June 29, 2011

1985: Stallions Edge Gamblers Thanks to 5 Field Goals by Danny Miller

The United States Football League Quarterfinal playoff game on June 29, 1985 matched the Birmingham Stallions, with the league’s second best defense, against the USFL’s highest scoring team, the Houston Gamblers.

The host Stallions, coached by Rollie Dotsch, had finished first in the Eastern Conference with a 13-5 record. The defense, which featured DT Doug Smith, LB Herb Spencer, and FS Chuck Clanton (16 interceptions), allowed opponents to score just 299 points during the season. To be sure, the offense was effective as well, led by QB Cliff Stoudt, the league’s second-ranked passer (91.2), and including WR Jim Smith, who caught 87 passes for 1322 yards and 20 TDs; RB Joe Cribbs, the USFL’s leading rusher in 1984 who contributed another 1047 yards on the ground in ’85; and All-League guards Buddy Aydelette and Pat Saindon.

Houston, under Head Coach Jack Pardee, featured a run-and-shoot offense that could generate plenty of points – 618 in 1984 and 544 in ’85. QB Jim Kelly, who had a sensational rookie season in ’84, missed the last four games with a knee injury but still ended up as the USFL’s top-rated passer (97.9) and also paced the league by throwing for 4623 yards and 39 touchdowns. WR Richard Johnson was the leading receiver for the second straight year (103 catches) and gained 1384 yards with 14 TDs; WR Clarence Verdin ranked fourth with 84 receptions that added up to 1004 yards and 9 scores. The team faltered with Kelly out of the lineup, but still finished in third place in the Western Conference at 10-8, and Kelly would be behind center against the Stallions, although wearing a knee brace that would hinder his mobility.

There were 18,500 fans in attendance at Legion Field on a 90-degree day in Birmingham. Stallions PK Danny Miller started off the scoring with 39-yard field goal four minutes into the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Birmingham DB Ted Walton knocked the ball away from Verdin and DB Dennis Woodberry recovered for the Stallions at the Houston 34. Four plays later, the Stallions added to their lead with Stoudt’s eight-yard TD pass to Jim Smith.

Kelly showed no rust following the injury layoff, and completed his first seven passes. His 23-yard scoring throw to WR Gerald McNeil cut Birmingham’s lead to 10-7, and that was the tally after one quarter of play.

The teams traded field goals in the second quarter, although it had appeared that the Gamblers were on their way to another touchdown with the ball deep in Birmingham territory. But a goal-line stand by the Stallions, in which RB Todd Fowler was twice stopped short while attempting to dive into the end zone, caused Houston to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Toni Fritsch. Miller booted a 26-yard field goal for Birmingham and the Stallions took a 13-10 lead into halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, Miller kicked his third field goal of the day from 41 yards out. However, a short time later, Johnson got between the safeties and hauled in a Kelly pass, skidding through the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown. With the successful conversion, Houston had its first lead of the game at 17-16.

Birmingham came right back, driving 35 yards in 10 plays that culminated in Miller booming a 57-yard field goal near the end of the period, and took a 19-17 margin into the fourth quarter. In what was turning into a see-saw battle of field goals, the Gamblers responded with another of their own, of 46 yards by Fritsch with just over nine minutes left to play.

The Stallions drove to midfield on their next possession and, forced to punt, veteran Bob Parsons kicked one that was downed on the Houston one. The Gamblers moved to their 20 before having to punt in turn, and the field position advantage was strongly in the Stallions’ favor as they took over at the Houston 48. Playing conservatively, the offense drove 29 yards in six plays (four runs, including a 21-yard bootleg by Stoudt, and an incomplete pass) to set up Miller’s fifth field goal, which was successful from 35 yards with just under two minutes remaining (pictured at top).

Houston had one last shot, and it didn’t appear that the two-point lead would hold up when Kelly hit McNeil for a 21-yard gain on a fourth-and-18 play to the Birmingham 32 with five seconds remaining. The Gamblers had gone 58 yards in nine plays and now stood to win as the 39-year-old Fritsch, a 13-season pro veteran, attempted a 49-yard field goal. But the portly Austrian placekicker known as La Machine hooked the kick to the left and Birmingham came away with the 22-20 win.

Houston outgained the Stallions (385 yards to 248) and also had more first downs (25 to 18). But as Cliff Stoudt summed up afterward, “The only stat that counts is who got the W and who got the L. I feel real bad for Toni Fritsch - well, I don't feel real bad.”

Stoudt was successful on 13 of 26 passes for 156 yards and was not intercepted. Joe Cribbs gained 70 yards on 16 attempts, playing with an injured hand and bruised ribs. WR Joey Jones caught four passes for 59 yards while Jim Smith also caught four for 45.

While Danny Miller’s kicking statistics during the regular season were fairly ordinary (13 field goals in 20 attempts, five missed PATs), it was the second year in a row that he booted five field goals in a playoff game.

For the Gamblers, Jim Kelly completed 23 of 40 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Richard Johnson caught 7 passes for 120 yards. Todd Fowler ran for 36 yards on 9 carries and Sam Harrell had 29 yards on five attempts.

The end came for the Stallions the following week, as they lost in the Quarterfinal round to the eventual league champions, the Baltimore Stars. In their three seasons of existence, they made it to the postseason twice, advancing to the second round both times. Houston, a 1984 expansion team, went to the playoffs twice and lost in the first round in both instances.

June 28, 2011

MVP Profile: Gino Cappelletti, 1964

Flanker/Placekicker, Boston Patriots

Age: 30
5th season in pro football & with Patriots
College: Minnesota
Height: 6’0” Weight: 190

A quarterback in college, Cappelletti was undrafted by the NFL and played semi-pro football in Canada before failing in a preseason tryout with the Detroit Lions. After sitting out all of 1959, he made the Patriots of the new AFL as a defensive back and placekicker. In 1961, Cappelletti moved to split end on offense and led the AFL in scoring (147 points) and field goals (17). Slow but sure-handed, he caught 45 passes for 768 yards and 8 TDs and was named to the AFL All-Star game. He scored 128 points in 1962 and again led the league with 113 in ’63 (and also again in field goals with 22). He was named an AFL All-Star for the second time.

1964 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 49 [10, tied with Don Norton]
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 147 yds.) at NY Jets 10/31
Yards – 865 [9]
Most yards, game - 147 (on 7 catches) at NY Jets 10/31
Average gain – 17.7 [9]
TDs – 7 [9, tied with four others]
100-yard receiving games - 2

Attempts – 1
Yards – 7
Average gain – 7.0
TDs – 0

Field goals – 25 [1]
Most field goals, game - 6 at Denver 10/4
Field goal attempts – 39 [1]
Most field goal attempts, game – 7 at San Diego 9/20
Field goal percentage – 64.1 [2]
PATs – 36 [4]
PAT attempts – 36 [4]
Longest field goal – 51 yards vs. Denver 11/20

TDs – 7 [13, tied with four others]
Field Goals – 25
PATs – 36
2-point PATs – 1
Points – 155 [1]

Awards & Honors:
AFL Player of the Year: AP, UPI
2nd team All-AFL: NEA, UPI
AFL All-Star Game

Patriots went 10-3-1 to finish second in the AFL Eastern Division and ranked third in the league in points scored (359).

