the game to Soldier Field, which was uninhabited since the Cardinals had moved to St. Louis in 1960. Halas refused, so Rozelle, fearing the game could go into multiple overtimes and into darkness, moved the starting time up from 1 PM to noon. This was the Bears’ first appearance in the title game since 1956, when they lost to these same Giants at Yankee Stadium. Halas’ club had ridden the efforts of a fierce defense nicknamed “The Monsters of The Midway” to an 11-1-2 record and the Western Division championship, breaking a 2 year run of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. The Giants, meanwhile, were an offensive powerhouse guided by aging quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who had a spectacular season throwing the ball, leading the league with a then-record 36 touchdown passes.

The game was a classic matchup of a stingy defense and a high-scoring offense, and as the old adage goes, offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. The Bears prevailed 14-10  as Tittle was subjected to some brutal punishment from the Chicago defense. Coached by future head coaching legend George Allen, the Bears’ defense dominated the NFL in the regular season, allowing just a shade over 10 points per game and finishing first in all statistical categories for the year, including in total interceptions with 36. Allen concocted a zone defense that combined a strong pass rush led by ends Doug Atkins and Ed O’Bradovich, a strong secondary that featured Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon, and a crew of linebackers who were both strong tacklers against the run and defended the short pass well in Bill George, Joe Fortunato and Larry Morris. Tittle had some success early as he led the Giants on an 83 yard scoring drive capped off by a 14 yard touchdown pass to flanker Frank Gifford, but was mauled by the Bears for most of the game.  He completed only 11 of 29 passes in the game and was intercepted 5 times. He also suffered a knee injury in the second quarter that affected his play the rest of the game.

Chicago’s quarterback was also an aging veteran, Bill Wade. He scored both of his team’s touchdowns on short QB sneaks, both set up by his defense. Allen, the defensive wizard, was awarded a game ball for his unit’s dominating performance, while the beating Tittle took effectively ended his career. He came back to play the next season but the Giants finished with a 2-10-2 record. In the second game of the year he was blind-sided by Pittsburgh’s John Baker and suffered crushed cartilage in his ribs, a cracked sternum and a concussion, but still played in every remaining game that year before retiring at the end of the season.

 

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Bear linebackers, from left, Larry Morris, Bill George and Joe Fortunato

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Cardiac Cards

10 Nov

There is an NFC West division matchup on this week’s NFL schedule pitting the San Francisco 49ers against the Arizona Cardinals, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll go back to a game played between these 2 franchises on Halloween in 1976. The Cardinals were based in St. Louis at the time, and played in the Eastern Division of the NFC while the Niners were an NFC West team. Played at Busch Stadium, the game featured a matchup of Cardinal coach Don Coryell’s wide-open offense, guided by veteran quarterback Jim Hart, against a San Francisco team led by former top draft pick Jim Plunkett, who had been a bust in New England and was trying to revive his career with the 49ers. Both teams entered the game with 6-2 records so it was an important game for their respective playoff chances. It was a close, exciting game, with the 49ers riding the hard running of Delvin Williams, who rushed for 194 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Cardinals countered with a balanced attack as Jim Otis ran for 109 yards while Hart threw for 3 touchdowns, including a 77 yard bomb to Mel Gray that tied the game at 20-20 at the end of regulation, sending it into overtime. Hart then led his club on a drive culminating in a game-winning 21 yard field goal by Jim Bakken. The Cards won 23-20,  a typical win for coach Coryell’s team, who had made a habit of winning these types of nail-biters over the years, earning the nickname of the “Cardiac Cards”.

Ironically, neither team made the playoffs that year. San Francisco faded in the second half of the year and wound up at 8-6, finishing second in the NFC West. The Cardinals wound up with a better record at 10-4, but they were third in their division, the extremely competitive NFC East. Plunkett’s play eroded as the season went on, and he was dispatched by the Niners. It appeared as if his playing days were over as he failed with a second team. However, he found a home after that with the Oakland Raiders, a club known for taking chances on troubled players, and went on to great success, winning a pair of Super Bowls as the Raiders’ quarterback.

