January 31, 2011

List of the Day: Progression of Individual Season Rushing Record

Eric Dickerson

NOTE: The NFL first began tracking individual rushing yards in 1932. Information not available for the first three AFLs (1926, 1936-37, 1940-41)

576- Cliff Battles, Boston Braves, 1932
(148 att., 3.9 avg., 3 TD)

809- Jim Musick, Boston Redskins, 1933
(173 att., 4.7 avg., 5 TD)

1004- Beattie Feathers, Chicago Bears, 1934
(119 att., 8.4 avg., 8 TD)

1008- Steve Van Buren, Philadelphia Eagles, 1947
(217 att., 4.6 avg., 13 TD)

1146- Steve Van Buren, Philadelphia Eagles, 1949
(263 att., 4.4 avg., 11 TD)

1527- Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1958
(257 att., 5.9 avg., 17 TD)

1863- Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns, 1963
(291 att., 6.4 avg., 12 TD)

2003- O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973
(332 att., 6.0 avg., 12 TD)

2105- Eric Dickerson, Los Angeles Rams, 1984
(379 att., 5.6 avg., 14 TD)

Steve Van Buren

Jim Brown

AAFC (1946-49)
709- Spec Sanders, New York Yankees, 1946
(140 att., 5.1 avg., 6 TD)

1432- Spec Sanders, New York Yankees, 1947
(231 att., 6.2 avg., 18 TD)

AFL (1960-69)
875- Abner Haynes, Dallas Texans, 1960
(156 att., 5.6 avg., 9 TD)

948- Billy Cannon, Houston Oilers, 1961
(200 att., 4.7 avg., 6 TD)

1096- Cookie Gilchrist, Buffalo Bills, 1962
(214 att., 5.1 avg., 13 TD)

1099- Clem Daniels, Oakland Raiders, 1963
(215 att., 5.1 avg., 3 TD)

1121- Paul Lowe, San Diego Chargers, 1965
(222 att., 5.0 avg., 6 TD)

1458- Jim Nance, Boston Patriots, 1966
(299 att., 4.9 avg., 11 TD)

Jim Nance

WFL (1974-75)
1576- Tommy Reamon, Florida Blazers, 1974
(386 att., 4.1 avg., 11 TD)

USFL (1983-85)
1812- Herschal Walker, New Jersey Generals, 1983
(412 att., 4.4 avg., 17 TD)

2411- Herschel Walker, New Jersey Generals, 1985
(438 att., 5.5 avg., 21 TD)

XFL (2001)
800- John Avery, Chicago Enforcers
(150 att., 5.3 avg., 5 TD)

Herschel Walker

January 30, 2011

1994: Cowboys Win Back-to-Back Titles With Super Bowl XXVIII Win Over Bills

Super Bowl XXVIII on January 30, 1994 featured a rematch of the last contest’s participants. The Dallas Cowboys had mauled the Buffalo Bills by a 52-17 score, an especially bitter blow for the Bills since it was their third straight Super Bowl defeat.

The Cowboys, under Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, topped the NFC East with a 12-4 record during the ’93 regular season, defeated Green Bay in the Divisional playoff round and then, also for the second straight year, defeated their nemesis, the San Francisco 49ers, to win the conference title. The offense centered most heavily on the nucleus of QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith (the consensus league MVP, pictured above), and WR Michael Irvin, but also had outstanding players in FB Daryl “Moose” Johnston and TE Jay Novacek. The defense featured DE Charles Haley (even though hobbled by a disc injury), DT Russell Maryland, MLB Ken Norton, and FS Thomas Everett.

Head Coach Marv Levy’s Bills were also 12-4 in topping the AFC East and had beaten the Raiders and Chiefs to win their fourth consecutive AFC Championship. Like the Cowboys, they had a veteran core on offense that included QB Jim Kelly (pictured at left), RB Thurman Thomas, and WR Andre Reed. The tough defense included All-Pro DE Bruce Smith, NT Jeff Wright, linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett, CB Nate Odomes, SS Henry Jones, and FS Mark Kelso.

The game was played inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with 72,817 on hand. The Cowboys scored on their first possession that followed a 50-yard return of the opening kickoff by WR Kevin Williams. Aikman immediately passed for 20 yards to Irvin to get to the Buffalo 28 yard line, and three plays later Eddie Murray kicked a 41-yard field goal.

The Bills responded in kind, driving 43 yards in seven plays. Kelly completed passes of 11 yards to Reed and 24 to Thurman Thomas, but a throw on third-and-seven was dropped by WR Bill Brooks and Buffalo settled for a Super Bowl-record 54-yard field goal by Steve Christie.

Dallas had to punt following its next possession, but Buffalo handed the ball back on its first play as Thomas fumbled after gaining seven yards on a shovel pass from Kelly. Safety Darren Woodson recovered at the 50 and the Cowboys drove to another field goal, this time of 24 yards, with Aikman completing a 24-yard pass to WR Alvin Harper along the way.

The Bills proceeded to put together a long, 17-play drive that extended into the second quarter and was helped along when CB Dave Thomas ran into punter Chris Mohr for a five-yard penalty in a fourth-and-three situation. Kelly completed seven passes and Thurman Thomas ran the ball seven times, including a four-yard touchdown run that put Buffalo back on top at 10-6.

Again Dallas had to punt, but John Jett’s kick was downed at the Buffalo one yard line. The Bills managed to advance to the Cowboys’ 46 in 11 plays and returned the favor when Mohr’s 45-yard punt was downed at the one by special teams star Steve Tasker. But just as Buffalo had, Dallas responded to being pinned back by mounting a long drive, primarily fueled by short throws by Aikman. However, after reaching the Bills’ 37, Aikman’s long pass was intercepted by Odomes, who returned it 41 yards to the Dallas 47.

With just over a minute remaining in the half, the Bills took over and, starting with throws by Kelly of 12 yards to Thomas and 22 to Reed, reached the Dallas nine before Christie kicked a 28-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 13-6 lead at halftime. It seemed as though Buffalo’s Super Bowl luck might be changing, but it was not to be.

On the third play of the second half, Thomas fumbled and FS James Washington (pictured below) recovered and ran 46 yards for a touchdown. With the successful extra point, the game was suddenly tied at 13-13. The Bills went three-and-out on their next possession, and the Cowboys drove 64 yards, virtually all accounted for by Emmitt Smith. The star running back ran the ball six straight times and a total of seven over the course of the drive, gaining 61 yards that included a 15-yard scoring carry. The Cowboys were now ahead 20-13 and just starting to roll.

The Bills got the ball back and drove into Dallas territory, but had to punt. The teams traded punts for the remainder of the third quarter. However, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Washington made another big play for the Cowboys as he intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 12 yards to the Buffalo 46.

Once again, it was Emmitt Smith fueling the ensuing drive, carrying the ball six times and gaining nine yards on a screen pass. Along the way, Aikman threw to Harper for 16 yards and a first-and-goal at the six. The final run by Smith was for one yard and a TD, and Dallas led by a 27-13 margin with under 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Following another punt by the Bills, the Cowboys put together one last scoring drive, going 49 yards in nine plays, featuring a 35-yard pass play from Aikman to Harper and ending with Murray’s 20-yard field goal.

Buffalo held the ball for 17 plays, nearly using up the remainder of the clock, but could score no more points. Backup QB Bernie Kosar, who had been dealt to the Cowboys by Cleveland during the season, came in to take a knee and run out the last six seconds, participating in a Super Bowl for the only time in his career, and the Cowboys won a second straight title by the score of 30-13.

Dallas outgained the Bills (341 to 314 yards) although Buffalo had more first downs (22 to 20). But Buffalo’s running game was held to 87 yards on 27 carries and the Bills gave up three turnovers, to one suffered by Dallas.

Emmitt Smith, who dominated the second half and was the game’s MVP, ran for 132 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns. Troy Aikman (pictured at right) completed 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards with no TDs and one interception. Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek caught 5 passes apiece, for 66 and 26 yards respectively, and Alvin Harper gained 75 yards on his three receptions.

For Buffalo, Jim Kelly went to the air 50 times, with 31 completions for 260 yards, and had one picked off. Thurman Thomas gained just 37 yards on 16 carries, including a touchdown, but caught 7 passes for 52 yards, although he also had the two fumbles. Bill Brooks also had 7 catches, for 63 yards, while Andre Reed gained 75 yards on 6 receptions. RB Kenneth Davis was the team’s leading ground gainer with 38 yards on 9 attempts.