Cappelletti led the AFL in scoring over the next two seasons (132 points in 1965, 119 in ’66) and had the league’s best field goal percentage in 1965 (63.0). He was named to the league All-Star game after ’65 and ’66. Cappelletti played a total of 11 seasons, all with the Patriots, and scored a total of 1130 points (his 1100 points in the AFL alone were the most in league history), with 42 TDs, 176 field goals, and 342 extra points. One of 20 players who were in the AFL for all ten seasons, he also finished with 292 pass receptions for 4589 yards.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 26, 2011

Past Venue: Tiger Stadium

Detroit, MI
aka Briggs Stadium

Year opened: 1912
Capacity: 52,416

Navin Field, 1912-37
Briggs Stadium, 1938-60
Tiger Stadium, 1960-2008

Pro football tenants:
Detroit Tigers (APFA), 1921
Detroit Tigers/Panthers (NFL), 1925-26
Detroit Lions (NFL), 1938-74

Postseason games hosted:
NFL National Conf. playoff, Lions 31 Rams 21, Dec. 21, 1952
NFL Championship, Lions 17 Browns 16, Dec. 27, 1953
NFL Championship, Lions 59 Browns 14, Dec. 29, 1957

Other tenants of note:
Detroit Tigers (MLB – AL), 1912-99
Detroit Cougars (NPSL/NASL), 1967-68

Notes: Lions split home games between Briggs Stadium and Univ. of Detroit’s Titan Stadium in 1938 and ’39. Hosted one home game of NFL Cleveland Bulldogs in 1927. Hosted Little League baseball games, 2002. Stadium replaced an earlier ballpark, Bennett Field, which had stood on the same spot but was significantly smaller. Originally named for Frank Navin, long-time president of the Tigers, and was renamed for owner Walter O. Briggs after he gained a controlling interest in the franchise.

Fate: Demolished in 2008-09 after efforts to preserve the structure failed.

June 25, 2011

1981: Bob Griese Retires from Dolphins

A significant era in Miami Dolphins history came to an end on June 25, 1981 as 36-year-old Bob Griese announced his retirement at a press conference. The 6’1”, 190-pound quarterback, who seemed smaller, had overcome leg injuries and a significant vision problem that forced him to wear glasses on the field over the course of his career, but was unable to sufficiently recover from a lingering shoulder injury suffered during the ’80 season that made it impossible for him to throw, and thus chose to walk away after 14 eventful seasons.

“I think that's one of the things I've always done is not to look at how long I can do something, but how well I can do it,” said Griese. “That's the way I came into the league and I was as shocked as anybody to play for as long as I have.”

“This is a somewhat emotional moment in the history of the Miami Dolphins," team owner Joe Robbie, standing next to Griese, told reporters. “He has been with us 14 or 15 years. Bob has been more important than any of us to this franchise.” Head Coach/GM Don Shula was unable to attend the press conference, but referred to Griese as “the most unselfish player I’ve ever been around.”

Having one year remaining on his $400,000 per year contract, Griese agreed to remain with the club as an assistant to Shula in addition to doing public relations work for the team.

A two-time All-American at Purdue, where he kicked as well as played quarterback, he placed second to Florida’s Steve Spurrier in the 1966 Heisman Trophy balloting. The Dolphins, coming off of their first season as an AFL expansion team that had gone through several quarterbacks along the way, chose Griese in the first round of the ’67 AFL/NFL draft. When starting QB John Stofa went down with a season-ending broken ankle in the opening game, it didn’t take long for the rookie to move into the starting lineup (after overcoming his first pro injuries, a concussion and sprained shoulder). Mobile as well as a good passer (even if his arm was not the strongest), he finished fifth in passing in the AFL and went through one stretch of 122 throws without an interception.

Griese was named to the AFL All-Star Game after each of his first two seasons, but the Dolphins still had plenty of holes and were not yet a winning team – his record as a starter from 1967 to ’69 was 10-20-2 and he led the league by being sacked 33 times in 1969.

All of that changed with the arrival of Shula as head coach in 1970. The team went 10-4 and made it into the playoffs as a wild card entry in the newly-restructured NFL. Griese began to become a more disciplined quarterback, less likely to scramble and more adept at throwing long – particularly thanks to the addition of WR Paul Warfield. With a strong running game led by FB Larry Csonka, HB Jim Kiick, and HB Eugene “Mercury” Morris, Griese threw less but won more, and his skills developed accordingly. His interceptions dropped from 17 in 1970 to 9 in ’71, a season in which he led the NFL in percentage of touchdown passes (7.2 on his 19 scoring throws) and the Dolphins advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time. The fifth-year veteran was a consensus first team All-Pro selection and received MVP honors from the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

In 1972, the Dolphins were even better, although Griese suffered a broken leg five games into the season. Veteran backup QB Earl Morrall guided the club through the remainder of the undefeated regular season and into the playoffs. However, when he struggled in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh, Griese came off the bench in the third quarter and led the offense on two touchdown drives to secure the win (his pass completion to Warfield that covered 52 yards highlighted the first one). He was behind center for the Super Bowl victory over the Redskins.

Miami won back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1972 and ’73 seasons, yet Griese threw a combined 18 passes in those two games, completing 14. He deftly guided the ball-control offense, was effective when he did throw, and as Shula said later, “He got as much of a thrill calling the right running play for a touchdown as he did throwing a bomb.”

Analytical and intense, Griese would go on to show, if there was any doubt, that he could excel throwing the ball. When Warfield, Csonka, and Kiick jumped to the World Football League following the ’74 season, the veteran quarterback became all the more important to the team. While he rose to the occasion when healthy, injuries became an issue over the next two years. He suffered a knee injury in 1975 that cost him six games, and a concussion in a ’76 season in which the Dolphins posted a losing record for the first time under Shula.

Wearing glasses for the first time in 1977, Griese recovered to have an outstanding year, throwing more passes (307) than he had since the pre-Shula 1968 season, completing 58.6 percent of them for 2252 yards and a league-leading 22 touchdowns (against 13 interceptions) while also pacing the NFL in passing (87.8 rating). There was no dominant running back (Benny Malone led the team with 615 yards) and the defense was in transition with several young players, but Miami bounced back to 10-4, narrowly missing the playoffs. Griese was a consensus first-team All-Pro for the second time, was selected to the Pro Bowl, and received the Bert Bell Trophy as NFL Player of the Year.

Injuries again took their toll thereafter, although Griese still performed well when he played. He missed a total of five games in ’78 but led the league’s passers in completion percentage (63.0) and was selected to the Pro Bowl once more.

Overall, Griese was selected to two AFL All-Star Games and, after the merger, six Pro Bowls and passed for 25,092 yards with 192 touchdowns. The Dolphins won nearly 70 percent of their regular season games (82-36-1) with Griese at quarterback after Shula took over as coach, and were 6-5 in the playoffs with two NFL Championships. The cerebral quarterback who made up for a lack of flamboyance with cool, precise play was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. His son, Brian, also was a quarterback in the NFL with the Broncos, Buccaneers, and Bears, as well as a year with the Dolphins.

June 24, 2011

1998: Vinny Testaverde Signs with Jets

On June 24, 1998 the New York Jets announced the signing of QB Vinny Testaverde, who had recently been waived by the Baltimore Ravens. It was the third stop for the 34-year-old veteran (he turned 35 during the ’98 season), who had 12 years of experience in the NFL.

Much had been expected when Testaverde was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987. He starred at the University of Miami, winning the Heisman Trophy in ’86. At 6’5” and 218 pounds (he eventually filled out to 235), and with a strong arm, he had all the physical tools necessary to excel as a pro. However, the Bucs were not a good team and the young quarterback struggled, throwing 35 interceptions in 1988, his first full season as the starter, and leading the NFL again in ’89 with 22. Questions began to develop as to his decision-making ability, particularly under pressure.

After six disappointing years with Tampa Bay, Testaverde was dealt to the Cleveland Browns and replaced his former Miami teammate Bernie Kosar, who was abruptly released during the 1993 season. He had some better luck with the Browns, quarterbacking the team to the playoffs in ’94. When the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996, Testaverde was still the starting quarterback and made the Pro Bowl after passing for 4177 yards and 33 TDs. However, his performance dropped off in ’97 and he was waived after the Ravens signed QB Jim Harbaugh.

The Jets, coming off of a 9-7 record in their first year under Head Coach Bill Parcells, had endured a quarterback controversy in 1997. Neil O’Donnell, who signed a five-year free agent contract in ’96 after leading the Steelers to an AFC Championship, was 8-12 in his starts with the Jets and had not enjoyed Parcells’ favor. He lost the starting job to fourth-year backup Glenn Foley, who brought a gunslinging style to the position. While a knee injury put him out of action for the last few weeks, it was clear that Parcells wanted Foley to start in 1998.

When O’Donnell indicated that he was unwilling to restructure his contract, his fate was sealed and he was waived immediately upon the signing of Testaverde. Dropping O’Donnell and signing Testaverde, who accepted a one-year deal with an option for a second year, saved the Jets $2.75 million against the salary cap.

