Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Original 12th Man?

14 Dec

This week’s Throwback Thursday post features a game played between 2 old American Football League rivals who meet on the schedule for week 15, the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. It was played on November 3, 1961 in the fledgling league’s second year of existence, when they were still mocked by the established NFL as a “Mickey Mouse” league. This game probably helped that reputation along, based on an incident that took place. The New England team was still known as the Boston Patriots at the time, and the Chiefs were still the Dallas Texans, 2 years removed from their eventual relocation to Kansas City.

The contest was played at the Patriots’ home field at the time, Nickerson Field. For some reason it was a common practice for teams to switch quarterbacks within games back then, and that strategy worked out for Boston in this contest. In the opening quarter Butch Songin found Jim Colclough from 14 yards out for a touchdown, then Babe Parilli came into the game and threw a 7 yarder for a score to Gino Cappelletti and the Patriots were off and running with a 14-0 lead. The Texans found an answer before the first stanza ended as their signal caller, Cotton Davidson, tossed a 42 yard touchdown pass to Chris Burford, who finished the game with 7 receptions for 137 yards, to cut the lead to 14-7. The only scoring in the second quarter also came from the Texans, as early AFL star Abner Haynes scored from 3 yards out to tie the game.

Boston got a bit of luck to regain the lead in the third quarter. They drove down into Dallas territory but fumbled the ball at the goal line. Parilli smartly picked up the loose ball and carried it the last yard into the end zone to put his club ahead 21-14. Davidson answered with a 40 yard bomb to Bo Dickinson for the tying score, but the draw didn’t last long as Ron Burton returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown to put the Pats back ahead 28-21. The third quarter now ended, and there was to be no more points for either team in the final quarter. Davidson did drive his team to the Boston goal line in an attempt to gain a tie, but that’s when the infamous play documented in the video below took place. On the game’s last play, a fan, who would become known as “Trench Coat Man, entered the playing field and unbeknownst to the officials, helped break up a pass into the end zone. So I guess in retrospect the AFL introduced more than just the innovations of a wide open passing game, player names on the back of jerseys and the 2 point conversion. They also were the first to have the “12th Man”, in this case literally helping the team win.



The “12th man” makes a play for the Patriots’ defense


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Raiders Win The “Big One”

07 Dec

This week’s NFL schedule includes a matchup of the Las Vegas Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, 2 of pro football’s winningest regular season franchises of the 1960s and ’70s. Unfortunately, neither could finish the job, and gained the reputation of not being able to “win the big one”. To this day, the Vikings still haven’t achieved the feat, while the Raiders exorcised the demon in the game we’ll feature for this week’s Throwback Thursday. It was Super Bowl XI, played on January 9, 1977, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. It was the second Super Bowl appearance for the Raiders, who lost to Green Bay in the second such title game, and the fourth (and to this day still the last) attempt at winning the “big one” for Minnesota.

Oakland coach John Madden had always had his team at or near the top of the regular season standings in the AFC, but were forced to play second fiddle to the dominating Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steeler teams in the first half of the decade of the ’70s. They finally slayed the Steeler dragon in the 1976 AFC championship game, and would now get their chance to climb to the top of the NFL mountain. The Vikings, always known for having exceptional special teams, got the game’s first break when Matt Blair blocked a punt to give the Raiders the ball deep in Oakland territory, but a fumble at the 1 yard line ruined that break. After a scorelees first quarter, the Raiders took command. They used a relentless rushing attack, led by Clarence Davis, to pound away at the aging Viking defense to secure the next four scores of the contest – a pair of Errol Mann field goals sandwiching a 1 yard Ken Stabler to Dave Casper touchdown pass and a 1 yard Pete Banaszak run, giving Oakland a 19-0 lead. Minnesota’s offense, stifled for most of the first 3 quarters, finally put together a drive that culminated with an 8 yard Fran Tarkenton to Sammy White scoring pass to cut the lead to 19-7. White, one of Tarkenton’s top receivers, had been held without a catch in the first half, and was almost killed when he caught a pass over the middle by the Raiders’ Jack Tatum, known as “The Assassin” and a guy who always played on the edge.


Clarence Davis, the real MVP of Super Bowl XI?