The fourth straight Super Bowl loss was the end of the run for Buffalo, as the Bills sank to 7-9 in 1994. It was the end for Jimmy Johnson as well, as he quit the club due to differences with owner Jerry Jones. The Cowboys again went 12-4 in ’94 under Barry Switzer, but finally lost to the 49ers in the NFC title game. They regained the championship throne following the 1995 season.

January 29, 2011

Past Venue: Comiskey Park

Chicago, IL

Year opened: 1910
Capacity: 50,934, up from 32,000 in early 1920s

Comiskey Park, 1913-61, 76-90
White Sox Park, 1910-12, 62-75

Pro football tenants:
Chicago Cardinals (NFL), 1922-25, 29-30, 38, 40-58
Chicago Bulls (AFL), 1926

Postseason games hosted:
NFL Championship, Cardinals 28 Eagles 21, Dec. 28, 1947

Other tenants of note:
Chicago White Sox (MLB – AL), 1910-90
Chicago American Giants (baseball Negro Leagues), 1941-52
Chicago Mustangs (NASL), 1968
Chicago Sting (NASL), 1980-85

Notes: Also served as a home field for the combined Cardinals-Steelers (Card-Pitt) team in 1944. Site of the boxing match in which Joe Louis defeated James Braddock to become world heavyweight champion, June 22, 1937. The stadium was owned by baseball’s White Sox and named for founding owner Charles A. Comiskey (it was briefly called “Charles A. Comiskey’s Baseball Palace” in 1910).

Fate: Demolished in 1991, the site is now used as a parking lot for the new Comiskey Park/US Cellular Field.

NOTE TO READERS: I'm introducing a new feature today, Past Venues. These will be interspersed among the regular daily entries, along with the Lists of the Day, especially during the offseason months. The stadiums featured, at least initially, will be those that were major pro football venues (i.e., used for at least two seasons as a team's home field) and not currently being used - at least, not by an NFL team.

January 28, 2011

2001: Ravens Throttle Giants in Super Bowl XXXV

Nine weeks into the 2000 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens were 5-4 and hardly seemed likely to reach the postseason, let alone the Super Bowl. But from that point they won seven straight games to close out the regular season, securing a wild card spot with a 12-4 record that placed them second in the AFC Central. From there they dominated the Broncos at home and the Titans (the club that won the division title) and Raiders on the road to win the AFC title and storm into a Super Bowl matchup against the New York Giants on January 28, 2001 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

Under Head Coach Brian Billick, the Ravens were propelled forward by the defense. At defensive tackle, Pro Bowler Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa effectively plugged the middle of the line. The brilliant All-Pro MLB Ray Lewis (pictured above) led a unit that included Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper on the outside. Cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister were highly effective and joined in the backfield by 35-year-old Pro Bowl FS Rod Woodson and SS Kim Herring. The unit gave up just 165 points over the course of the 16-game season, shutting out four opponents and allowing no more than one TD in 11 contests. If anything, it had stepped up its game in the playoffs.

At midseason, Trent Dilfer took over for Tony Banks at quarterback and provided good leadership as well as a steady hand as game-manager of a conservative, run-oriented offense that kept mistakes at a minimum. Rookie RB Jamal Lewis came on strong in the second half as well, gaining 1364 yards on the ground. 11th-year veteran TE Shannon Sharpe caught 67 passes. OT Jonathan Ogden anchored the offensive line.

The Giants, coached by Jim Fassel, had also gone 12-4 in winning the NFC East, and won more consistently across the course of the season. QB Kerry Collins took every snap and threw for 3610 yards and 22 touchdowns, reviving his career. Running backs Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne combined for 1776 rushing yards and 13 TDs (although Dayne tailed off badly toward the end), and Barber also added 70 pass receptions for 719 yards. Wide receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard were effective and caught 15 scoring passes between them. The solid defense featured Pro Bowl LB Jessie Armstead, DE Michael Strahan, MLB Mike Barrow, and CB Jason Sehorn. New York defeated the Eagles in the Divisional playoff round and then routed the Vikings for the NFC title.

The game started quietly as neither team was able to generate much offense, although as they exchanged punts, the Ravens were winning the battle for field position. The Giants had the first possession of the game, but the second and third times they had the ball, they started at their own 13 and one yard lines, respectively. Midway through the first quarter, WR Jermaine Lewis (pictured at left) returned a punt 33 yards into New York territory, and while a holding penalty cost the Ravens ten yards, they started in good field position at the 41. Two plays later, Dilfer threw to WR Brandon Stokley for a 38-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.

The clubs returned to trading punts, with Sharper intercepting a Collins pass in the second quarter that Baltimore was unable to capitalize on, but which stopped New York’s deepest penetration thus far (to midfield). The Giants nearly got a big break when Armstead intercepted a Dilfer pass and returned it for an apparent TD, but a defensive holding penalty on DT Keith Hamilton nullified the play.

With less than four minutes remaining in the half, the Ravens took over at their own 12 following another punt by the Giants, but following a six-yard completion to Stokley and a two-yard run by Jamal Lewis, Dilfer threw a pass to WR Qadry Ismail for a 44-yard gain down the left sideline to the New York 36. Four plays later, Matt Stover kicked a 47-yard field goal.

The Giants, getting the ball back with 1:34 remaining on the clock, briefly created some excitement as Collins completed a 17-yard pass to WR Ron Dixon and Barber took off on a 26-yard run to the Ravens’ 29 yard line. But on the next play, McAlister intercepted a Collins pass to snuff out the threat and Baltimore held a 10-0 lead going into halftime.

Following a punt by the Ravens on the first possession of the third quarter, Collins was again intercepted, this time by Kim Herring. Tony Banks replaced Dilfer at quarterback for this series (Dilfer had suffered a hand injury), but after Baltimore advanced to the New York 24, Stover missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.

The game settled back into a monotony of short possessions ending in punts until suddenly a stunning scoring spree erupted. First, Starks intercepted a Collins pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown to stretch Baltimore’s lead to 17-0. However, Dixon returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a TD to make it a 10-point game again. But on the next kickoff, it was Jermaine Lewis responding for the Ravens with an 83-yard touchdown. In just 36 seconds, a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns were scored, and the tally now stood at 24-7 in favor of Baltimore.

After that outburst, the game settled back into a defensive struggle. Baltimore took advantage of a short punt by Brad Maynard from his end zone to start with good field position at the New York 38 and drove to a three-yard touchdown run by Jamal Lewis. A fumble by Dixon on the ensuing kickoff return set up a 34-yard Stover field goal for the game’s final points. New York gained just one first down in its last four possessions and Baltimore came away the winner by a score of 34-7.

The Ravens defense capped a tremendous year by holding the Giants to 152 total yards and 11 first downs, and Ray Lewis was named the game’s MVP (Lewis accounted for 11 tackles, four assists, and four blocked passes). Collins was sacked four times and intercepted four times as well. Baltimore’s offense did little to generate excitement, but gained 244 yards and didn’t turn the ball over (thanks to the negated interception), as opposed to New York’s five turnovers. The teams set a Super Bowl record by punting 21 times (11 by the Giants, 10 by Baltimore).

Trent Dilfer (pictured below) completed 12 of 25 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Jamal Lewis ran for 102 yards on 27 carries that included a TD. Brandon Stokley caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown and TE Ben Coates added three receptions for 30 yards.

For the Giants, Kerry Collins had a rough outing, completing just 15 of 39 passes for 112 yards and four interceptions. Tiki Barber led the team in rushing with 49 yards on 11 carries and also caught 6 passes for 26 yards. Ike Hilliard’s 30 yards on three receptions led the team.

“We came after them early, set a tempo,” said Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis. “We applied pressure to let them know we'll play our defense and keep attacking and not let anyone take us out of our game.”

Speaking of the kickoff return for a TD by Jermaine Lewis that trumped Ron Dixon’s, Brian Billick said, “The emotional swing of the game at that point, you could see it on their side. When Jermaine took it back the other way, it was more dramatic...The emotional flipflop, even though the points were the same, I think had to be devastating to them.”