“Glenn Foley has the benefit of the doubt,” said Parcells (pictured above with Testaverde) in the immediate aftermath of the deal, “but if Vinny plays at a level which is clearly better, he would be the starter.”

Foley did start the season, but he suffered a rib injury that put Testaverde into the lineup. After starting off at 2-3, the Jets went 10-1 the rest of the way to win the AFC East with a 12-4 record and make it into the postseason for the first time since 1991. The veteran quarterback had an outstanding year, leading the AFC in passing (101.6 rating) while throwing for 3256 yards with 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Testaverde was helped by another key acquisition on offense, RB Curtis Martin, who was signed away from the Patriots and rushed for 1287 yards, thus taking pressure off of the passing game. WR Keyshawn Johnson, the team’s first draft choice in ’96, blossomed in his third season, catching 83 passes for 1131 yards (10 for TDs) and gaining selection to the Pro Bowl. Less-heralded WR Wayne Chrebet contributed 75 receptions for 1083 yards and eight scores.

The Jets advanced to the AFC Championship game before succumbing to the Denver Broncos, 23-10. Still, for a team that had suffered through a miserable 1-15 season just two years before, it was a tremendous turnaround. It was also a turnaround for the often-maligned Testaverde, who showed consistency and received Pro Bowl recognition.

Unfortunately for Testaverde, the success did not last. He suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the 1999 opening game and missed the remainder of the season. The Jets slipped back to 8-8 with Ray Lucas and Rick Mirer starting at quarterback and Parcells resigned afterward (he remained in the front office for one year).

Testaverde came back in 2000, but with lessened mobility and without Parcells’ coaching. He returned to the old pattern of uneven performances, often struggling and prone to making mistakes while on other occasions getting into grooves in which his passing was nearly unstoppable. In the end, he went to the air a league-leading 590 times, completing 328 of those passes for 3732 yards, but throwing more interceptions (25, also a NFL-leading figure) than touchdown passes (21).

A new head coach, Herman Edwards, and offensive coordinator, Paul Hackett, arrived in 2001, and Testaverde found himself directing Hackett’s version of the West Coast offense. Foregoing the long ball for short passes, he averaged 6.2 yards per attempt and completed no throw longer than 40 yards, but he also cut his interceptions down to 14 (his TD passes totaled 15) and the Jets were 10-6.

Testaverde, who started slowly in ’02, gave way to Chad Pennington, and while the younger quarterback missed the first part of the season with a broken wrist in 2003, Testaverde, now pushing 40 years of age, went back to the bench when Pennington returned. In 2004, he reunited with Parcells in Dallas as a stopgap starting quarterback, returned to the Jets in ’05, and then sat on the bench behind Tom Brady in New England in 2006. When the Carolina Panthers ran into injury problems at quarterback in ’07, the old pro returned for one last campaign at age 44 and finally called it quits after 21 seasons in the NFL.

Overall, Testaverde passed for 46,223 yards with 275 touchdowns and 267 interceptions. While he could never fully overcome his early reputation for inconsistency, and particularly his penchant for forcing throws and making poor decisions that led to bad consequences, Testaverde also showed flashes of the outstanding ability that was expected of him – most notably in the 1998 season with the Jets.

June 22, 2011

MVP Profile: Ken Stabler, 1974

Quarterback, Oakland Raiders

Age: 29 (Dec. 25)
7th season in pro football, 5th active in NFL & with Raiders
College: Alabama
Height: 6’3” Weight: 215

Following an outstanding college career, the left-handed Stabler was chosen by the Raiders in the second round of the 1968 NFL/AFL draft. He was farmed out for a brief apprenticeship in the Continental Football League in ’68 and spent 1969 on injured reserve before he saw his first regular season NFL action as the third-string QB in 1970. Knee injuries robbed Stabler of his mobility, but The Snake was an accurate passer who took over as starting QB in 1973 and led the league in completion percentage (62.7) while earning selection to the Pro Bowl.

1974 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games and started 13 of them
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 310 [8]
Most attempts, game – 41 vs. Cincinnati 10/20
Completions – 178 [7]
Most completions, game – 22 vs. Denver 11/24
Yards – 2469 [5]
Most yards, game – 252 vs. Cincinnati 10/20
Completion percentage – 57.4 [7]
Yards per attempt – 8.0 [3]
TD passes – 26 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 at Denver 11/3, vs. New England 12/1
Interceptions – 12 [14, tied with five others]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Denver 11/24
Passer rating – 94.9 [2]
200-yard passing games – 7

Attempts – 12
Most attempts, game - 3 (for 3 yds.) at Denver 11/3, (for -7 yds.) vs. San Diego 11/17
Yards – -2
Most yards, game – 6 yards (on 2 carries) at San Diego 10/13
Yards per attempt – -0.2
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points - 6

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 66
Most attempts, game - 36 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Championship
Pass completions – 39
Most completions, game - 20 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
Passing yardage – 564
Most yards, game - 293 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
TD passes – 5
Most TD passes, game - 4 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 4
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Pittsburgh, AFC Championship

Rushing attempts – 4
Most rushing attempts, game - 3 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 7
Most rushing yards, game - 7 vs. Miami, AFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 1.8
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
AFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Pro Football Weekly
1st team All-AFC: AP, UPI, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Raiders went 12-2 to finish first in the AFC West with the conference’s best record while leading the NFL in total offense (4718 yards), points (355), and touchdowns (46). Won AFC Divisional playoff over Miami Dolphins (28-26). Lost AFC Championship to Pittsburgh Steelers (24-13).

Stabler quarterbacked the Raiders to a NFL title in 1976, earning MVP recognition while also leading the league in passing (103.4 rating). He was again a Pro Bowl selection in 1976 and ’77 and threw for a career-high 3615 yards in 1979. Traded to the Houston Oilers for QB Dan Pastorini with the expectation that he would get the Oilers into the Super Bowl, he instead endured two disappointing seasons before moving on to New Orleans for the last three years of his career. Overall, Stabler threw for 27,938 yards and, prone to taking chances, gave up 222 interceptions as opposed to 194 TDs. However, The Snake’s regular season record was 96-49-1 and he was 7-5 in postseason play.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 21, 2011

Past Venue: Texas Stadium

Irving, TX

Year opened: 1971
Capacity: 65,675

Texas Stadium, 1971-2010

Pro football tenants:
Dallas Cowboys (NFL), 1971-2008

Postseason games hosted:
NFC Championship, Cowboys 14 49ers 3, Jan. 2, 1972
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 27 Rams 16, Dec. 23, 1973
NFC Championship, Vikings 27 Cowboys 10, Dec. 30, 1973
NFC Divisional playoff, Rams 14 Cowboys 12, Dec. 19, 1976
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 37 Bears 7, Dec. 26, 1977
NFC Championship, Cowboys 23 Vikings 6, Jan. 1, 1978
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 27 Falcons 20, Dec. 30, 1978
NFC Divisional playoff, Rams 21 Cowboys 19, Dec. 30, 1979
NFC Wild Card playoff, Cowboys 34 Rams 13, Dec. 28, 1980
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 38 Buccaneers 0, Jan. 2, 1982
NFC First Round playoff, Cowboys 30 Buccaneers 17, Jan. 9, 1983
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 37 Packers 26, Jan. 16, 1983
NFC Wild Card playoff, Rams 24 Cowboys 17, Dec. 26, 1983
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 34 Eagles 10, Jan. 10, 1993
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 27 Packers 17, Jan. 16, 1994
NFC Championship, Cowboys 38 49ers 21, Jan. 23, 1994
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 35 Packers 9, Jan. 8, 1995
NFC Divisional playoff, Cowboys 30 Eagles 11, Jan. 7, 1996
NFC Championship, Cowboys 38 Packers 27, Jan. 14, 1996
NFC Wild Card playoff, Cowboys 40 Vikings 15, Dec. 28, 1996
NFC Wild Card playoff, Cardinals 20 Cowboys 7, Jan. 2, 1999
NFC Divisional playoff, Giants 21 Cowboys 17, Jan. 13, 2008

Other tenants of note:
Dallas Tornado (NASL), 1972-75, 80-81
Southern Methodist Univ. (college football), 1979-86

Notes: Originally was to have had a retractable roof, but while this proved untenable, it resulted in the unique construction in which all of the seating was under cover. Stadium was also used for neutral-site college games and high school contests. Owned by the City of Irving.