 

St. Louis’ Jim Hart calls signals behind his dominating offensive line

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Play-In Playoff

03 Nov

The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers meet on the NFL schedule this week, and for our Thursday Throwback we will highlight a “sort of” playoff game between these 2 teams, played the day after Christmas  in 1965, that wasn’t technically a playoff game. The Colts and Packers had finished tied for the Western Division title, and this game needed to be played to determine who would represent the West in the NFL Championship game the following week against the Eastern Division champion (and defending league champion) Cleveland Browns. The Colts were at a dramatic disadvantage going into the game as both of their quarterbacks, John Unitas and Gary Cuozzo, were injured, forcing coach Don Shula to play his starting halfback, Tom Matte, at quarterback. The Colts had ruled the Western Division the previous season and were vying for the chance to seek revenge for the being shut out by the underdog Browns in ’64, but the lack of a viable signal caller made them heavy underdogs in this game.

Armed with a wrist band that contained the team’s offensive plays, Matte proceeded to play a competitive game for the Colts, although he didn’t accomplish much through the air. The playing field was leveled somewhat for Baltimore when Packer QB Bart Starr was hurt early on, forcing coach Vince Lombardi to go with his backup, Zeke Bratkowski. With a backup and a converted running back running the team’s offenses, the game predictably became a defensive struggle between 2 of the NFL’s strongest units, and the Colts clung to a slim 10-7 lead until just after the two minute warning, when a play occurred that would alter NFL history. Green Bay placekicker Don Chandler booted a 22 yard field goal that appeared to sail wide right, but the official signaled it to be good. Chandler even lowered his head in disappointment at what he thought was a miss. At the time, the league had just one ref, positioned directly under the goalposts, to judge field goals.  The Packers went on to win the game in overtime as Chandler made good on another three point attempt, this time from 25 yards out. When replays seemed to clearly show that Chandler’s game-tying kick had indeed gone wide, the league decided to raise the length of the uprights to the height that they are in today’s game for the following season. It was just another example of a controversial play in NFL history leading to an improvement to avoid future miscues by officials. The Packers then went on to defeat Cleveland in the title game, beginning a stretch of 3 consecutive championship seasons for Lombardi’s club.

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Tom Matte, Baltimore’s “emergency QB” 

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The First Monday Night Football Game Ever Played

27 Oct

On this week’s NFL schedule, the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns square off, so for our Throwback Thursday feature I am going to re-post, from 2010, a story about a game played between these two franchises – the very first Monday Night Football game ever played. Here it is:

Monday Night Football  has become a weekly tradition in itself after humble beginnings in 1970. NFL football in 1970 was completely different than the game today, but there was so much “newness” going on at that time that the game was really starting to become the nation’s real national pastime. At the point where the NFL decided to try the Monday night experiment, the league had just merged with the American Football League and realigned itself into the National and American Conferences. Three NFL teams – Cleveland, Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Colts – were transferred into the AFC to balance out the 2 conferences. So even though the first MNF matchup between the Browns and New York Jets was technically a game between 2 AFC teams, it was far from that. The NFL had long claimed superiority over the AFL until the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs pulled off huge Super Bowl upsets and cemented the AFL’s place as an equally-talented league. The Browns-Jets matchup opened the MNF season in 1970 after the Chiefs had beaten the Vikings in SB IV, and Namath’s Jets were already over a year removed from their upset win over the Colts in SB III that changed pro football forever. The Browns were a proud NFL team that was getting its’ shot at quieting the brash, young upstart quarterback from the AFL, Joe Namath. The broadcast team for the game was not the famous trio that put MNF on the map – Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell. Keith Jackson was the play-by-play man in the first season, but the following year moved to doing college telecasts for ABC and was replaced by Gifford. Cosell, of course, became the star of the MNF show over time and was hated by fans everywhere for his pompous attitude, but that was all part of the show. In fact, ABC’s Roone Arledge completely changed the way games were covered, introducing more sideline closeups of players and coaches and microphones to catch what was being said on the sidelines. There was more drama and showmanship brought into the broadcasts, and interviews of famous people by Cosell in the booth became commonplace. Ronald Reagan and John Lennon were just 2 of the people Cosell interviewed during the games. You were nobody if you hadn’t been interviewed by Cosell on MNF back then. Also, Cosell’s halftime highlight show became hugely popular.