It was a triumphant return to Tampa for Trent Dilfer, who had spent six disappointing seasons with the Buccaneers before moving on to the Ravens. However, winning the Super Bowl did not guarantee job security and he was released in the offseason, catching on with Seattle.

The Ravens parted ways with Dilfer due to the free agent signing of the more highly-esteemed Elvis Grbac, who had been a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Chiefs. While Grbac ultimately proved to be a disappointment, the team again made it to the postseason in 2001, once more as a wild card, but fell to Pittsburgh in the Divisional round. New York dropped more precipitously, going 7-9 in ’01 before returning to the postseason as a wild card team in 2002 – the Giants would not vie again for a championship until the 2007 season.

January 27, 2011

List of the Day: Just for Fun - Favorite Nicknames

Part 2

"Crazylegs" Hirsch

The second installment of favorite pro football player nicknames.

Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch
Hall of Fame end for the Rams who started out as a HB with the AAFC’s Rockets.

“The Mad Bomber”, Daryle Lamonica
Well-suited to Oakland’s downfield passing game after backing up at QB in Buffalo. His career ended in the WFL.

Joe “Turkey” Jones
DE with the Browns, Eagles, and Redskins from 1970-80.

Willie “Flipper” Anderson
WR with four teams from 1988-97, but had his best years early on with the Rams and gained a record 336 receiving yards in a 1989 game.

“Slingshot Davey” O’Brien
The first Heisman Trophy winner to play in the NFL, the 5’7”, 150-pound QB filled the air with passes for two seasons with the dreadful Eagles in 1939-40.

Dave “Deacon” Jones
Hall of Fame DE who had his best seasons with the Rams. The player who coined the term “sack” was one of the best at rushing the passer.

Tom “The Bomb” Tracy
5’9”, 205-pound HB for the Lions, Steelers, and Redskins from 1956-64.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams
Broke in with a bang with the Bucs in 2005, and has suffered through an injury-plagued career since.

Alan “The Horse” Ameche
Colts FB from 1955-60 after Heisman-winning college career, he led the NFL in rushing as a rookie 1955, scored the sudden-death TD for the Colts in the 1958 title game.

“Automatic Jack” Manders
All-purpose back and premier placekicker of his era with the Bears from 1933-40.

Tom "The Bomb" Tracy

"Turkey" Jones

"Wild Man" Willey

“Bullet Bill” Dudley
Hall of Fame HB with the Steelers, Lions, and Redskins in 1942 and then ’45-53.

Carl “Spider” Lockhart
Spindly 6’2”, 175-pound FS for the Giants from 1965-75.

Bill “Earthquake” Enyart
Otherwise-unmemorable RB/LB with the Bills and Raiders, 1969-71.

Ed “Too Tall” Jones
6’9”, 271-pound DE for the Cowboys, 1974-89, with a year off in ’79 to try his hand at boxing.

“Pitchin’ Paul” Governali
QB with the Boston Yanks and NY Giants, 1946-48.

Norm “Wild Man” Willey
Star DE for the Eagles from 1950-57. The nickname says it all.

“Touchdown Tommy” Wilson
RB with the Rams, Browns, and Vikings from 1956-63 who once held the single-game rushing record.

“Deacon Dan” Towler
The first “Deacon” with the Rams, a FB from 1950-55 who led the NFL in rushing in ’52 and retired to church ministry.

Bob “The Boomer” Brown
6’4”, 280-pound Hall of Fame OT with the Eagles, Rams, and Raiders known as a punishing blocker.

“Mean Joe” Greene
Hall of Fame DT who earned four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers from 1969-81 and made a memorable soft drink commercial.

"Mean Joe" Greene

Bob "The Boomer" Brown

"Too Tall" Jones

January 26, 2011

1997: Packers Defeat Patriots with Big Plays in Super Bowl XXXI

The Green Bay Packers had won a record 11 NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls, when it was a contest between the champions of rival leagues and not yet the NFL Championship game. But three decades had gone by since the last title was achieved as the Packers met the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI on January 26, 1997 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Under Head Coach Mike Holmgren, the Packers were in the postseason for the fourth straight year in 1996. They had gone 13-3 to win the NFC Central and blasted past the 49ers and upstart Panthers in the playoffs to win the conference title. QB Brett Favre (pictured above) was the consensus league MVP as he led the NFL in touchdown passes (39) and ranked second in passing (95.8 rating). He had Pro Bowl TE Keith Jackson to throw to, as well as wide receivers Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks, and when injuries struck them veteran WR Andre Rison was obtained with good results. Running backs Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens combined for 1465 rushing yards and caught 31 passes apiece. The defense featured 35-year old Pro Bowl DE Reggie White, on the downside of his great career but still effective, tackles Gilbert Brown and Santana Dotson, cornerbacks Craig Newsome and Doug Evans, and All-Pro SS LeRoy Butler.

The Patriots were coached by Bill Parcells, who had twice led the New York Giants to championships. They had won the AFC East with an 11-5 record and gave up a total of nine points in postseason wins over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. The offense had Pro Bowl QB Drew Bledsoe, who in his fourth season led the league in pass attempts (623) and completions (373) while accumulating 4086 yards and 27 TD passes. It also had WR Terry Glenn, who set a then-rookie record with 90 catches, and Pro Bowl TE Ben Coates, with 9 touchdowns among his 62 receptions. Second-year RB Curtis Martin rushed for 1152 yards and 14 TDs. The defensive line, anchored by DE Willie McGinest, solidified over the course of the season, and other key performers on defense included LB Chris Slade, CB Ty Law, and SS Lawyer Milloy.

Before a crowd of 72,301 inside the domed stadium, New England got the ball first and had to punt. WR Desmond Howard, another contributor to the team’s success throughout the year with his kick returns, brought this one back 32 yards to the Green Bay 45. Two plays later, Favre threw to Rison for a 54-yard touchdown and the Packers were ahead, 7-0.

On the second play of the Patriots’ next possession, Bledsoe was intercepted by Evans, giving the Packers the ball at the New England 28 yard line. Green Bay advanced to the 19, from where Chris Jacke kicked a 37-yard field goal.

Now down 10-0, the Patriots responded with a six-play, 79-yard drive that included pass completions by Bledsoe of 32 yards to RB Keith Byars and 20 to Martin, a 26-yard gain on a pass interference call on the Packers, and concluded with a one-yard TD pass to Byars.

Green Bay went three-and-out, with Favre nearly intercepted on a third down pass, and punted. New England moved 57 yards down the field in four plays, one of them a 44-yard pass from Bledsoe to Glenn. Bledsoe threw to Coates for a four-yard touchdown and the Patriots took the lead at 14-10.

Both teams punted on each of their next two possessions, but in the first minute of the second quarter, with Green Bay at its own 19, Favre connected with Freeman, who caught the ball at the 45 and continued on for an 81-yard touchdown. The big play put the Packers back in front at 17-14.

Following another New England punt that Howard returned 34 yards to near midfield, Favre threw to Rison for 23 yards into Patriots territory. Levens ran 12 yards on a draw play and, four plays later, Jacke kicked another field goal, this time from 31 yards.

Bledsoe was intercepted again on the next series and the Packers once more capitalized on the turnover. Favre completed two passes and Levens ran for 31 yards on four carries as Green Bay went 74 yards in 9 plays, with Favre running the ball in from two yards out for a TD. The score was 27-14 at halftime.

The Packers, with the first possession of the second half, drove to the New England 37, but on fourth-and-one, Levens was stopped for a seven-yard loss. The teams traded punts and the Patriots scored another TD with an 18-yard run by Martin on a draw play to pull to six points behind. However, the situation changed quickly as Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown (pictured at left). Favre passed to TE Mark Chmura for a two-point conversion and Green Bay was back ahead by two touchdowns. It proved to be more than enough.

The kickoff return seemed to take all the air out of the Patriots, who went three-and-out upon getting the ball again, with Bledsoe sacked twice consecutively by Reggie White. The teams continued to trade punts as the game moved into the fourth quarter until Bledsoe was intercepted by Craig Newsome. The Packers held onto the ball for 11 plays, and while they came up empty when Jacke was wide on a 47-yard field goal attempt, there were now just under four minutes left to play. The Patriots went quietly, never getting out of their own territory the last two times they had the ball, and Green Bay came away the winner by a final score of 35-21.