Fate: Demolished in 2010, the site is currently used by the Texas Dept. of Transportation.

June 19, 2011

1963: Raiders Obtain Archie Matsos from Buffalo

It had been a rocky first three years for the Oakland Raiders franchise. They had been a late entry into the American Football League, after the Minneapolis ownership group defected to the NFL, and had played their home games in San Francisco the first two seasons (Kezar Stadium in 1960, Candlestick Park in ’61). While they finally found a temporary home in Oakland in ’62 at Frank Youell Field, the struggling club went a dreadful 1-13. Their combined record from 1960 through ’62, under three head coaches, was 9-33.

The Raiders had a new head coach and general manager for 1963 in 34-year-old Al Davis, who had been an assistant under Sid Gillman with the Chargers. Davis immediately set about refurbishing the team and on June 19, 1963 made a significant trade to help the defense, sending CB Hank Rivera, DT Pete Nicklas, and DT George Shirkey to the Buffalo Bills for an established AFL star middle linebacker, Archie Matsos.

Matsos (often referred to simply as Arch) had been drafted out of Michigan State by the Baltimore Colts in the 16th round in 1958, but at 6’0 and 212 pounds was considered too small to be a NFL linebacker. He joined the Bills in the newly-formed AFL in 1960 and proved that, while he may have lacked size, he made up for it with speed and agility. In that first season, he intercepted eight passes and was a consensus first-team All-AFL selection. He played in every game for Buffalo in his three years there, received first-team All-AFL honors again in 1961 and was selected for the first two AFL All-Star Games, played after the 1961 and ’62 seasons.

“He's not as big as we'd like but he is fast and is agile,” said Davis. “He is good against both the pass and run and figures to make a big contribution to the team in '63.”

Two of the players traded for Matsos, Rivera and Nicklas, were rookies in 1962 while Shirkey was a three-year veteran who had been with Houston in 1960 and ‘61. Rivera played in just three games in his lone season in Buffalo, while Nicklas and Shirkey failed to make the team, ultimately making the deal appear to be a major steal by Davis.

Oakland’s offense was boosted by the other major acquisition of that offseason, split end Art Powell, who was signed after playing out his option with the New York Titans (renamed Jets for ’63). Powell left college early and had played both split end and defensive back with Toronto in the Canadian Football League, then spent one year as a defensive back/kick returner for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1959 before moving on to the Titans in the AFL. He put up big numbers, along with flanker Don Maynard, but had also gained a reputation as a malcontent – the type of player that Al Davis would regularly stock up on over the years, often with great success.

The Raiders won their first two games in ’63, but then reverted to form by losing four straight. However, they didn’t lose again the rest of the way, running off a string of eight consecutive wins to stun the league with a 10-4 record. It was second only to the champion Chargers in the Western Division (a team Oakland defeated twice).

The 29-year-old Matsos had his greatest season, intercepting four passes and gaining consensus first-team All-AFL recognition once more. Moreover, he helped solidify a young unit that included DE Dalva Allen, rookie DT Dave Costa, and two other All-AFL players, CB Fred Williamson and safety Tom Morrow.

On offense, Davis used a tandem of Cotton Davidson and Tom Flores at quarterback, who combined for 3377 yards and 31 TD passes. Powell was sensational, catching 73 passes for 1304 yards and 16 touchdowns. Equally sensational was holdover HB Clem Daniels, who led the AFL in rushing with 1099 yards and also showed outstanding downfield receiving ability out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 685 yards (a league-leading 22.8 yards-per-reception). Two solid veterans, center Jim Otto and guard Wayne Hawkins, anchored the line.

To be sure, there were still plenty of holes to fill on the team, and Davis cautioned Oakland fans not to expect too much too soon. “You’ve got to understand, it isn’t realistic to hope for all good bounces, to think of a title in 1964 or 1965,” he told a banquet audience after the ’63 season. “We’re building.”

The words of warning were appropriate, for the Raiders dropped to 5-7-2 in 1964. But they improved to 8-5-1 in both 1965 and ’66 and were AFL Champions in 1967.

Matsos was gone by then. Suffering from the flu at the start of the ’64 season, he was not at full strength (and likely was playing at under 200 pounds) but regained form steadily as the campaign progressed. He played one more season with the Raiders in 1965, but with a group of good young linebackers joining the team, Matsos was traded to Denver for Hewritt Dixon, a tight end that was converted to running back in Oakland with good results. One of the good new linebackers, Dan Conners, replaced Matsos in the starting lineup. The Broncos dealt him to San Diego during the ’66 season – his last - after the Chargers lost their starting middle linebacker, Chuck Allen, to a broken leg.

Overall, Archie Matsos ended up receiving first team All-AFL recognition three times and was chosen for three AFL All-Star Games. With his speed at the middle linebacker position, he intercepted a total of 22 passes, one of which he returned for a touchdown. A stalwart performer of the new league’s early years, he brought ability and leadership to the rebuilding Raiders.

Likewise, Art Powell was a standout on offense in Oakland, gaining selection to four straight AFL All-Star Games and catching 254 passes for 4491 yards (a healthy 17.7 avg.) and 50 touchdowns. However, like Matsos he wasn’t around by the time the Raiders won a championship – he was traded to Buffalo following the 1966 season in the deal that brought QB Daryle Lamonica to Oakland, who had an MVP year in leading the club to the top of the AFL.

June 18, 2011

MVP Profile: Earl Campbell, 1978

Running Back, Houston Oilers

Age: 23
1st season in pro football
College: Texas
Height: 5’11” Weight: 224

Following an outstanding college career that was capped by rushing for 1744 yards and winning the Heisman Trophy, Campbell was the first overall pick by the Oilers in the 1978 NFL draft (Houston traded with Tampa Bay for the top choice).

1978 Season Summary
Appeared in 15 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 302 [3]
Most attempts, game - 28 (for 199 yds.) vs. Miami 11/20
Yards – 1450 [1]
Most yards, game – 199 yards (on 28 carries) vs. Miami 11/20
Average gain – 4.8 [7]
TDs – 13 [2]
100-yard rushing games - 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 12
Most receptions, game – 2 on 5 occasions
Yards – 48
Most yards, game - 15 (on 2 catches) at Kansas City 9/10, vs. Cleveland 11/5
Average gain – 4.0
TDs - 0

TDs – 13 [2, tied with John Jefferson]
Points – 78 [14, tied with John Jefferson]

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 75
Most rushing attempts, game - 27 at New England, AFC Divisional playoff
Rushing yards – 264
Most rushing yards, game - 118 at New England, AFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 3.5
Rushing TDs – 2
100-yard rushing games - 1

Pass receptions – 3
Most pass receptions, game - 1 at Miami, AFC Wild Card playoff, at New England, AFC Divisional playoff, at Pittsburgh, AFC Championship
Pass receiving yards - 27
Most pass receiving yards, game - 13 at Miami, AFC Wild Card playoff
Average yards per reception – 9.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
NFL Rookie of the Year: NEA
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA
AFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
AFC Rookie of the Year: UPI, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Pro Football Weekly
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Oilers went 10-6 to finish second in the AFC Central and qualify for the postseason as a wild card entry. Won Wild Card playoff over Miami Dolphins (17-9) and Divisional playoff over New England Patriots (31-14). Lost AFC Championship to Pittsburgh Steelers (34-5).