Howard Cosell

As for the first game itself, the Browns, with veteran Bill Nelsen at quarterback, future Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly having long since replaced Jim Brown as the featured back, and veteran split end Gary Collins running circles around a young, inexperienced Jet secondary, jumped out to a 14-0 lead. The Jets cut it to 14-7 at halftime, then Homer Jones made the biggest play of his career by returning the second half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to widen the Browns’ lead to 21-7. Namath rallied the Jets back to within 24-21, but late in the game threw an interception that LB Billy Andrews returned for a touchdown that climaxed a 31-21 Cleveland victory. The Browns gave the NFL old guard a small measure of revenge for the 2 previous Super Bowls with the win, but the sport was on it’s way to evolving into the entertainment giant it is today. Pete Rozelle’s vision of growing the game, with the merger, Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl, has grown beyond even his wildest dreams.

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “Merry Freakin’ Christmas!”

20 Oct

Just a couple of weeks ago we featured a game for a Throwback Thursday post from the Philadelphia Eagles’ dismal 1968 season, the Thanksgiving Mud Bowl. On this week’s NFL schedule, the Eagles take on the Minnesota Vikings, and not to pick on that hapless ’68 Eagle team, but with these 2 franchises facing off we had to feature another Philadelphia game, from December of ’68, between these 2 teams that became infamous because Eagle fans, weary of watching their team lose all year, actually booed and assaulted Santa Claus. The game itself wasn’t very memorable. The Vikings, a far superior team that year, won 24-17. Viking quarterback Joe Kapp had a pretty good game, running for a touchdown and tossing TD passes to Bill Brown and Gene Washington.

Played on December 15th, and being the Eagles’ final home game of the season, a halftime Christmas pageant was planned, a yearly tradition at old Franklin Field for the home finale. There had been a snowstorm earlier in the morning, and the guy who was supposed to play Santa in the pageant decided not to show up, leaving the team’s staff in a predicament. Unlike the movie Miracle On 34th Street, the real Santa didn’t appear to save the day. Enter Frank Olivo, a former Atlantic City craps dealer and Eagle season ticket holder who always dressed up in a Santa suit each year for the last home game. Team officials spotted him in the crowd and asked him to step in for the missing regular Santa in the pageant. He reluctantly agreed, and at halftime, walked out onto the field along with the other members of the pageant, waving to the crowd as he was asked to do. The game itself was competitive at that point, tied at 7-7 at the half, so no one really knows what put the Philly faithful in such a foul mood, but the crowd began to boo the poor substitute Kris Kringle. Maybe it was because he was a little too skinny to be a believable Santa, maybe it was his tattered suit, maybe it was the fact that the Eagles were just plain lousy that year and the fans were fed up. But on top of the booing, some fans decided to start pelting Olivo with snowballs, and before long he was running for his own safety.

In an interview years later, Olivo said at one point as he was running for cover he spotted a fan in the first row and watched him grab some snow, pack it into a snowball and fire it at him. He ran up to the wall, pointed his finger at the offender and yelled, “You’re not getting anything for Christmas!” Olivo wound up becoming a legend in Philadelphia sports history, and if you want to get a glimpse of some of what he was facing in the Franklin Field stands that day, take a look at the picture of him below in his place in the stands. It almost looks like he was smack dab in the middle of the local Mafia section.

 

 

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Frank Olivo, AKA Santa Claus, in the stands in Philadelphia

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “No Punt Intended”

13 Oct

Non-conference matchups on the NFL schedule occur between franchises only every four years, so there aren’t anywhere near the amount of classic games to choose from for my weekly Throwback Thursday feature as there are for divisional rivals. However, every once in awhile one pops up that is memorable and stands out as the one I need to showcase for that week. This week, the AFC’s Buffalo Bills match up with the NFC’s San Francisco 49ers, which harkens back to a game played between these two teams on September 13, 1992, when both franchises were league powerhouses. They played a classic game that featured a ton of offense, and wound up being the first one ever played in NFL history in which neither team punted. Yes, San Francisco’s Klaus Wilmsmeyer and Buffalo’s Chris Mohr, their team’s respective punters, had the day off. The game is now known in NFL lore as “The No Punt Game”.