Both teams had 14 first downs while the Packers outgained New England by 323 yards to 257. Both quarterbacks were sacked five times. However, while Green Bay suffered no turnovers, the Patriots turned the ball over four times.

Brett Favre completed just 14 of 27 passes, but for 246 yards with two long touchdowns and no interceptions. Dorsey Levens (pictured at right) led the Packers in rushing with 61 yards on 14 carries and also caught three passes for 23 yards. Antonio Freeman gained 105 yards and scored the longer TD on his three receptions. Desmond Howard, the game’s MVP, returned four kickoffs for 154 yards, including the TD that put the game away, plus 6 punts for 90 more yards (a 15.0 avg.).

For the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe went to the air 48 times and had 25 completions for 253 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted four times. Ben Coates caught 6 passes for 67 yards and a TD. The club ran the ball just 13 times for 43 yards (and only six times after the first quarter), with Curtis Martin accounting for 42 yards on 11 carries and a TD.

“I thought we might have them rocking a little bit,” said Bill Parcells regarding the third quarter score that briefly pulled New England to just six points behind. “It's 27-21, we
had a lot of momentum. But (Howard) made the big play and I credit him for it.”

“Big plays did kill us,” said Ty Law of the Patriots, speaking more to the two long touchdown passes than the kickoff return. “You never want to go into a game and give up plays like that. If a team beats you, you want to make it hard for them.”

In the victorious Green Bay locker room, Mike Holmgren said, “This trophy, men, it was named after Vince Lombardi. As important as it is to every player in the league, it's more important to us. This is where it belongs.”

Desmond Howard departed the Packers via free agency in the offseason, but Green Bay repeated as NFC Champions, losing the Super Bowl to Denver. In New England, Parcells quit as head coach as a result of ongoing disputes on personnel matters with owner Robert Kraft. The Patriots reached the playoffs in the next two seasons under Pete Carroll, but didn’t get past the Divisional round – they would next reach the Super Bowl in 2001, under Carroll’s successor, Bill Belichick.

January 25, 2011

1987: Simms Leads Giants to Win Over Broncos in Super Bowl XXI

The New York Giants had not won a NFL Championship since 1956, and lost five title games in the seven seasons that followed. After that came a long dry spell, but on January 25, 1987 the club’s title game absence came to an end as they took on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Under Head Coach Bill Parcells, the Giants plowed through the 1986 regular season with a 14-2 record, winning their last eight contests to finish atop the NFC East. The offense was conservative and led by 32-year-old QB Phil Simms (pictured above), who passed for 3487 yards and 21 touchdowns, but also 22 interceptions. All-Pro RB Joe Morris ran for 1516 yards and 14 touchdowns, and TE Mark Bavaro blocked well and caught 66 passes for 1001 yards to also receive first-team All-Pro recognition. However, the wide receivers were average at best. The defense was outstanding and featured OLB Lawrence Taylor, with his 20.5 sacks. NT Jim Burt and DE Leonard Marshall were Pro Bowlers on the defensive line, and OLB Carl Banks and ILB Harry Carson were outstanding performers as well. New York thrashed the 49ers in the Divisional round of the playoffs and shut out Washington for the NFC title.

The Denver Broncos, coached by Dan Reeves, won the AFC West with an 11-5 tally. They had beaten the Patriots in their Divisional playoff game and then got past the Browns in a dramatic overtime win for the AFC Championship. QB John Elway (pictured below left) had keyed the victory over Cleveland by leading a remarkable 98-yard game-tying drive to force the sudden death period, and the fourth-year pro was the very embodiment of a franchise quarterback. Veteran WR Steve Watson was joined by rising stars Mark Jackson and Vance Johnson, while TE Orson Mobley was a pleasant surprise. The running game, however, was ordinary. The defense featured DE Rulon Jones, versatile All-Pro LB Karl Mecklenburg, and SS Dennis Smith.

There was a crowd of 101,063 at the huge stadium on a pleasant, 76-degree day in Southern California. The Broncos drove to a score on their first possession, with Elway setting the tone on the first play by scrambling away from the rush and running 10 yards. He also threw down the middle to Jackson for a 24-yard gain into New York territory at the 39. Rich Karlis capped the seven-play drive with a 48-yard field goal.

The Giants responded with a scoring drive of their own. Simms completed all six of his passes on the nine-play, 78-yard possession, including a six-yard touchdown pass to TE Zeke Mowatt. New York was ahead by 7-3.

Denver came back with a 58-yard drive in six plays to score another touchdown. Elway had four completions, including a screen pass to RB Sammy Winder that gained nine yards to the Giants’ 24 and, with two penalties tacked on (a late hit called on Carson and unsportsmanlike conduct on Taylor), the ball was moved to the six. Three plays later, Elway took off on a four-yard quarterback draw and dove into the end zone. With the extra point, the Broncos were back in front at 10-7 after a quarter of action.

New York’s next possession, which stretched into the second quarter, resulted in the first punt of the day. Denver again moved into Giants territory on an Elway pass to Vance Johnson that covered 54 yards to the 28 yard line. With Elway completing short passes, the Broncos moved inside the ten, and a seven-yard completion to RB Steve Sewell on third-and-two gave Denver a first-and-goal at the one.

On first down, Elway swept to the right and was dropped for a one-yard loss by Taylor. RB Gerald Willhite carried up the middle for no gain. Now facing third down, Elway pitched out to Winder, who attempted to run a sweep to the left but was dropped by Banks for a four-yard loss. Backed up to the six on fourth down, Karlis attempted a 23-yard field goal that he shanked to the right. Instead of opening up a six-to-ten point lead on the Giants, the Broncos came up empty.

New York punted following its next possession, and Denver took over at its own 15. Elway was sacked, threw an incomplete pass, and then was sacked again, this time by DE George Martin for a safety that cut the Broncos lead to one point. The Giants went three-and-out after receiving the free kick, and Denver regained possession with just over a minute remaining in the half. Elway completed a 31-yard pass to Watson to the New York 32. A shovel pass to Willhite gained 11 yards, but the drive was stopped there. Karlis again missed on a field goal attempt, this time from 34 yards, and the score remained at 10-9 in favor of Denver at halftime.

The Broncos had missed scoring opportunities in the first half, and the Giants made them pay in the third quarter. On the first possession of the second half, New York rolled 63 yards in nine plays that featured five more completions by Simms, including one of 13-yards to Bavaro for a touchdown. With the PAT, the Giants were back in front at 16-10. Along the way, the Giants had converted a fourth-and-one play when they went into punt formation and the up-man, reserve QB Jeff Rutledge, moved up under center, took the snap, and plowed ahead for two yards and the first down.

Following a three-and-out series by the Broncos, the Giants, primarily keeping the ball on the ground, drove 32 yards in eight plays that concluded with a 21-yard Raul Allegre field goal. Denver again couldn’t move the ball on its next possession, and four plays after the Giants got the ball back, Simms completed a pass on a flea-flicker play to WR Phil McConkey for a 44-yard gain to the Broncos’ one yard line. On the next play, Morris ran the final yard for a TD and the Giants had a commanding 26-10 lead in the final seconds of the period.

Elway was intercepted by CB Elvis Patterson early in the fourth quarter, which led to yet another Giants score. Simms threw for a 36-yard gain to WR Stacy Robinson and on the sixth play of the drive, a pass into the end zone that was deflected off of Bavaro’s shoulder was caught by McConkey for a six-yard touchdown.

Karlis finally connected on a field goal, from 28 yards, with six minutes left to play, and the Giants promptly drove 46 yards in five plays that featured a Simms bootleg of 22 yards and ended with RB Ottis Anderson running for a two-yard TD up the middle (Allegre missed the extra point attempt). The Broncos scored one last, long, and meaningless touchdown on a 47-yard pass play from Elway to Johnson, but the outcome had long been decided. The Giants won by a final score of 39-20.

New York outgained the Broncos (399 yards to 372) while both teams had 24 first downs. The Giants outrushed Denver (136 yards to 52) and sacked Elway four times, while Simms was dumped just once. There was only one turnover in the game, by Denver on Elway’s one interception.

Phil Simms, the game’s MVP, set a Super Bowl record for passing efficiency as he completed 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Joe Morris (pictured at right) ran for 67 yards and a TD on 20 carries. Three Giants caught four passes apiece (Morris, Mark Bavaro, and FB Maurice Carthon) while Stacy Robinson had the most receiving yards with 62 on his three receptions.

