Archive for the ‘Feature Stories’ Category

NFL – Throwback Thursday: Kelly’s Heroes

04 Jan

The final week of the 2023 NFL schedule takes place this week, and one marquee matchup features the Miami Dolphins taking on the Buffalo Bills. We’ll look back for this week’s Throwback Thursday post to a game played between these 2 AFC East rivals on September 10,1989 at what was then Joe Robbie Stadium. It was the opening day of the 1989 season and both teams had high expectations. Miami had dominated the Bills in the early part of the decade, winning 11 of 14 contests, but Buffalo rebounded when the Marv Levy/Jim Kelly era began with 4 straight wins.

Buffalo struck first with the only scoring in the opening quarter on a Scott Norwood field goal. Then the Dolphins took over the second quarter, scoring on a Troy Stradford 1 yard run and a Pete Stoyanovich field goal to lead 10-3 at the half. The Bills tied it up when fullback Larry Kinnebrew closed out a drive with a 2 yard TD plunge. Miami’s special teams then got into the fray, blocking a punt that Marc Logan picked up and took the remaining 2 yards into the end zone for a 17-10 advantage. Norwood cut it to 17-13 with another field goal to finish the third quarter scoring.

Dan Marino then made his presence felt, completing an 8 yard touchdown toss to Andre Brown, upping Miami’s lead to 24-13. The remainder of the game was a bit of a coming out party for Kelly as the quarterback and unquestioned leader of the Bills. He led one drive that culminated with him finding Flip Johnson on a 26 yard TD pass, then after the Bills’ defense held, he led another to the Dolphins’ 2 yard line with time running out. There were 2 seconds left on the clock, time for one last play. Kelly took the snap from center, dropped back to pass, then surprised everyone by running into the end zone for the winning touchdown to secure a 27-24 win. It was a great start to the Bills’ season as his teammates mobbed him in the end zone celebrating the daring play. That swashbuckling style would be a trademark of Kelly’s Hall of Fame career.


Jim Kelly, Dan Marino had many epic battles


NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Chiefs Get Complacent

28 Dec

In looking at the NFL’s schedule for this week, one matchup stands out. That is a meeting between the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals. For our Throwback Thursday feature, we need only go back a couple of seasons, to the AFC Championship game for 2021, played at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022, between these 2 teams. The Chiefs were defending AFC champs, coming off a divisional round win in an epic game versus Buffalo, and were seeking their third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. Cincinnati, behind their young quarterback Joe Burrow, was a bit of a surprise to reach this game. Kansas City, especially on offense, was on a roll having scored 42 points in each of their playoff victories, and entered the game favored to win.

It appeared it was going to be a mismatch as the much more seasoned Chiefs dominated most of the first half. Patrick Mahomes threw a 10 yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill to open the scoring, with the only other first quarter points coming on a Bengal field goal by Evan McPherson. The Chiefs then looked like they were on their way to a decisive win as Mahomes found his favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce, for a 5 yard touchdown, then tossed another, a 3 yarder to Mecole Hardman, to put his club up 21-3. K.C. drove down the field again and it looked like they were going to salt away this win early, but after failing to score on the first 3 downs, coach Andy Reid got a bit cocky and decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down instead of taking the sure points on a field goal. Cinci held, and it turned out to be a bit of a momentum shift. Burrow guided his team to a score before the half ended, hitting Samaje Perine with a 41 yard TD pass to cut the deficit to a more manageable 21-10.

Slowly but surely the Bengals clawed their way back into the game in the second half. Another field goal and a short 2 yard Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase touchdown pass cut the Chiefs’ lead to 21-19, and when Burrow connected with Trent Taylor for a successful 2 point conversion, the game was tied. The Arrowhead crowd watched in shock as the Bengals finally took the lead in the fourth quarter with another field goal, but breathed a sigh of relief as Mahomes and company, shut out for the entire second half, regrouped to get a tying three-pointer from Harrison Butker as time expired to force overtime. For the second week in a row the Chiefs won the OT coin toss and took the ball. After leading an amazing game-winning drive against the Bills, Mahomes would get another chance to shine. It wasn’t to be this week, however. Mahomes was intercepted by Vonn Bell on the third play from scrimmage, setting up McPherson for the winning field goal and an improbable 27-24 Cincinnati win. The young Bengals had calmly overcome an 18 point deficit, taking advantage of some complacency and perhaps outright cockiness, of the Chiefs.


McPherson celebrates the winning kick


NFL – Throwback Thursday: Ellison Sets The Record

21 Dec

The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints face off on this week’s NFL schedule, and for this week’s Throwback Thursday feature we will time travel back to a game played on December 5, 1971 between these franchises when an NFL record was set by an unlikely player. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was the site of the contest, with the Rams trying to keep pace for the division lead in the NFC West with the 49ers and Falcons, while the Saints were mired in the division basement. The unlikely player in question was Rams’ running back Willie Ellison, who had spent the first part of his career as a backup, but emerged as the Rams’ top back in ’71.

Ellison started what would turn out to be his record-breaking day by scampering 80 yards for the game’s first touchdown. L.A. expanded their lead to 14-0 when quarterback Roman Gabriel threw a 37 yard scoring pass to Jack Snow. The Saints’ QB, Edd Hargett, cut the lead in half with a 25 yard TD toss to Danny Abramowicz, but any good feeling the Saints got from that evaporated quickly when the Roadrunner, Travis Williams, a former Lombardi Packer and one of the NFL’s most feared return men of the era, ran back the ensuing kickoff 105 yards to the end zone. The Rams continued the onslaught in the second quarter. Larry Smith, who had been the team’s lead back before being upstaged by Ellison, contributed a 5 yard touchdown run, and Gabriel connected with ex-Dallas Cowboy Lance Rentzel for an 8 yard score, upping the lead to 35-7 at the half.

The Saints came out determined in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 35-21 on a pair of 1 yard jaunts from Bob Gresham and Hargett. Los Angeles retaliated to open the fourth quarter with a 39 yard touchdown connection from Gabriel and Rentzel. Gresham scored again from a yard out and the Rams added a late field goal to finish off an important  45-28 victory that kept their division title hopes alive.

Ellison was the story of the day, however. He finished the game with 247 yards rushing on 26 carries, breaking the NFL record of 237 previously held by Jim Brown, and also the overall mark of 243 that had been set in the AFL by the man some considered to be the Jim Brown of the AFL, Cookie Gilchrist. The ’71 season turned out to be the high point of Ellison’s career. He made his first and only Pro Bowl, and after one more year in L.A. finished up his playing days for 2 more seasons in Kansas City. The Rams fell short of the division title also, eventually finishing second behind San Francisco.


Willie Ellison on his record-breaking day




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