It was one of those games that gets described as a “shootout”, as the two clubs, led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Steve Young, combined to amass 1,086 yards of total offense. Each threw 3 touchdown passes, which is far short of the league record for most combined TDs, and even the final score of 34-31 in favor of the Bills wasn’t that high compared to some of the point totals racked up in today’s Madden video game style of play. Still, it was a fun game to watch with lots of thrills and big plays provided by Kelly and Young and by both their star teammates like Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Ricky Watters, and by lesser known players like John Taylor, Mike Sherrard, Odessa Turner and Pete Metzelaars. Despite all the offense, there wasn’t a 100 yard rusher in the game, but there were 4 100+ yard receivers, two for each team. One large oddity of the game: Future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, the greatest wideout of all time, had 3 catches for a paltry 26 yards for the 49ers.

Taylor caught 2 of Young’s 3 TD passes, while tight end Metzelaars caught a pair of Kelly’s. The offensive explosion was a little more rare to see than it is today, but despite all the back-and-forth action and the brilliant aerial display by both QBs, the winning touchdown came on a running play. It was an 11 yard scamper by the Bills’ Thomas, and was the only score in the fourth quarter.

 

 

San Francisco 49ers vs. Buffalo Bills at Candlestick Park Sunday, September 12, 1992. Bills beat 49ers 34-31. San Francisco 49ers tight end Jamie Williams (81) attempts to tackle Buffalo Bills defensive back Nate Odomes (37) after interception.

Buffalo’s Nate Odomes returns an interception in the No Punt Game

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Mud Bowl

06 Oct

This week’s NFL schedule pairs the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles against each other, which takes this week’s Throwback Thursday feature back to Thanksgiving Day of 1968, to a dull, sloshing game between these 2 teams that became known as the “Thanksgiving Mud Bowl”. You rarely see games like this played nowadays with the advent of artificial playing fields and domed stadiums, but even as boring as it was, it was REAL football played in REAL conditions. In an era known for a style of play that was labeled “three yards and a cloud of dust”, this contest was more like “three yards and a cloud of slop”. There was very little offense displayed by either team, as the field conditions at Tiger Stadium were a quagmire due to 36 consecutive hours of rain in the Detroit area. Lions’ linebacker Wayne Walker described the muddy field as being “ankle deep”, while a Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter wrote that “Tiger Stadium’s turf made the average pig’s quarters appear to be wall-to-wall carpeted by comparison.”

 

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Eagle QB Norm Snead prepares to hand off in the 1968 Thanksgiving Day “Mud Bowl”

The Eagles wound up winning the contest 12-0 on 4 field goals by placekicker Sam Baker. Although there was very little action in the game, there was plenty of controversy afterwards, due to a situation eerily similar to the recent New England Patriots’ “Deflategate” episode. In the 1960s, the NFL had a rule that only the home team was to provide footballs for game action, with the officials not having any control over the use of the balls like they do in today’s game. But on each of their field goal attempts, the Eagles’ equipment manager snuck dry balls in to the holder, Joe Scarpati, giving Baker a decided edge over the Lions, who used the wet, muddy balls on their possessions. Karma caught up with the Philadelphia club, however. They had a terrible season, but the Thanksgiving win turned out to be just enough to cost them the top draft pick in the next NFL draft. Buffalo got the pick instead and the Bills were able to choose O.J. Simpson. The Eagles wound up picking the forgettable Leroy Keyes.

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More action from 1968’s “Thanksgiving Mud Bowl”

 

 

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: “The Catch”

29 Sep

With the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys matching up on this week’s NFL schedule, picking the Throwback Thursday feature was a no-brainer. It’s one of the most memorable games in NFL lore, the 1981 NFC Championship game played between these two franchises. Played on January 10, 1982, it was a classic game whose outcome signified a “changing of the guard” in power in the NFC from the Cowboys, who dominated the 1970s, to the 49ers, who would go on to win multiple Super Bowls in the 1980s. It was a tough, close, exciting game, and the final drive by the Niners, led by Joe Montana in what was his introduction to pro football fans as “Joe Cool”, culminated in the play that would be forever known as “The Catch”. Trailing 27-21, Montana guided his club downfield and on a crucial third down play from Dallas’ 6 yard line, he took the snap, surveyed the field, and, unable to find an open receiver, sprinted out to the right with Cowboy defenders in hot pursuit. Just inches away from being pushed out of bounds, Montana launched a high pass into the corner of the end zone, which receiver Dwight Clark leaped up and snatched for the winning touchdown.