John Elway was successful on 22 of 37 throws for 304 yards with a touchdown and the interception and, tellingly, was Denver’s leading rusher with 27 yards and a TD on six carries. Gerald Willhite gained 19 yards on four attempts and was one of two receivers on the Broncos with 5 catches, for 39 yards. The other was Vance Johnson, who gained 121 yards and scored a touchdown.

As to the key series of the game, in the second quarter when Denver failed to score after having a first down on the New York one yard line, Dan Reeves said afterward, “It hurt us. How much I don’t know. But being down there, first-and-goal on the one, and not getting any points, that hurts.”

Of the outstanding performance by Phil Simms, Bill Parcells said, “Phil Simms was just unbelievable. He quarterbacked as good a game as ever has been played.”

“If it weren't for him, we couldn't have done it,” said Lawrence Taylor of Simms. Taylor added, “We've been the best all season. We expected to win. We deserved to win.”

The Giants dropped off to 6-9 in 1987, but were back up to 10-6 in ’88 and a division-winning 12-4 in 1989. They won a second Super Bowl under Coach Parcells (pictured below) in 1990. Denver returned to the Super Bowl the following year, and lost even more convincingly to the Redskins. John Elway and the Broncos would eventually become champions, after three misses in the 80s, but it would not happen until the Super Bowl following the 1997 season.

January 24, 2011

List of the Day: Just for Fun - Favorite Nicknames

Part 1

Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd & Noland "Super Gnat" Smith

Just for something fun and a bit different, here is a list of twenty of my favorite pro football player nicknames – some have been favorites for many years, others I’ve discovered in the course of my researching. These are by-and-large not ranked, and another installment will follow later in the week.

Dick “Night Train” Lane
The Hall of Fame defensive back with the Rams, Cardinals, and Lions from 1952-65 had an all-time great nickname.

Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb
A memorable 6’6”, 284 pound defensive lineman for the Rams, Colts, and Steelers from 1953-62, was chosen for the Pro Bowl three times before coming to an untimely end.

Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds
Spent a decade at LB for the Rams, then helped the 49ers win two championships.

Noland “Super Gnat” Smith
The 5’5”, 154-pound WR/KR once returned a kickoff 106 yards for the Chiefs in his brief career.

“The Catawba Claw”, Bucky Pope
A one-year wonder with the Rams in 1964 with 25 catches for a 31.4-yard average gain and 10 TDs.

“Broadway Joe” Namath
No introduction necessary. The nickname fit the quarterback and the celebrity.

“Super Bill” Bradley
A free-spirited free safety for the Eagles who led the NFL in interceptions in 1971 and ’72 and went to three Pro Bowls.

L.G. “Long Gone” Dupre
HB with the Colts in their 50s championship years and then an original member of the Cowboys.

Ken “The Snake” Stabler
Daring and exciting quarterback for the Raiders, Oilers, and Saints

Ross “Timber Beast” Carter
Lineman for the Cardinals from 1936-39.

"Night Train" Lane

"Broadway Joe"

"The Catawba Claw"

John “Shipwreck” Kelly
All-purpose back who led the NFL in pass receiving with Brooklyn in 1933.

Clyde “Smackover” Scott
HB on both offense and defense, primarily with the Eagles from 1949-52.

Paul “Tank” Younger
A 6’3”, 225-pound FB/LB who played primarily with the Rams from 1949-58.

Jim “Cannonball” Butler
RB/KR, primarily with the Steelers and Falcons from 1965-72.

Danny “Lightning” Buggs
Played with the Giants and Redskins in the NFL, Edmonton in the CFL, but had his best season with Tampa Bay in the USFL.

Joe “Big Bird” Lavender
6’4”, 190-pound CB who started out with the Eagles in 1973 but had his best years in Washington.

Len “Bear Tracks”/“Feets” Barnum
Two great nicknames for the otherwise-forgettable all-purpose back and kicker for the Giants and Eagles from 1938-42.

Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd
6’9” and listed as high as 315 pounds, he was considered the biggest player in pro football with the Chargers, Oilers, and Chiefs from 1961-68.

“The Beast”, E.J. Holub
Played both center and linebacker during his AFL career with the Dallas Texans/KC Chiefs from 1961-70.

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
Exciting kick returner as well as wide receiver, mostly with the Oilers and Falcons from 1974-87.

"Super Bill" Bradley

"Long Gone" Dupre

"Big Daddy" Lipscomb

January 23, 2011

1983: Dolphins Defense Shuts Down Jets to Win AFC Title

It was a rainy day at the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 23, 1983 as the Dolphins hosted the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game. Due to the strike-shortened nine-game 1982 regular season, the divisions had been dispensed with and the playoffs restructured into eight-team tournaments in each conference. Miami, with a 7-2 record, was the second-seeded team in the AFC, while the 6-3 Jets were at number six.

Head Coach Don Shula’s Dolphins were a young club with players averaging four years of pro experience. The defense had been the key to Miami’s success, featuring the “Killer Bees” of Pro Bowl NT Bob Baumhower, ends Doug Betters and Kim Bokamper, and LB Bob Brudzinski, along with brothers Glenn and Lyle Blackwood as the safeties. There was also A.J. Duhe, a former defensive end who had moved to linebacker. The conservative offense featured FB Andra Franklin (701 yards) and wide receivers Jimmy Cefalo and Duriel Harris. QB David Woodley was mobile but nothing special and was occasionally spelled by veteran backup Don Strock. The Dolphins beat the Jets in two meetings during the regular season, including a closely-fought game in December, and handily defeated the Patriots and Chargers at home in the playoffs (the latter game a payback for the wild overtime loss of the year before).

New York, coached by Walt Michaels, was coming off of playoff wins at Cincinnati and against the Raiders in Los Angeles that had highlighted their strengths. RB Freeman McNeil led the league with 786 yards rushing and added 303 more in the two postseason contests. Pro Bowl WR Wesley Walker caught 15 passes for 314 yards and two TDs against the Bengals and Raiders. While the defensive line that had earned the nickname “New York Sack Exchange” the year before was not as dominating due to the loss to injury of DE Joe Klecko, the other three members (DE Mark Gastineau and tackles Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam) did well. QB Richard Todd ranked third in the AFC in passing and rallied the Jets from behind in both playoff games.

There were 67,396 fans in attendance at the rain-soaked Orange Bowl, and they sat through a scoreless first half. While NFL rules required that a tarpaulin be placed over the field during inclement weather prior to a game, the field had been left exposed as heavy rain pelted it in the 24-hour period prior to kickoff, leaving a muddy swamp throughout with the deluge continuing during the contest.

The Jets went from their 34 yard line to midfield on their first possession, but Todd threw to a double-covered WR Johnny “Lam” Jones and Glenn Blackwood intercepted the pass. However, Miami turned the ball back over on its first play when Woodley threw a long pass intended for Cefalo that SS Ken Schroy picked off for the Jets.

Early in the second quarter, Woodley (pictured at left) evaded Gastineau’s grasp and ran 17 yards to his own 39 yard line. But RB Tony Nathan fumbled the wet ball on the next play and CB Bobby Jackson recovered at the Miami 41. New York’s offense couldn’t take advantage and had to punt.

Such was the case until near the end of the half, when Miami’s Tom Orosz booted a punt 45 yards from deep in his own territory to give the Jets possession near midfield. Bokamper sacked Todd twice, on second and third downs, and CB Don McNeal blocked Chuck Ramsey’s punt. With the ball at the New York 20, it appeared that the Dolphins might break the impasse before halftime, but Schroy again intercepted Woodley and the Jets ran out the clock.

In the third quarter, a Todd pass intended for Jones was intercepted by Lyle Blackwood, but a defensive holding penalty nullified the play. However, Todd went to the air again to RB Mike Augustyniak, and the ball hit his hands and was picked off by Duhe. On a second-and-two play at the New York 40, Franklin lost the ball and Gastineau leaped on it, but the officials ruled that the running back was already down and Miami maintained possession. Another key play came on a third-and-three situation at the Jets’ 27 as Woodley completed a pass to Harris for 13 yards. FS Derrol Ray’s vehement protest earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the seven yard line. From there, RB Woody Bennett ran through the middle of the line for a touchdown.