Campbell led the NFL in rushing again in 1979 and ’80 (1697 & 1934 yards), received MVP/Player of the Year recognition in each, and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons, through 1981, when he led the AFC with 1376 yards. After one more 1000-yard rushing season in 1983 (1301 yards), his heavy workload and physically-punishing running style caused his performance to drop significantly in ’84 and Campbell was traded to New Orleans during the season. He finished his career in 1985, rushing for 643 yards and a 4.1-yard average for the Saints. Campbell retired with 9407 rushing yards on 2187 carries and 81 touchdowns. His #34 was retired by the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1991.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 17, 2011

Past Venue: League Park

Cleveland, OH

Year opened: 1910
Capacity: 21,414 at opening, increased to 22,500 in 1939

Somers Park, 1910-15
Dunn Field, 1916-27
League Park, 1927-51

Pro football tenants:
Cleveland Tigers/Indians (APFA), 1920-21
Cleveland Indians/Bulldogs (NFL), 1923-25
Cleveland Rams (NFL), 1937, 42, 44-45

Postseason games hosted:

Other tenants of note:
Cleveland Indians (MLB – AL), 1910-46
Cleveland Buckeyes (baseball Negro Leagues), 1943-48

Notes: While Rams played home games at venue in 1945, NFL Championship game was played at Municipal Stadium. Stadium, which was a steel and concrete structure, replaced an earlier wooden ball park of the same name that opened in 1892.

Fate: Demolished for the most part in 1951, some portions remained afterward and the ticket office still stands. The site is used as a public park.

June 15, 2011

1985: Outlaws Defeat Express at Pierce College

As the 1985 United States Football League season neared completion, the Los Angeles Express franchise was in critical condition. J. William Oldenburg, who purchased the team prior to the 1984 season, was forced to surrender it back to the league, and GM Don Klosterman was running the club while frantically assisting the USFL to find a buyer. The colorful Oldenburg had caused plenty of excitement and poured money (too much money, it turned out) into the franchise during his brief tenure – most notably a contract worth over $40 million to rookie QB Steve Young.

The Express had never been a good draw while playing at the huge Memorial Coliseum (they bottomed out by drawing a combined 12,629 for their last three games there), and the final home game, on June 15 against the Arizona Outlaws, was moved to 16,000-seat John Shepard Stadium at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. The team, coached by John Hadl, had lost six straight games and was barely remaining viable due to lack of money. As a result of injuries and the inability to sign replacements, LA fielded only 37 players for the game, including two kickers, with Tony Boddie (pictured above) the only healthy running back.

There were just 8200 fans in attendance at the small facility. The stadium had added temporary bleachers and the scoreboard showed the team names written with felt marker on paper, adding to the sense of decline. “It was humbling,” said Young. “I almost expected the cheerleaders to dress up our team bus like they did in high school.” (Alas, even the club’s cheerleading squad had been disbanded as a cost-cutting measure)

The visiting team was a union of two clubs that played as the Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984. Coached by Frank Kush, the offense boasted a seasoned veteran quarterback with NFL experience, Doug Williams, and RB Reggie Brown, who paced the ground attack. Arizona was 7-9 coming into the contest and out of playoff contention.

The Outlaws opened the scoring midway through the first quarter as Williams threw to a diving WR Greg Anderson for a 23-yard touchdown. However, the extra point attempt failed and the score stood at 6-0 after one period of play.

LA’s Tony Zendejas kicked a 50-yard field goal to put the Express on the board in the second quarter. Luis Zendejas, Tony’s brother and counterpart as placekicker for Arizona, responded with a 22-yard field goal to make the score 9-3 at the half.

Luis Zendejas booted another field goal, of 27 yards, in the third quarter before the Express scored a touchdown on a one-yard run by Boddie. With the score at 12-10, it seemed as though Los Angeles might pull out a win in its home finale. But two fourth quarter personal foul penalties proved disastrous for the Express. The first ended a drive by the offense at the Arizona 46. The second, on defense, helped prolong a possession by the Outlaws that culminated in Brown’s one-yard TD five plays later.

Reggie Brown’s touchdown with 4:45 left in the game made the score 18-10 (an attempted two-point conversion failed) and, for all intents and purposes, nailed down the win. Luis Zendejas capped the scoring with his third field goal of the game, of 20 yards, with just under five minutes left on the clock and the final tally was 21-10 in favor of the Outlaws.

Arizona gained 129 yards on 34 running plays and 250 yards through the air while Los Angeles ran the ball 24 times for 102 yards and netted 125 passing yards. The Outlaws also had the edge in first downs (19 to 13), although they had to overcome five turnovers (to three by LA).

Reggie Brown ran for 99 yards on 26 carries including a TD, and thus crossed the thousand-yard threshold for the season (he ended up with 1031 for the year, along with 12 rushing TDs). Doug Williams completed 15 of 29 passes for 250 yards with the one TD and two interceptions. Greg Anderson caught 5 passes for 109 yards and a score.

Tony Boddie led LA in both rushing and receiving with 73 yards on 18 carries and 4 catches for 44 yards. Steve Young contributed 29 yards to the ground total while running five times and also threw 25 passes, completing 13 of them, for 125 yards with no TDs and two interceptions.

GM Klosterman accented the positive and expressed encouragement with the turnout at the small venue. “For me, this (turnout) provides light at the end of the tunnel for prospective owners that wasn't there at the Coliseum,” he said. “But nothing's going to happen until after we find an owner, and I can't promise there's going to be anybody.” In the end, no new owner was ever found, and the USFL folded in any case.

“With these big, professional guys on that tiny field ...I don't know, it seemed kind of weird,” summed up Young after the game. “I don't mean to make fun of the efforts of anybody, though, and I guess these (spectators) were excited. Even under the circumstances, I still had fun.” In the offseason, Young bought out of the huge contract and moved on to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

John Hadl and his staff had already been told they would be let go after the finale in Orlando, which ended up being a loss that put the cap on a dismal 3-15 season. The Express finished up at the bottom of the Western Conference, while the Outlaws, who also lost their last game, came in fourth with an 8-10 record.

June 14, 2011

MVP Profile: Bart Starr, 1966

Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

Age: 32
11th season in pro football & with Packers
College: Alabama
Height: 6’1” Weight: 200

An unheralded 17th-round draft pick of the Packers in 1956, Starr backed up veteran Tobin Rote as a rookie, became the starter for a poor team in ’57, and saw limited playing time in 1958 due to an ankle injury. In 1959, new Head Coach Vince Lombardi went with Lamar McHan as the starting QB, but when he ran into injury problems, Starr took over and held onto the job. In 1960, the Packers went to the postseason and Starr was picked for the Pro Bowl. He was better in ’61, achieving new personal highs in completion percentage (58.3), passing yards (2418), and TD passes (16) and again going to the Pro Bowl as the Packers won the NFL title. He led the league in passing (90.7 rating) and completion percentage (62.5) in 1962, another championship season for the team, and went to a third straight Pro Bowl. A broken wrist hindered Starr in ’63 but he was back on top of the passing standings (97.1) in 1964 as well as first in completion percentage (59.9) and threw 15 TDs to just 4 INTs. The Packers were champions once again in 1965, with Starr again directing the offense.

1966 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 251 [11]
Most attempts, game – 31 at Minnesota 11/27
Completions – 156 [9]
Most completions, game – 20 at Cleveland 9/18, at Minnesota 11/27
Yards – 2257 [8]
Most yards, game – 287 at San Francisco 10/9
Completion percentage – 62.2 [1]
Yards per attempt – 9.0 [1]
TD passes – 14 [7]
Most TD passes, game – 2 on 5 occasions
Interceptions – 3
Most interceptions, game – 1 vs. Baltimore 9/10, at San Francisco 10/9, at Chicago 10/16
Passer rating – 105.0 [1]
200-yard passing games – 6

Attempts – 21
Most attempts, game – 4 (for 17 yds.) at Cleveland 9/18
Yards – 104
Most yards, game – 36 yards (on 3 carries) vs. Baltimore 9/10
Yards per attempt – 5.0
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 2 G
Pass attempts – 51
Most attempts, game - 28 at Dallas, NFL Championship
Pass completions – 35
Most completions, game - 19 at Dallas, NFL Championship
Passing yardage – 554
Most yards, game - 304 at Dallas, NFL Championship
TD passes – 6
Most TD passes, game - 4 at Dallas, NFL Championship
Interceptions – 1
Most interceptions, game - 1 vs. Kansas City, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 2
Most rushing attempts, game - 2 at Dallas, NFL Championship
Rushing yards – -1
Most rushing yards, game - -1 at Dallas, NFL Championship
Average gain rushing – -0.5
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, UPI, NEA, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI, PFWA, NEA, NY Daily News
1st team All-Western Conference: Sporting News
Pro Bowl

The Packers went 12-2 to finish first in the Western Conference. Won NFL Championship over Dallas Cowboys (34-27) and Super Bowl over Kansas City Chiefs (35-10).