Banaszak scored again on a 2 yard run and when Willie Brown picked off a desperation Tarkenton pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown, the final nail was driven into the Vikings’ coffin for the day. Minnesota scored a late garbage time touchdown to make the final score 32-14, but Oakland and coach Madden claimed their first title in dominating fashion. Davis was the star rusher in the win, accumulating 137 yards on 16 carries, but the game’s MVP award went to Fred Biletnikoff, who had key receptions on scoring drives among his 4 grabs for 79 yards.  After a couple more seasons Madden would retire as a coach and go into broadcasting and video games, but his replacement, former Raider QB Tom Flores, would pick up the reins and win 2 more “big games” for the Raiders in the early 1980s.


“Old man Willie, he’s gonna go all the way!”


NFL – Throwback Thursday: King Of The Hill

30 Nov

This week 2 old NFL franchises meet in a battle of top teams in the National Conference this season – the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. Our Throwback Thursday feature game, played between these clubs, took place on November 20, 1966 at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium. Both teams were non-contenders at the time, with Eagles entering the game with a 5-5 record while the Niners were barely above water at 4-3-2. They managed to put on a pretty good show this particular week, however. The home team jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a Tommy Davis field goal paired with an 11 yard touchdown pass from John Brodie to running back Ken Willard. Earl Gros, the Eagles’ fullback, cut into the lead with a 1 yard touchdown plunge, but the 49ers countered with another 10 point surge before halftime as Willard scored again, this time from a yard out, and Davis added another three pointer.

The Eagles came out storming in the second half behind their crew cut quarterback, King Hill. He fired a 15 yard scoring strike to tight end Pete Retzlaff, only to be matched by Brodie, who threw 30 yards to John David Crow for a score, putting San Francisco ahead 27-14. Hill kept his club close with another TD strike to Retzlaff of 10 yards. Gary Lewis then scored on a 2 yard run to end the third quarter, with the Niners now ahead by a commanding 34-21. Philly owned the final quarter, cutting the lead to 34-28 with some help from their defense – a Jim Nettles interception returned for a touchdown. Hill then sealed the deal for a 35-34 comeback win for the Eagles when he connected with an aging future Hall of Famer, Ollie Matson, on a short 4 yard TD pass. It was a sweet moment for Matson, who was winding down the final season of a brilliant 14 year career. It was also a bright spot in the ’66 season for Hill, as he was making 1 of only 2 starts he got that year in place of Norm Snead. Philadelphia finished that season strong, winning out the last 3 games after this to wind up 9-5 for the year, tied for second place with Cleveland in the Eastern Division.


1966 Eagles’ offense, with King Hill under center




NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Fumble

23 Nov

The Denver Broncos face the Cleveland Browns in the week 12 NFL schedule, and our Throwback Thursday post will relive an AFC Championship game played between these 2 teams on January 17, 1988. It was a rematch of the 1986 title game that saw the Broncos winning 23-20 in overtime after John Elway led his team on a 98 yard scoring drive to send the game into the extra period. That game would go down in NFL lore as “The Drive”, and this contest would produce another heartbreaking defeat for Cleveland that would become known as “The Fumble”.

This was the third meeting over a four year span that Denver and Cleveland would meet for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, with the Broncos winning the previous two. Once again, it appeared that Denver would have it’s way as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind an 8 yard Elway to Ricky Nattiel touchdown pass and a Steve Sewell 1 yard plunge. The Browns got on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a Matt Bahr field goal, but another short scoring run from Gene Lang lengthened Denver’s lead to 21-3 at halftime. The Browns, determined to reverse their luck, came alive in the third quarter. Quarterback Bernie Kosar found Reggie Langhorne on an 18 yard TD pass, but Elway countered that with an 80 yard bomb to Mark Jackson for a score. Ernest Byner, who along with Kevin Mack gave the Browns a devastating 1-2 punch in the run game, scored a pair of touchdowns, first on a 32 yard pass from Kosar and then on a 4 yard run. Suddenly the Browns were within 4 points of the lead at 28-24. Rich Karlis’ field goal stretched the Broncos’ lead back to 7 at 31-24. Early in the final quarter Kosar got his club tied at 31-31 with another touchdown pass, this time a short 4 yarder to Webster Slaughter. Elway’s 20 yard TD throw to running back Sammy Winder restored the Broncos’ lead to 7 as the game was winding down.