Midway through the period, Duhe intercepted another pass that gave the Dolphins possession at the New York 41, but this time they were unable to capitalize. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Todd, intending a screen pass for RB Bruce Harper, was picked off for a third time by Duhe, and this time the linebacker returned it 35 yards for a touchdown (pictured at top). The two-touchdown lead proved to be more than enough as the Jets never threatened in the remaining time, and the final score was 14-0.

Neither team accumulated much yardage, with the Dolphins outgaining the Jets by 198 yards to 139 and holding the edge in first downs at 13 to 10. Both teams sacked the other’s quarterback four times apiece, and while the Jets had the most net passing yards (77 to 60) they gained only 62 on the ground, to 138 yards for Miami. There were nine turnovers in all, five suffered by New York (all interceptions) and four by the Dolphins (one fumble and three interceptions).

Freeman McNeil was shut down, gaining just 46 yards on 17 carries. Wesley Walker caught one inconsequential pass, for no gain. Richard Todd completed only 15 of 37 passes for 103 yards and was intercepted five times. Bruce Harper caught four passes out of the backfield for 14 yards, while Johnny “Lam” Jones gained a team-leading 35 yards on three receptions.

In winning, David Woodley was successful on 9 of 21 passes for 87 yards with no TDs and three interceptions, and also led the Dolphins in rushing with 46 yards on 8 carries. Andra Franklin was right behind with 44 yards on his 13 runs before suffering a head injury and Woody Bennett carried 13 times for 24 yards and the only offensive touchdown of the game. RB Tommy Vigorito was the leading receiver with three catches for 29 yards.

“This was the most exciting game of my career,” A.J. Duhe said. “I know I missed a
couple of assignments, and I'll hear about it tomorrow. But I know I made a couple of big plays, too.”

Indeed, Duhe was the player of the game for Miami, with the three interceptions while lining up in six different positions during the course of the contest. Kim Bokamper (pictured at right) recorded three sacks, Glenn Blackwood and Gerald Small each picked off a pass, and Don McNeal had the blocked punt.

Don Shula laid much of the credit on the preparation by defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger and his coaches. “Bill Arnsparger and the rest of the defensive coaching staff did just a tremendous job in getting us ready, not only for this game, but for the playoffs in general,” Shula said. “We gave up 13 points to New England and 13 points to San Diego and we held the Jets to nothing today. That's tremendous defense and Bill Arnsparger is the reason.”

“We were slipping, sliding, twisting and turning out there today and we didn't get the breaks,” said a disappointed Walt Michaels. “I think we were prepared. We just didn't execute…I could make a lot of excuses about the loss, but when it's done it's done. Sometimes you just shouldn't get up in the morning.”

Miami went on to lose the Super Bowl to the Washington Redskins. As for the Jets, Coach Michaels quit the team in the offseason and was replaced by assistant coach Joe Walton, and the team suffered through two losing years before returning to the playoffs following the 1985 season; they would not advance as far as the AFC Championship game again until 1998.

January 22, 2011

2006: Steelers Beat Broncos for AFC Title with Third Straight Road Win

The AFC Championship game on January 22, 2006 at INVESCO Field at Mile High featured the host Denver Broncos, champions of the AFC West with a 13-3 record, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, an 11-5 wild card team that had finished second to the Bengals in the AFC North.

The Broncos, under Head Coach Mike Shanahan, did well in 2005 with veteran Jake Plummer at quarterback, who in his third year with the club had thrown for 3366 yards and 18 touchdowns and, most notably for the often-erratic passer, tied his career low with just seven interceptions (he had led the NFL with 20 in ’04). Denver had become best known for its ground game during the Shanahan era, and running backs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell combined for a total of 1935 yards and 20 touchdowns. 35-year-old Pro Bowl WR Rod Smith caught 85 passes for 1105 yards. MLB Al Wilson, CB Champ Bailey, and FS John Lynch were among the best in the league at their positions.

Pittsburgh, led by Head Coach Bill Cowher for the 14th year, had dropped from 15-1 in 2004, suffering during the ’05 season when second-year QB Ben Roethlisberger (pictured above) missed time due to injury. But they won their last four games to close out the regular season and then went on the road to beat division-rival Cincinnati in the Wild Card round and the Colts at the Divisional level, thus eliminating the third and first seeds, respectively, in the AFC postseason. While 33-year-old RB Jerome Bettis was fading in his last year, RB Willie Parker ran for 1202 yards. Reliable WR Hines Ward caught 69 passes for 975 yards and 11 TDs. C Jeff Hartings and G Alan Faneca were Pro Bowlers on the offensive line, and NT Casey Hampton, LB Joey Porter, and SS Troy Polamalu were feature players on the tough defense.

The Broncos had the game’s first possession and punted. Pittsburgh put together a long, 12-play drive that included a Roethlisberger pass to WR Antwaan Randle-El for 20 yards, a pass to Ward on a third-and-three play that was nearly intercepted by Bailey but picked up seven yards instead, and a successful challenge of what was initially ruled a fumble by Parker to keep the drive going. After all that, Jeff Reed kicked a 47-yard field goal to give the Steelers the early 3-0 lead.

On the third play of Denver’s next possession, Plummer fumbled when sacked by Porter and Hampton recovered for Pittsburgh at the Broncos’ 39 yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, Roethlisberger threw to WR Cedrick Wilson in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown.

Reed kicked out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff to give the Broncos the ball on their own 40 and they moved 55 yards in 12 plays that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Jason Elam to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 10-3.

However, the Steelers again put together a long drive of 80 yards in 14 plays, converting three third downs along the way. Bettis finished it with a three-yard touchdown run with two minutes remaining in the half. Plummer was immediately intercepted on their next play from scrimmage by CB Ike Taylor to give Pittsburgh another possession at the Denver 38. The Steelers made the most of it with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Ward and had a formidable 24-3 lead at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Broncos put together a scoring drive of 80 yards in five plays, featuring a Plummer pass to Smith for 32 yards. Plummer completed a 30-yard touchdown throw to WR Ashley Lelie and the Pittsburgh lead was cut to 24-10.

The Steelers drove to a 42-yard Reed field goal early in the fourth quarter, and once again Plummer was intercepted on Denver’s next play following a 47-yard kickoff return by WR Charlie Adams. Pittsburgh went three-and-out and this time the Broncos drove 80 yards, with Plummer completing a pass to Lelie for 38 of that total, and RB Mike Anderson ran for a three-yard touchdown. Denver was down by ten at 27-17 with under eight minutes to play.

Pittsburgh again went three-and-out, but the Broncos couldn’t move when they got the ball back and on a fourth-and-ten play, Plummer fumbled when sacked and DE Travis Kirschke recovered for the Steelers at the Denver 17. Five plays later, Roethlisberger ran the ball in himself for a four yard touchdown that provided the final score of 34-17.

The statistics seemed closer than the score as the Steelers led in total yardage (358 yards to 308) and first downs (20 to 16). However, while Pittsburgh didn’t turn the ball over, the Broncos did four times, and all directly attributable to Plummer, who fumbled twice and was intercepted twice - three of those turnovers directly led to scores by the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and of course wasn’t intercepted. Cedrick Wilson caught 5 passes for 92 yards and a TD and Hines Ward also had 5 receptions, for 59 yards and a score. Jerome Bettis gained 39 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown and Willie Parker contributed 35 yards on 14 attempts.

For Denver, Jake Plummer (pictured at left), beyond the turnovers, was successful on 18 of 30 passes for 223 yards and a TD against the two interceptions; he also ran for 30 yards on 7 attempts. Rod Smith and TE Jeb Putzier caught 4 passes apiece, for 61 and 55 yards respectively, while Ashley Lelie gained 68 yards on his two receptions. Mike Anderson was the team’s leading rusher, gaining 36 yards on 9 carries that included a TD, and Tatum Bell added 31 yards on five attempts.

“We did not complete the mission and it's frustrating,” said Denver LB Ian Gold. “But anytime you make it to the AFC championship game and you lose, you hope to lose to a team like that.”

In beating the Broncos in Denver, the Steelers became the first team to win three playoff games on the road since the New England Patriots in 1985, and defeated each of the top three seeded clubs in the conference in doing so.

“If you look at our ownership, Mr. (Dan) Rooney is a football guy and he understands how hard it is to do this,” Bill Cowher said. “Nothing would be more satisfying to me than to hand him the Vince Lombardi trophy in two weeks.”