Playing hurt to start the 1967 season, Starr threw more interceptions in the season-opening tie against Detroit than he had in all of ’66 (4). In the end, however, the Packers were champions for the third straight year and won Super Bowl II; Starr led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.7). With Lombardi gone as head coach and age setting in, the team’s performance dropped off and Starr, while still a solid QB, suffered through injury-plagued seasons before retiring in 1971. At his leaving, he was the fourth-rated passer of all-time (80.5) to go along with five championships. The Packers retired Starr’s #15 and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1977.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 12, 2011

Past Venue: Riverfront Stadium

Cincinnati, OH
aka Cinergy Field

Year opened: 1970
Capacity: 59,754

Riverfront Stadium, 1970-95
Cinergy Field, 1996-2002

Pro football tenants:
Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), 1970-99

Postseason games hosted:
AFC Divisional playoff, Bengals 28 Bills 21, Jan. 3, 1982
AFC Championship, Bengals 27 Chargers 7, Jan. 10, 1982
AFC First Round playoff, Jets 44 Bengals 17, Jan. 9, 1983
AFC Divisional playoff, Bengals 21 Seahawks 13, Dec. 31, 1988
AFC Championship, Bengals 21 Bills 10, Jan. 8, 1989
AFC Wild Card playoff, Bengals 41 Oilers 14, Jan. 6, 1991

Other tenants of note:
Cincinnati Reds (MLB – NL), 1970-2002
Univ. of Cincinnati (college football), 1990

Notes: Originally had AstroTurf surface, but was converted to a grass field in 2001 (when the baseball Reds were the sole tenant). In addition to the 1990 season, the stadium occasionally hosted other Univ. of Cincinnati football games against major opponents. Capacity reduced by about 13,000 due to need to knock out a section in 2001 in order to accommodate construction of the next-door Great American Ball Park. The birthplace and boyhood home of singing cowboy/actor Roy Rogers was one of the buildings that the stadium replaced.

Fate: Demolished in 2002, the site is now the western concourse of Great American Ball Park.

June 11, 2011

MVP Profile: Kelvin Bryant, 1983

Running Back, Philadelphia Stars

Age: 22
1st season in pro football
College: North Carolina
Height: 6’2” Weight: 195

A three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference back in college, Bryant was chosen by the Stars in the first USFL territorial draft and went with the new league (the Washington Redskins selected him in the 7th round of the ’83 NFL draft even though he had already signed with the USFL). He moved directly into the starting lineup and quickly became the focal point of the ground-oriented offense.

1983 Season Summary
Appeared in 17 of 18 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 318 [2]
Most attempts, game - 27 (for 177 yds.) at Birmingham 3/21
Yards – 1442 [2]
Most yards, game – 177 yards (on 27 carries) at Birmingham 3/21
Average gain – 4.5 [7]
TDs – 16 [2]
100-yard rushing games - 7

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 53 [19, tied with Herschel Walker]
Most receptions, game – 6 (for 34 yds.) at Denver 3/6, (for 50 yds.) vs. Denver 5/8
Yards – 410
Most yards, game - 66 (on 4 catches) at New Jersey 6/12
Average gain – 7.7
TDs – 1

TDs – 17 [2]
Points – 102 [7]

Postseason: 2 G
Rushing attempts – 37
Most rushing attempts, game - 24 vs. Chicago, USFL Semifinal playoff
Rushing yards – 231
Most rushing yards, game - 142 vs. Chicago, USFL Semifinal playoff
Average gain rushing – 6.2
Rushing TDs – 2

Pass receptions – 6
Most pass receptions, game - 4 vs. Michigan, USFL Championship
Pass receiving yards - 29
Most pass receiving yards, game - 15 vs. Michigan, USFL Championship
Average yards per reception – 4.8
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
USFL MVP: League, Pro Football Weekly
1st team All-USFL: League, Sporting News, College & Pro Football Newsweekly, Pro Football Weekly

Stars went 15-3 to finish first in the USFL Atlantic Division with the league’s best record. Won Semifinal playoff over Chicago Blitz (44-38 in OT). Lost USFL Championship to Michigan Panthers (24-22).

Bryant continued to be one of the league’s best runners, even though battling occasional injuries, again ranking second in the USFL with 1406 rushing yards in 1984 and tied for fourth in ’85 with 1207. He ended up gaining 4055 yards over the course of the three USFL seasons, and the Stars won the league championship in the last two. Following the demise of the USFL, Bryant joined the Redskins where he spent four seasons (1986-90). In the NFL, he battled injuries and was utilized more for his pass receiving skills, catching over 40 passes in each of his first three years but only once compiling as many as 100 carries (108 in 1988). With Washington, he rushed for a total of 1186 yards and caught 154 passes for 1634 yards.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 9, 2011

1985: Gold Beat Gamblers to Clinch Playoff Spot

The teams that met on June 9, 1985 at Denver’s Mile High Stadium were battling for postseason berths in the United States Football League’s third season. The host Gold had missed out in the USFL’s first two years and came into this contest at 10-5 while the visiting Houston Gamblers, who had joined the league in 1984, were 9-6. Both clubs were in the Western Conference of the restructured league.

The announced move from spring to fall for 1986 had a devastating impact on the Gold, despite the success on the field. After averaging a league-high 41,736 fans per home game in 1983 and 33,953 in ’84, Denver averaged just 14,446 in 1985 and, for the finale at Mile High Stadium with a playoff spot on the line, there was a paltry crowd of 12,553.

Former Gamblers’ offensive coordinator Darrel “Mouse” Davis (pictured above) was now the head coach in Denver, and had brought his exciting run-and-shoot offense with him. Houston, coached by Jack Pardee, also continued to utilize the quick-striking scheme. However, star QB Jim Kelly was injured and backup Todd Dillon started against the Gold.

The Gold opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the first quarter as QB Bob Gagliano connected on a bomb to WR Leonard Harris that resulted in a 63-yard touchdown. Houston responded with two Toni Fritsch field goals, of 46 yards later in the first quarter and 31 yards less than five minutes into the second quarter, to cut Denver’s lead to 7-6.

The nationally-televised game was delayed in the second quarter for 19 minutes due to lightning and torrential rain. The stadium lights briefly went out and parts of the field were flooded with over an inch of rain while the officials sent the teams back to the locker room until the storm passed.

Play resumed, but Denver’s offense, while moving the ball effectively, squandered four second quarter scoring opportunities and one in the third period as well. Gagliano was intercepted in the end zone three times and PK Jim Asmus missed field goal attempts of 19 and 30 yards. The Gold clung to a one-point lead at halftime.

Asmus was finally successful on a 40-yard field goal attempt midway through the third quarter and also connected from 47 yards early in the final period, putting the Gold ahead by a 13-6 score. However, Houston came back with a five-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in RB Todd Fowler running for a six-yard touchdown with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Fritsch was successful on the extra point conversion, and the score was tied at 13-13.

The teams traded punts, and then the Gold, taking over at their own 27 yard line, drove to the Houston one. Along the way, Gagliano completed passes of 27 yards to WR Marc Lewis and 20 yards to WR Lonnie Turner. Asmus booted the game-winning kick from 18 yards with one second left on the clock, atoning for the two earlier misses, and Denver clinched a playoff spot by a score of 16-13.

Considering that both teams had explosive offenses, the game was remarkably low-scoring (the 13 points were the fewest ever scored by the Gamblers). Denver significantly outgained the Gamblers (462 yards to 291) and also led in first downs (20 to 16), but had difficulty putting points on the board. The Gold gained just 47 yards on 21 rushing attempts and the Gamblers sacked Bob Gagliano five times (to three by Denver).

Gagliano nevertheless piled up plenty of passing yards as he set a Denver club record with 445 while completing 24 of 45 throws, including the one long TD but also the three costly interceptions. Marc Lewis caught 9 passes for 130 yards while Leonard Harris (pictured below), with the long scoring reception, had 177 yards on his four catches. RB Bill Johnson led the ground game with 38 yards on 15 carries.