The determined Browns drove down the field and were within striking distance of tying the game when the infamous play happened. On second down at the Denver 8 yard line, Byner took a handoff and battled his way to the 3, where he would’ve set up first and goal. However, in trying to get into the end zone he was hit by a pair of defenders who jarred the ball loose. The Broncos recovered at the 3 yard line, and after failing to move the ball, coach Dan Reeves had his punter run out of the end zone for a safety rather than risk a blocked punt or a long return. Cleveland had one more shot but ran out of time, and the Broncos escaped with a 38-33 victory.

Byner took the fumble and the loss to heart, as the play went down in history as “The Fumble”. Karma would be kind to him, however. He was eventually traded to the Washington Redskins and would be a major contributor to a pair of Super Bowl wins for that franchise in the early 1990s.


A dejected Byner after his fumble


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Breaking The Streak

16 Nov

Two old NFL rivals, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, meet this week on the league schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we’ll harken back to the penultimate week of the regular season of 1954 for a game played between these franchises. It took place at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on December 12 of that year. Although the Lions are showing signs of life in the 2023 season, they have been NFL doormats for most of the last 60 years. That wasn’t the case in the 1950s, however. Detroit was a powerhouse club in those days, and going into this contest they had already clinched the Western Division title and a spot in the upcoming championship game. Coach George “Papa Bear” Halas’ Bears were also a force to be reckoned with in this era, but the Lions had gotten the best of them recently, winning 4 straight and 5 of the last 6 meetings.

The determined Bears came out fighting in the first half. Quarterback Zeke Bratkowski threw a 26 yard touchdown pass to Jim Dooley, then the other Chicago QB, Ed Brown, came off the bench and found Harlon Hill for a 35 yard score. Doak Walker got Detroit on the scoreboard with a field goal, but before halftime Bratkowski and Dooley hooked up again for a short TD pass and the Bears went into the locker room with a comfortable 21-3 lead. Being a proud club, the Lions didn’t die easily. Subbing for starter Bobby Layne, quarterback Tom Dubinski got his team back into the contest in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdown hookups to Jug Girard to bring the score to 21-17. John Hoffman gave the Bears some breathing room, and the Bears’ final score, with a 19 yard touchdown run to put his team ahead 28-17.  Detroit closed the gap to 28-24 on a Dubinski touchdown toss of 40 yards to Jim Doran, but Halas’ forces hung on for the 28-24 win, breaking their losing streak against their Western Division rivals.

The Lions had one more regular season game to play after this one, as they traveled to Cleveland to meet the club they would face for the NFL championship a week later. They prevailed 14-10 to finish 9-2-1 for the year. That game didn’t mirror what would happen when those 2 teams met the next week, again in Cleveland, for the title. The Browns won the crown handily 56-10.


Bears-Lions game program from 12/12/54


NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Comeback Colts

09 Nov

The NFL is entering week 10 of it’s regular season schedule beginning tonight, and a game featured on the slate is between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. We’ll throw it back to January 21, 2007 for this week’s Throwback Thursday post, for a contest that pitted 2 of the era’s top quarterbacks, the Colts’ Peyton Manning and the Pats’ Tom Brady, in a duel for the 2006 AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl.

In the first of what would be a day full of freakish touchdowns, New England’s Logan Mankins recovered a fumble in the end zone to give his team a 7-0 lead. Former Patriot Adam Vinatieri got the Colts on the board with a field goal to close out the opening quarter, but the Patriots surged in the second. Corey Dillon scored on a 7 yard run, then Asante Samuel added another off the wall TD when he picked off Manning and returned it 39 yards to the end zone for a 21-3 New England lead. It was beginning to look like another case of Brady getting the best of Manning in their rivalry. After Vinatieri closed out the first half with another field goal, another odd scoring play got the Colts to within 21-13 when Manning scored on a play he never ran, a 1 yard sneak. Indy then tied the game with a 1 yard touchdown pass from Manning to defensive tackle Dan Klecko, of all people, who was a tackle eligible on the play, and a successful 2 point conversion.

New England went the traditional route to go ahead 28-21 when Brady found Jabar Gaffney open for a 6 yard touchdown pass, but the Colts squared the score again to start the fourth quarter on another freak play – center Jeff Saturday’s end zone recovery of a fumble. The placekickers took over at that point, with Vinatieri sneaking in a 36 yarder between a pair of three pointers from New England’s Steven Gostkowski from 28 and 43 yards out. With a minute left in the contest, the Colts completed the comeback when Joseph Addai ran in from 3 yards out to give his club a 38-34 win and a trip to the Super Bowl. Although he didn’t figure in any of the scoring, Colts’ tight end Dallas Clark was an unsung hero, catching 6 passes from Manning for 137 valuable yards. Indianapolis would finish the job with a rain-soaked 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in the big game to give Manning and coach Tony Dungy their first titles.