Coach Cowher got his wish as the Steelers went on to beat Seattle in the Super Bowl, which also gave them a fifth Super Bowl victory (still well short of Green Bay’s record of 12 NFL championships, going back to 1920).

For Jake Plummer, the turnover-filled loss in the AFC title game was the beginning of the end for both his tenure in Denver and career. He was benched in favor of rookie Jay Cutler during the 2006 season and was dealt to Tampa Bay, choosing to retire instead. While he could be an exciting performer, his erratic tendencies ultimately curtailed his effectiveness.

January 21, 2011

2007: Colts Come from Behind to Defeat Patriots for AFC Championship

In the first four seasons under Head Coach Tony Dungy, the Indianapolis Colts had reached the postseason. However, they had yet to advance to the Super Bowl, and in two of those years it had been losses to the New England Patriots that had brought them up short. The Patriots, led by Head Coach Bill Belichick, had proceeded to win championships in both of those postseasons. On January 21, 2007 the two teams met in the AFC Championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, with New England looking to advance to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years, and the Colts seeking to finally get past them.

The key to the Colts offense was QB Peyton Manning (pictured above), as had been the case since his rookie season in 1998. He led the NFL in passing (101.0 rating) and touchdown passes (31) in 2006, and was second in passing yards (4397) and third in completion percentage (65.0). With the departure of RB Edgerrin James to the Cardinals, Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for 1722 yards on the ground and 76 pass receptions. Pro Bowl wide receivers Marvin Harrison (95 catches, 1366 yards) and Reggie Wayne (86 receptions for 1310 yards) were outstanding, as usual. However, the defense had great difficulty against the run and the team slumped during the second half of the season as a result, losing four of the last seven games. Still, they won the AFC South for the fourth straight year with a 12-4 record and defeated the Chiefs and Ravens to get to the conference title game.

New England had a star quarterback as well, Tom Brady, who had taken over for the injured Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season and had proceeded to lead the Patriots to ten straight postseason victories (including three Super Bowls) before finally suffering a loss in the Divisional round following the ’05 season. Despite a lack of quality receivers, Brady still threw for 3529 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2006. Veteran RB Corey Dillon and rookie Lawrence Maroney ran for a total of 1557 yards. The defense featured the outstanding line of ends Richard Seymour and Ty Warren and NT Vince Wilfork, a capable linebacking corps, and CB Asante Samuel, with his 10 interceptions.

There were 57,433 fans in attendance under the dome, and the home crowd made plenty of noise during key points in the contest. Things began quietly on the field, however, as the teams traded punts to start the game. On their second possession, the Patriots opened with Brady completing an 18-yard pass to WR Reche Caldwell and, on fourth-and-one at the Indianapolis 48, Dillon took off on a 35-yard run to the 13 yard line. Three plays later, Maroney fumbled, the ball rolled into the end zone, and G Logan Mankins fell on it for a touchdown.

The Colts responded with a long, 14-play drive in which Manning completed six passes. Ex-Patriot Adam Vinatieri kicked a 42-yard field goal to narrow New England’s lead to 7-3.

The Patriots started off the second quarter by finishing a 72-yard possession with a seven-yard run by Dillon. Two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Manning was intercepted by Samuel (pictured at left), who returned it 39 yards for a TD. The Patriots were ahead by 21-3 and it seemed as though they would once again prevail over the Colts. Indianapolis scored once again before the half, on a 26-yard Vinatieri field goal, and the tally was 21-6 at the intermission.

The Colts received the second half kickoff and proceeded to drive 76 yards in 14 plays that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Manning. Following a three-and-out possession by the Patriots, the Colts drove to another score as Manning completed a 25-yard pass to TE Dallas Clark and Rhodes had a 19-yard run. A pass interference call on New England CB Ellis Hobbs moved the ball to the one, and from there Manning tossed a TD pass to OT Dan Klecko on a tackle-eligible play. The Colts went for a two-point conversion and succeeded on a Manning pass to Harrison, tying the score at 21-21.

The Patriots came right back as Hobbs, making up for the big penalty, returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Indianapolis 21 yard line. Following a one-yard loss on a run by Maroney, Brady completed a 17-yard pass to WR Jabar Gaffney and three plays later threw to Gaffney again for a six-yard touchdown to put New England back in front at 28-21.

In a drive that extended into the fourth quarter, the Colts went 67 yards in seven plays, featuring a Manning-to-Clark pass play that covered 23 yards down to the New England nine. On second-and-goal from the one, Rhodes got the ball but fumbled and C Jeff Saturday recovered in the end zone for a Colts touchdown – the third lineman to score a TD in the game, with Mankins having scored in the same manner in the first quarter for the Patriots and Klecko catching the scoring pass for Indianapolis. In any event, following the successful extra point, the back-and-forth game was again tied at 28-28.

Both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions. With just over ten minutes remaining in regulation, Brady fired completions of 16 yards to Caldwell, 14 yards to Gaffney, and seven to WR Troy Brown as the Patriots reached the Indianapolis 13 yard line. The drive sputtered at the 10 and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal to give New England the lead at 31-28.

Once again the Colts responded in kind, as on the first play of their next possession Manning completed a pass to Clark that covered 52 yards to the Patriots’ 25. Four plays later, Vinatieri connected on a 36-yard field goal to once more knot the score at 31-31.

Hobbs returned the kickoff 41 yards and Brady threw to TE Daniel Graham for a 25-yard gain down to the Indianapolis 25. Gostkowski booted a 43-yard field goal, and with the clock now down to 3:49, the Patriots were back in front at 34-31.

Manning threw three incomplete passes on the next possession and the Colts punted. The Patriots reached nearly to midfield and had to punt it back. Taking over at the 20 yard line with 2:17 to play, Manning threw to Wayne for 11 yards and then, after an incomplete pass, connected with TE Bryan Fletcher for 32 yards to the New England 37. A 14-yard completion to Wayne received additional yardage due to a roughing-the-passer penalty, and following the two-minute warning, Addai ran the ball three straight times, the last for a three-yard touchdown (pictured below).

With the successful PAT, the Colts were up by four points, but the Patriots got the ball back with 54 seconds on the clock and two timeouts left. Following an incompletion, Brady was successful on passes of 19 yards to TE Ben Watson and 15 to RB Heath Evans to get the ball into Colts territory. But DB Marlin Jackson intercepted a pass intended for Brown to snuff out the threat and preserve the 38-34 win for Indianapolis.

The Colts outgained New England (455 yards to 319) and had more first downs (32 to 17). Both teams suffered just one turnover apiece. The Patriots sacked Manning three times, while Brady was dumped just once, but were penalized eight times, to four flags thrown on the Colts.

Peyton Manning completed 27 of 47 passes for 349 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Dallas Clark (pictured below) caught 6 passes for 137 yards while Reggie Wayne grabbed 5 for 68 and Marvin Harrison had a relatively quiet day at 4 receptions for 41 yards. Dominic Rhodes led the Indianapolis runners with 69 yards on 14 carries and Joseph Addai contributed 56 yards and the winning TD on his 14 attempts.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady (pictured below left) was successful on 21 of 34 passes for 232 yards, also with a TD and an interception. Ben Watson caught 5 passes for 48 yards to lead the receivers, while Reche Caldwell had 46 yards on his 4 receptions. Corey Dillon was the leading rusher with 48 yards on seven carries.

“I'm so proud of the way our guys fought,” said Tony Dungy afterward. “I'm very happy for Peyton. He was very, very calm. He had to bring us from behind three or four times. It's just fitting. Our team went the hard way the whole year.”

The Colts went on to defeat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl, finally reaching the NFL summit. New England would retool in the offseason and come back stronger.

January 20, 2011

1985: Montana & 49ers Beat Marino & Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX

The playoffs have often yielded surprises when it comes to Super Bowl participants, but such was not the case in Super Bowl XIX on January 20, 1985. Both the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins were widely perceived to be the best that their respective conferences had to offer.