Some observers felt that Montana was actually throwing the ball away to try again on fourth down, but he and Clark claimed that they had practiced for just such a situation and that Montana knew exactly where his tall receiver would be. Niner coach Bill Walsh, when the pass was thrown, was supposedly already looking down at his play sheet for a play to call on fourth down. Regardless, the completion was made, San Francisco went on to win 28-27, and “The Catch” went into NFL history as one of it’s classic, unforgettable moments. There were some other classic moments in the ending of the game, actually. On the final play, there was an exchange between Montana and the Cowboys’ massive defensive end, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, that was an example of Joe Cool’s competitiveness. As he released the ball, Montana was crushed by Jones, and never saw Clark catch the ball. He only knew the result when he heard the home crowd cheering. Jones, lying on top of the 49er quarterback like a predator on his prey, told Montana “you just beat America’s Team”, to which Montana replied “well, now you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Super Bowl!” Another forgotten moment came after “The Catch”, when Dallas, with 51 seconds still left to play, started to drive downfield. Danny White hooked up with his star receiver, Drew Pearson, on a long pass and the Cowboy star appeared poised to break free to the end zone. Eric Wright, safety for San Fran, saved the day by running down Pearson and bringing him down with a horse-collar tackle, a move that is illegal in the NFL today. It’s certainly not a household play with NFL fans, but 49er faithful still refer to Wright’s game-saving tackle as “The Grab”.

 

 

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San Francisco’s Dwight Clark makes “The Catch”

 

NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Giant Mismatch

22 Sep

We’ve often featured games played between division rivals in our Throwback Thursday posts, and this week’s will go back to the 1961 season to take a look at a game played between two longtime Eastern Division/NFC East rivals, the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, who play on this week’s NFL schedule. In 2013, we remembered a game played between these 2 clubs in 1966 that was one of the wildest ever, as the Redskins throttled the Giants 72-41 in what still stands as the highest scoring game in league history. The Giants were a doormat in that ’66 season as they finished with only one win all year. However, five years earlier, in the 1961 season, the New York club was a powerhouse. They were in the midst of a stretch that saw them reach the NFL title game 5 times in 6 seasons. Unfortunately, they lost all five of those games (in 1958 and ’59 to the Baltimore Colts, in ’61 and ’62 to Green Bay and in ’63 to the Chicago Bears). On this day, November 5, 1961, the two franchises entered the game at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Giants were 5-2 and leading the division, while the lowly ‘Skins had dropped all 7 of their contests.

The game turned out to be as big a mismatch as the teams’ records indicated it would be, as the Giants pounded their Eastern Division rivals 53-0. Prior to the ’61 season, the Giants had acquired veteran quarterback Y.A. Tittle from the San Francisco 49ers, where he had led a potent 49er offense that was dubbed the “Million Dollar Backfield”. Tittle was considered to be washed up when the trade was made, but apparently the Giants knew what they were doing. Not only did Tittle win the starting job, displacing Giant legend Charley Conerly, but he went on to win three NFL Most Valuable Player Awards in New York and lead the team to the title game in three consecutive years from 1961 to ’63. On this day, the game started ominously for the Redskins as their QB, Norm Snead, was tackled in the end zone for a safety by Dick Modzelewski to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. Then Tittle went to work, torching the Washington secondary for three touchdown passes, two to split end Del Shofner, before giving way to backup Lee Grosscup, who threw another scoring pass to Shofner. The Giant defense chipped in with a 51 yard interception return by Jim Patton for a score, while the hard-luck Snead was caught in the end zone again for another safety, this time by Jim Katcavage. Snead never did much in Washington but did have a long career, mostly as a journeyman QB, after the ‘Skins made a petty good trade of their own a couple years later, swapping Snead to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sonny Jurgensen, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

This wasn’t the only game in which Tittle tortured Washington. The following season he set an NFL record for most TD passes in a single game, seven, in a Giant rout that we’ll likely feature in a future Throwback Thursday post.

 

tittlegiantsGiant quarterback Y.A. Tittle