QB Manning at work against Pats’ defense




NFL – Throwback Thursday: Steelers Steal One

02 Nov

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans clash on this week’s NFL schedule, and for Throwback Thursday we’ll travel back to the AFC Championship game of the 1979 season, played at Three Rivers Stadium on January 6, 1980 between these 2 franchises. The Steelers were defending champs and seeking their fourth trip to the Super Bowl in the decade of the ’70s, while their opponents were still located in Houston as the Oilers. The 2 teams were fierce division rivals at the time in the old AFC Central, and were meeting in the title game for the second straight year.

The Oilers were humiliated 34-5 in the previous season’s title game, and coach Bum Phillips and his squad were determined to get revenge this time. They got off to a rousing start when Vernon Perry picked off a Terry Bradshaw pass and returned it 75 yards for the opening touchdown. The teams traded field goals before Bradshaw got back on track and tossed scoring passes of 16 yards to tight end Bennie Cunningham and 20 yards to John Stallworth to lift his team to a 17-10 halftime lead.

The defenses stiffened in the third quarter, but late in that period a play occurred that would change the course of future NFL games. Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini hit receiver Mike Renfro with an apparent game tying touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. None of the officials originally signaled a TD, or any other call for that matter. After one of their annoying little “conferences”, the call was made that the pass was incomplete because Renfro had not gotten both feet down inbounds. There was no official instant replay at the time, but television replays clearly showed that the play should have been a touchdown. Phillips vehemently argued the call but there was no recourse at the time, and the Oilers settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 17-13. The Steelers tightened up on defense after that, and the Oilers seemed to lose their momentum. Bradshaw engineered drives that led to another field goal and a 4 yard Rocky Bleier touchdown run to earn their Super Bowl trip 27-13.

The Renfro play wasn’t forgotten, however. It was the impetus for the league to begin serious discussion about using replay as a tool to get calls correct, and since change moves slowly among tradition-bound NFL owners, it was finally implemented in 1986.


Mike Renfro’s non-catch in AFC title game



NFL – Throwback Thursday: Where Were You?

26 Oct

This week’s Throwback Thursday feature game was played on a Monday night, October 8, 1980 between a pair of clubs who meet on this week’s NFL slate. They are the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins.

If you’re as old as I am, you’ve witnessed a number of “where were you when you heard the news?” moments in your life. The Kennedy assassination, the space shuttle Challenger explosion and of course, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This week’s feature game was one of those “where were you when you heard the news” moments for a lot of football fans. The game itself was not a very memorable one. The first 3 quarters were a boring field goal fest, with New England’s John Smith hitting a pair of three-pointers in the second quarter, and Miami’s Uwe Von Schamann matching him in the third quarter. Both clubs finally found the end zone in the final quarter. The Patriots took a 13-6 lead when Matt Cavanaugh found tight end Russ Francis open for a 38 yard touchdown pass. Then Dolphin QB David Woodley hooked up with Nat Moore from 8 yards out to tie the game.

The shocking moment then came after the telecast returned from a commercial break, with Smith taking the field to try a winning field goal with 3 seconds left. Then play-by-play man Frank Gifford implored his counterpart, Howard Cosell, that he had to let the viewing public know the news they had just confirmed. Cosell reluctantly agreed:

“Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City — the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles — shot twice in the back; rushed to Roosevelt Hospital; dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”

It was a terrible moment that gets permanently etched in your memory. Watching the game myself, I remember my first thought was “why the hell would anyone shoot John Lennon? He was all about peace and love.” Lennon was a friend of the Monday night crew, and especially Cosell, having been present at an earlier game in 1975 where Cosell interviewed him at halftime. It was reported by MNF producers later that the crusty announcer struggled to break the news as he was overcome with emotion.

For the record, Miami blocked Smith’s field goal attempt to send the game to overtime, and Von Schamann eventually won it 16-13 for the Dolphins with, of course, a field goal. John Smith had a 10 year career as the Patriots’ placekicker, but his name will be forever linked in my mind to that tragic announcement on a Monday night in December of 1980.