For Houston, QB Todd Dillon was successful on 21 of 36 passes for 233 yards with no touchdowns and one picked off. Wide receivers Ricky Sanders and Scott McGhee and RB Sam Harrell all caught four passes apiece, with Sanders gaining the most yards (56). Harrell and Todd Fowler had identical rushing statistics - 25 yards on six carries.

“I could hear Coach Davis swearing at me as I walked off the field after the first half,” Jim Asmus said afterward. “But then he told me to go out in the second half and kick it through the uprights. I was glad I was able to come back and score points when we need them. I owed it to the guys.”

“Yes, it's true we had a difficult time getting into the end zone,” added Mouse Davis, “and yes, it's true we had a tough time making those field goals. But we won and it gets us in the playoffs.”

In the other locker room, Houston’s Pardee could only shake his head and mutter, “Two run-and-shoot teams in a defensive battle.”

While the loss put Houston’s playoff hopes in jeopardy, in the end both clubs made it to the postseason. Denver was second in the conference at 11-7 but was crushed by the Memphis Showboats in the first round (48-7). The Gamblers, who came in third at 10-8, also lost in the Quarterfinal playoff round, but to the Birmingham Stallions by the much closer score of 22-20.

With fan support dwindling, Denver owner Doug Spedding was considering moving the franchise for the ’86 fall season, but the USFL folded before the shift ever happened. Meanwhile, the Gamblers (who also suffered at the gate as a result of the announced move to the fall) merged with the New Jersey Generals, and while it created what could have been a dominating club, the end of the league rendered such speculation moot.

June 8, 2011

Past Venue: Soldier Field

Chicago, IL
(original structure)

Year opened: 1924
Capacity: 74,000 at opening, could be increased to 100,000 with additional seating. Reduced to 57,000 as result of renovation to accommodate the Bears, but capacity increased to 66,944 by 1994.

Municipal Grant Park Stadium, 1924-25
Soldier Field, 1925-2002

Pro football tenants:
Chicago Rockets/Hornets (AAFC), 1946-49
Chicago Cardinals (NFL), 1959
Chicago Owls (ContFL), 1968-69
Chicago Bears (NFL), 1971-2001
Chicago Fire/Winds (WFL), 1974-75
Chicago Blitz (USFL), 1983-84
Chicago Enforcers (XFL), 2001

Postseason games hosted:
NFC Divisional playoff, Bears 21 Giants 0, Jan. 5, 1986
NFC Championship, Bears 24 Rams 0, Jan. 12, 1986
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 27 Bears 13, Jan. 3, 1987
NFC Divisional playoff, Redskins 21 Bears 17, Jan. 10, 1988
NFC Divisional playoff, Bears 20 Eagles 12, Dec. 31, 1988
NFC Championship, 49ers 28 Bears 3, Jan. 8, 1989
NFC Wild Card playoff, Bears 16 Saints 6, Jan. 6, 1991
NFC Wild Card playoff, Cowboys 17 Bears 13, Dec. 29, 1991
NFC Divisional playoff, Eagles 33 Bears 19, Jan. 19, 2002

Other tenants of note:
Chicago Spurs (NPSL), 1967
Chicago Sting (NASL), 1975-76
Chicago Fire (MLS), 1998-2001

Notes: Hosted annual College All-Star game, 1934-42, 1945-73, 1975-76. In addition to years indicated above, hosted two home games of NFL Chicago Bears in 1926 and one in 1933. In addition to 1959 season, hosted one home game of NFL Chicago Cardinals in 1926 and two in 1927. Name changed on Nov. 11, 1925. First football game at stadium was between Louisville Male High School vs. Austin High School, Oct. 4, 1924. Hosted Army vs. Navy football game, 1926. Used as venue for FIFA World Cup, including the opening ceremony, 1994. Hosted boxing Heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, famous as “Long Count” fight, Sept. 22, 1927. Hosted stock car racing between 1935 and ’68. AstroTurf replaced grass field in 1971 but was in turn replaced by grass in 1988.

Fate: Demolished in 2002 and rebuilt into modernized facility bearing same name. Only the distinctive outer colonnade remains from the original structure.

[Updated 2/3/14]

June 7, 2011

MVP Profile: Roger Staubach, 1971

Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

Age: 29
3rd season in pro football & with Cowboys
College: Navy
Height: 6’3” Weight: 197

After starring at Navy, where he won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1963, Staubach didn’t arrive in the NFL until completing his five-year military commitment in 1969. The Cowboys had drafted him in the 10th round of the ’64 draft, as a future consideration (he was also picked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 16th round of the AFL draft), and Staubach joined them in ’69. After backing up Craig Morton for two years, he alternated with the veteran in ’71 before winning the starting job outright.

1971 Season Summary
Appeared in 13 of 14 games, started 10 of them
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 211 [20]
Most attempts, game – 31 at St. Louis 11/7
Completions – 126 [17]
Most completions, game – 20 at St. Louis 11/7
Yards – 1882 [14]
Most yards, game – 232 at NY Giants 12/12
Completion percentage – 59.7 [3]
Yards per attempt – 8.9 [1]
TD passes – 15 [8, tied with Len Dawson]
Most TD passes, game – 3 vs. NY Jets 12/4, at NY Giants 12/12
Interceptions – 4
Most interceptions, game – 1 on four occasions
Passer rating – 104.8 [1]
200-yard passing games – 1

Attempts – 41
Most attempts, game - 7 (for 60 yds.) at St. Louis 11/7
Yards – 343
Most yards, game – 90 yards (on 6 carries) vs. Philadelphia 11/14
Yards per attempt – 8.4
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points - 12

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 51
Most attempts, game - 19 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 31
Most completions, game - 12 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 321
Most yards, game - 119 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
TD passes – 3
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Interceptions – 0

Rushing attempts – 15
Most rushing attempts, game - 8 vs. San Francisco, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 75
Most rushing yards, game - 55 vs. San Francisco, NFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 5.0
Rushing TDs – 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Player of the Year: Bert Bell Award
NFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: PFWA, NEA
1st team All-NFC: AP, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Cowboys went 11-3 to win the NFC East and led league in total offense (5035 yards), points scored (406), and touchdowns (50) and NFC in passing yards (2786). Won NFC Divisional playoff over Minnesota Vikings (20-12), NFC Championship over San Francisco 49ers (14-3), and Super Bowl over Miami Dolphins (24-3).

Injured early in the 1972 season, Staubach saw only limited action, but returned to the starting job in ’73 and led the NFL in passing (94.6 rating) and TD passes (23, tied with Roman Gabriel of the Eagles). From 1975 through the end of his career in ’79, he was named to the Pro Bowl five straight times and led the league in passing in each of his last two seasons (1978 and ’79). The Cowboys went to the Super Bowl three more times with Staubach at quarterback, winning once. He retired as the top-ranked passer in NFL history at the time (83.4 rating). Highly mobile, he also rushed for 2264 yards. Staubach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1985.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]

June 5, 2011

Past Venue: Municipal Stadium

Baltimore, MD
aka Babe Ruth Stadium

Year opened: 1922
Capacity: 40,000 at opening, increased to 78,000 within two years, but eventually reduced to 58,917

Venable Stadium, 1922-24
Municipal Stadium, 1924-49
Babe Ruth Stadium, 1949-50

Pro football tenants:
Baltimore Colts (AAFC), 1947-49

Postseason games hosted:
AAFC Eastern Division playoff, Bills 28 Colts 17, Dec. 12, 1948

Other tenants of note:
Baltimore Orioles (minor league baseball), 1944-49
Baltimore Elite Giants (baseball Negro leagues), 1944-49

Notes: Hosted Army vs. Navy football games, 1924 and 1944. Stadium opened with a football game between teams fielded by the US Army Third Corps and Marines from Quantico, VA on Dec. 3, 1922. Regularly hosted Navy home games against significant opponents. Primarily a football stadium, the minor league baseball Orioles moved in during 1944 season after their home park was destroyed by fire. Briefly renamed for Baltimore native Babe Ruth following the baseball star’s death in 1948.