The 49ers had roared to the top of the NFC West with a 15-1 record in 1984 and easily dispatched the Giants and Bears in the postseason. Under the innovative guidance of Head Coach Bill Walsh, the club was best known for its offense but was solid on defense as well. QB Joe Montana (pictured above) skillfully directed the attack, RB Wendell Tyler ran for 1262 yards, and there were three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line in C Fred Quillan, G Randy Cross, and OT Keith Fahnhorst. The defense had to make due without star pass rushing DE Fred Dean for much of the season due to a contract dispute, but still had solid performers in DE Dwaine Board and OLB Keena Turner. All four members of the backfield were selected for the Pro Bowl (cornerbacks Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright, FS Dwight Hicks, and SS Carlton Williamson).

Miami, under Head Coach Don Shula, went 14-2 in winning the AFC East and defeated the Seahawks and Steelers in the playoffs on the way to the Super Bowl. The passing game was nothing short of spectacular as second-year QB Dan Marino re-wrote the record book in setting new season records for passing yards (5084) and touchdown passes (48, exceeding the previous mark by 12). WR Mark Clayton set a new standard for TD catches in a season (18) and he and WR Mark Duper each caught over 70 passes and exceeded 1300 yards. The defense included the “Killer Bees”, ends Doug Betters and Kim Bokamper, NT Bob Baumhower, and LB Bob Brudzinski, plus Pro Bowl ILB A.J. Duhe.

There were 84,059 fans in attendance at Stanford Stadium along with the usual mammoth television audience. Following a punt by the 49ers, the Dolphins drove 45 yards on six plays, featuring a 25-yard pass from Marino to RB Tony Nathan, and scored the first points of the game on a 37-yard field goal by Uwe van Schamann. San Francisco wasted no time in responding, however, as short passes by Montana and runs by Tyler got the Niners to the Miami 48 yard line. Facing a third-and-seven situation, Montana took off on a 15-yard run for a first down, and on the next play he threw to RB Carl Monroe for a 33-yard touchdown.

Miami went into a no-huddle offense the next time it had the ball and Marino completed five straight passes, including the last for a two-yard TD to TE Dan Johnson (pictured below). The Dolphins held a 10-7 lead after one quarter.

The 49ers punted following their next possession, but a defensive adjustment caused Miami to go three-and-out the next three times it was on offense. Coach Walsh had gone to an “elephant” defense, a 4-2-5 alignment with safety Tom Holmoe as a nickel back and another safety, Jeff Fuller, lined up at linebacker along with Turner, and it proved to be effective. Marino, who had completed nine of his first ten passes, didn’t complete another until near the end of the half.

Meanwhile, San Francisco took control of the game. Following a poor 37-yard punt by Reggie Roby from his own end zone, the 49ers had good field position at the Miami 47. Montana again showed off his mobility by running for a 19-yard gain on the first play, and then passed to WR Dwight Clark for another 16 yards. Two plays later, he tossed an eight-yard scoring pass to RB Roger Craig and the 49ers retook the lead at 14-10.

With the 49ers getting the ball in good field position at their own 45 to start their next possession, Tyler and Craig ran the ball for a total of 15 yards and then Montana threw back-to-back completions to TE Russ Francis for another 29. Following a five-yard carry by Craig, Montana ran six yards for a touchdown on a quarterback keeper and the lead was strechted to 21-10.

San Francisco scored once more in the second quarter, on a nine-yard drive that covered 52 yards and culminated in a two-yard run by Craig for a touchdown. Coming down to the last two minutes of the half, Marino began completing passes again, going 7 for 11 as the Dolphins drove to the 49ers’ 13 yard line and van Schamann kicked a 31-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.

It wasn’t over, however, as G Guy McIntyre fumbled the squibbed Miami kickoff and WR Jim Jensen recovered for the Dolphins at the San Francisco 12. Another van Schamann field goal, this time from 30 yards, made the score 28-16 at halftime.

Miami received the second half kickoff but wasn’t able to maintain the momentum generated at the end of the second quarter. Nathan was thrown for a one-yard loss, Marino threw an incompletion, and then the quarterback was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Board. Following Roby’s punt, the 49ers took nine plays to drive 43 yards and Ray Wersching kicked a 27-yard field goal.

Once again the Dolphins had difficulty moving the ball as Marino (pictured at left) faced tremendous pressure from the San Francisco defense. The Niners’ offense continued to move effectively – on their next possession following the field goal, Montana hit on five passes, including 40 yards to Tyler and 14 to Francis, and completed a 16-yard TD pass to Craig for the second-year running back’s third score of the day.

Miami, desperate to get back in the game, moved to the San Francisco 27 on its next possession, but Marino threw a long pass intended for Clayton that Wright intercepted at the one yard line. The third quarter ended with the 49ers ahead by 22 points.

The Dolphins had to punt at the end of their next possession but got a break when CB Dana McLemore fumbled the kick and WR Vince Heflin recovered for Miami at the San Francisco 21. But on the first play, Marino threw into the end zone and was intercepted by Carlton Williamson. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.

Each team got the ball once more, but there was no more scoring and the 49ers came away the winner, 38-16.

San Francisco ran up 537 yards to Miami’s 314 and also had a significant edge in first downs (31 to 19). The 49ers ran a well-balanced attack, gaining 211 yards on the ground and 331 through the air. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, with a suspect running game to begin with, were held to just 25 yards rushing. Marino was sacked four times, especially notable since the quarterback had suffered only 13 sacks during the entire regular season.

Joe Montana, the game’s MVP, completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and also ran five times for 59 yards and a TD. Wendell Tyler led the rushers with 65 yards on 13 carries, catching four passes for 70 yards as well, while Roger Craig (pictured at right) gained 58 yards on 15 attempts and in addition had 7 pass receptions for another 77 yards, both team-leading figures to go with his three TDs. Dwight Clark also gained 77 yards on his 6 catches.

For Miami, Dan Marino threw 50 passes and completed 29 of them for 318 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Tony Nathan caught 10 passes, for 83 yards, to lead the club both in receptions and rushing - albeit with just 18 yards on five attempts. Mark Clayton gained 92 yards on 6 catches, and TE Joe Rose contributed 6 receptions for 73 yards. Mark Duper was held to just one catch for 11 yards.

“Montana is the guy who made it go for them,” said Don Shula afterward. “He beat everything we put against him. Whenever they needed him to, he wiggled loose and kept them going.”

Montana spoke in terms of the whole team’s effort. “All week, all we heard was ‘Miami, Miami, Miami’,” he said. “That motivated us. We felt we had more tools than Miami – passing, running, a great defense – and we wanted to prove it.”

Bill Walsh summed up by saying, “This is the best game we have played since I joined the 49ers. It was a great performance by a truly great team. This is one of the best teams of all time.”

For Walsh, Montana, and the 49ers, it was the second championship in four years, and they would win twice more before the conclusion of the decade (although Walsh had stepped aside as coach by the last one).

Dan Marino went on to play 17 seasons in the NFL, all with the Dolphins. Altogether, he passed for 61,361 yards and 420 touchdowns over the course of his Hall of Fame career. But he never again played in the Super Bowl.

January 19, 2011

List of the Day: Progression of Individual Season Interception Record

Dick "Night Train" Lane

NOTE: The NFL first began tracking individual interceptions in 1940. Information not available for the first three AFLs (1926, 1936-37, 1940-41)

6- Ace Parker, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1940
6- Kent Ryan, Detroit Lions, 1940
6- Don Hutson, Green Bay Packers, 1940

7- Marshall Goldberg, Chicago Cardinals, 1941
7- Art Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1941

8- Bulldog Turner, Chicago Bears, 1942

11- Sammy Baugh, Washington Redskins, 1943

13- Dan Sandifer, Washington Redskins, 1948
13- Spec Sanders, New York Yanks, 1950

14- Dick “Night Train” Lane, Los Angeles Rams, 1952

Sammy Baugh

Dan Sandifer

AAFC (1946-49)
10- Tom Colella, Cleveland Browns, 1946

11- Otto Schnellbacher, New York Yankees, 1948

AFL (1960-69)
11- Goose Gonsoulin, Denver Broncos, 1960
11- Lee Riley, New York Titans, 1962

12- Fred Glick, Houston Oilers, 1963
12- Dainard Paulson, New York Jets, 1964

WFL (1974-75)
10- David Thomas, Memphis Southmen, 1974

USFL (1983-85)
12- Luther Bradley, Chicago Blitz, 1983
12- Marcus Quinn, Oakland Invaders, 1984

16- Chuck Clanton, Birmingham Stallions, 1985

XFL (2001)
5- Corey Ivy, Chicago Enforcers

Luther Bradley