Howard Cosell interviewing John Lennon on MNF (11/20/75)


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Richter Wins It!

19 Oct

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams clash on this week’s NFL schedule, and we’ve chosen a game played between these 2 long-time clubs to feature for this week’s Throwback Thursday post. The contest was played on October 2, 1955 at the L.A. Coliseum. In the ’50s, both teams had reputations. The Rams were known as an offensive powerhouse, led by their future Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. The Steelers, on the other hand, were an annual bottom feeder but always played tough defensively. Both teams were coming off opening week victories, but the Rams were favored due to a better 1954 finish. After a scoreless first quarter Los Angeles took advantage of their home field to jump out in front 17-0 by halftime. Fullback Deacon Dan Towler ran in from a yard out to open the scoring, then after a Les Richter field goal Van Brocklin connected with Bob Boyd on a 74 yard bomb for another touchdown.

Pittsburgh regrouped in the second half. Lynn Chandnois scampered  into the end zone from 8 yards out, followed by a 1 yard quarterback sneak by Jim Finks . When Chandnois scored again on a 2 yard run, the Steelers took the lead. However, in what would come to haunt them later, they missed both extra points on the last 2 scores, and their lead was only 19-17. Van Brocklin righted the Rams’ ship in the fourth period, finding Tom Fears on a 17 yard touchdown pass to regain the lead at 24-19. The lead didn’t last long, however. On their next possession, Pittsburgh defensive back Richie McCabe, who had intercepted Van Brocklin earlier in the game, scooped up a Ram fumble and raced 50 yards to paydirt and suddenly the Steelers were back in front 26-24 and poised for an upset win.

Los Angeles refused to buckle and drove into position for Richter to kick a game winning 32 yard field goal in the waning seconds to pull out the victory 27-26. Boyd was the offensive catalyst for the Rams with 3 catches for 114 yards and his long touchdown. Obviously the missed extra points were costly for Pittsburgh. The teams’ fortunes went in opposite directions as the season progressed also. The Rams won the Western Division title while Pittsburgh languished to a 4-8 mark and a sixth place finish in the Eastern Division.


Rams’ Bob Boyd hauls in a Van Brocklin pass


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Hadl Heats Up

12 Oct

For this week’s Throwback Thursday feature, we’ll highlight the Dallas Cowboys for the second week in a row, this time with a game played against a team they meet on the week 6 NFL schedule, the Los Angeles Chargers. It was played on November 5, 1972 at the Chargers’ old home in San Diego and was a match between the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys and the sad sack Chargers, who were 2-5-1 under coach Harland Svare at that point. The new realignment of the merged leagues, the NFL and AFL, was only in it’s third year in ’72, so this was the first ever meeting between the 2 franchises.

There were no surprises for the first 2 1/2 quarters, as the Cowboys scored early. Mike Montgomery scooped up a fumble and returned it 54 yards for the opening touchdown. Then, after a Toni Fritsch field goal, Dallas’ offense took over. Walt Garrison rumbled 9 yards for a score, quarterback Craig Morton found Mike Ditka open from a yard out for another, then, early in the third quarter, Morton scrambled 7 yards to paydirt to give his club a commanding 31-0 lead over the overmatched Chargers.

It was at this point that San Diego signal caller John Hadl, one of the AFL’s top stars in the 1960s, regained some of that old AFL magic. He got his team on the board to wrap up the third quarter scoring with a 46 yard TD pass to Chuck Dicus, and carried that momentum into the final quarter. Hadl and the Chargers mounted a furious comeback as the balding QB fired 3 scoring passes, 42 yards to Gary Garrison, a second one to Dicus from 20 yards out and a 47 yard bomb to Dave Williams. Although the Charger comeback struck a little fear in the Cowboys, they did manage to sneak in another Fritsch field goal among the onslaught, and eventually extinguished the fire to pull out a 34-28 win. Amazingly, Hadl’s 4 scoring passes came on only 11 completions for the day, and he also was victimized for 3 interceptions. The Chargers outgained Dallas in both rushing and passing yards, but 4 turnovers sealed their fate. 1972 would be Hadl’s last year with the Chargers, as they traded him to the Los Angeles Rams prior to the ’73 season. He would earn All Pro honors with the Rams that year.


Walt Garrison churns out yardage (James Flores photo/Getty Images)