Fate: Gradually demolished between 1949 and ‘50 and rebuilt into Memorial Stadium.

June 4, 2011

1974: Seattle Awarded NFL Franchise for ’76 Season

On June 4, 1974 the commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, announced that the owners had awarded a franchise to Seattle for the 1976 season. With the approval of a team for Tampa the previous month, the league would be expanding from 26 to 28 clubs – the first adding of teams since the merger with the American Football League in 1970 (it had been rumored that the league might expand by four clubs, but in the end settled for two).

The only issue of concern had been the rental agreement for use of the new domed stadium being built in Seattle, but Commissioner Rozelle indicated that this had been resolved satisfactorily. The construction of the facility (later known as the Kingdome) had been the key to Seattle’s bid.

Other cities in the running were Phoenix, Memphis, and Honolulu (the latter two fielded World Football League teams that fall). Of the applicants, only Seattle received the recommendation for an immediate franchise by the NFL Expansion Committee. The vote had not been unanimous (acceptance by 20 of the 26 existing franchises was necessary). Both new franchises paid a fee of $16 million to enter the NFL. While Rozelle indicated that Tampa was very interested in moving the timetable up to 1975, it remained at ’76.

Heading the Seattle ownership group was majority owner Lloyd Nordstrom (who died before the team ever took the field), joined by Herman Sarkowsky (principal owner of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers), Ned Skinner, Lynn Himmelman, Howard Wright, and M. Lamont Bean. John Thompson, who had been the NFL Management Council’s executive director, was named general manager early in 1975, and Jack Patera, an assistant coach with the Vikings, was hired to be the team’s first head coach. A contest to name the club drew over 20,000 responses and came up with Seahawks for the fledgling franchise.

As was typical with expansion teams, an allocation draft of unprotected NFL veterans was held to stock the Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Seattle selected 39 players in that draft and, in the league draft of college talent, took another 25 rookies headed by first draft choice Steve Niehaus, a defensive tackle from Notre Dame.

As the team arrived at Eastern Washington University for its first training camp, there were plenty of personnel questions, beginning with who would start at quarterback. The two veteran quarterbacks taken in the allocation draft, Neil Graff from New England and Gary Keithley of the Cardinals, were nondescript career backups. A rookie free agent, Jim Zorn out of Cal Poly – Pomona (pictured above), who had failed to make the Cowboys the previous year (he was the final preseason cut after Dallas acquired RB Preston Pearson) won the job and provided plenty of excitement. A mobile lefthander who threw well – if not always accurately – on the run, Zorn set a rookie record with 2571 passing yards, but also led the NFL by tossing 27 interceptions as opposed to 12 TD passes.

During training camp, the Seahawks swung a trade with the Oilers for rookie WR Steve Largent out of Tulsa (pictured below), and it proved to be another fortuitous acquisition. The 5’11”, 184-pound receiver lacked speed, but proved to be sure-handed and able to get open with regularity. He led the club with 54 catches for 705 yards and four touchdowns, and would last 14 years in Seattle on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet another rookie, RB Sherman Smith, who was drafted by the Seahawks in the second round out of Miami of Ohio, made an impact. At 6’4” and 217 pounds, he had played quarterback in college but was projected to be a pro running back. He became the best of a mediocre crop of runners, topping the team with 537 yards on 119 carries as well as catching 36 passes for another 384 yards.

As for the remainder of the offense, while Smith showed promise, the running game as a whole ranked at the bottom of the NFL (1416 yards). Zorn placed second on the team in rushing with 246 yards, tied with FB Don Testerman, a rookie who had been drafted by the Dolphins but ended up starting eight games with Seattle.

A solid veteran wide receiver (although coming off of a knee injury), Ahmad Rashad, had been signed away from Buffalo, where he had played out his option, but he was in turn dealt to Minnesota just before the start of the regular season. Largent took his spot in the lineup, and across from him was WR Sam McCullum, a third-year player who was picked up in the expansion draft from the Vikings. He caught 32 passes for 506 yards and four TDs. While fifth-year veteran John McMakin was expected to start at tight end, he instead backed up Ron Howard, who hadn’t caught a pass in two seasons with Dallas but contributed 37 receptions for 422 yards with the ’76 Seahawks.

The offensive line was mediocre, containing two NFL veterans, 34-year-old ex-Dolphin OT Norm Evans and C Fred Hoaglin, in his 11th (and last) season. Only left tackle Nick Bebout, a fifth-year ex-Falcon, started every game on the line in 1976.

Defensively, Niehaus had a solid rookie season at the one tackle position. The other tackle, Richard Harris, had been a star rookie with the Eagles in 1971 but had not progressed in the ensuing five years. The ends were Dave Tipton and another 34-year-old veteran, Bob Lurtsema. 33-year-old Mike Curtis, once an outstanding middle linebacker for the Colts, played on the outside while ex-Steeler Ed Bradley started at MLB. Ken Geddes, formerly with the Rams, started nine games at the other outside position.

FS Dave Brown intercepted four passes, as did CB Rolly Woolsey. Another ex-Ram, Eddie McMillan, started at the other cornerback spot and Al Matthews was the strong safety. The unit gave up 27 touchdown passes but was also the most stable part of the defense throughout the season.

As for the specialists, John Leypoldt attempted only 12 field goals, but was successful on 8 of them. Rick Engles averaged a mediocre 38.3 yards on 80 punts.

In the end, the ’76 Seahawks went 2-12 to finish at the bottom of the NFC Western Division (they were shifted to the AFC West in ’77 and remained there until returning to the NFC as part of the 2002 restructuring). Their first win came in the sixth week of the season and was over the other expansion club, the Buccaneers (who ended up going 0-14).

The Seahawks improved rapidly, posting their first winning record in 1978, the franchise’s third year. Progress was not so smooth thereafter, however. They would not reach the postseason until 1983, under a new head coach, Chuck Knox, and with a different starting quarterback, Dave Krieg.

June 3, 2011

MVP Profile: Larry Brown, 1972

Running Back, Washington Redskins

Age: 25 (Sept. 19)
4th season in pro football & with Redskins
College: Kansas State
Height: 5’11” Weight: 195

An 8th round pick by the Redskins in the 1969 NFL draft, Brown led the team in rushing as a rookie (888 yards) and won the league rushing title in ’70 (1125 yards). His production dropped off to 948 yards in 1971 as defenses keyed on him, but he was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years and was a consensus first-team All-Pro in 1971.

1972 Season Summary
Appeared in 12 of 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 285 [3]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 106 yds.) vs. NY Giants 11/12
Yards – 1216 [2, 1st in NFC]
Most yards, game – 191 yards (on 29 carries) at NY Giants 10/29
Average gain – 4.3 [18]
TDs – 8 [7, tied with four others]
100-yard rushing games - 6

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 32
Most receptions, game – 7 (for 100 yds.) vs. Dallas 10/22
Yards – 473
Most yards, game - 100 (on 7 catches) vs. Dallas 10/22
Average gain – 14.8
TDs – 4

TDs – 12 [4, tied with Mercury Morris & Gene Washington]
Points – 72

Led NFL with 1689 yards from scrimmage

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 77
Most rushing attempts, game - 30 vs. Dallas, NFC Championship
Rushing yards – 261
Most rushing yards, game - 101 vs. Green Bay, NFC Divisional playoff
Average gain rushing – 3.4
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 7
Most pass receptions, game - 5 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 42
Most pass receiving yards, game - 26 vs. Miami, Super Bowl
Average yards per reception – 6.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, NEA, Bert Bell Award
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: AP
NFC Player of the Year: Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Pro Football Weekly
1st team All-NFC: AP, UPI, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

Redskins went 11-3 to finish first in NFC East with best record in conference. Won NFC Divisional playoff over Green Bay Packers (16-3) and NFC Championship over Dallas Cowboys (26-3). Lost Super Bowl to Miami Dolphins (14-7).

Brown ran for 860 yards and caught 40 passes in 1973, but the workhorse runner began to show signs of wear in ’74 and totaled just 838 over his last three seasons (1974-76). For his career, he ran for 5875 yards (3.8 avg.) and caught 238 passes for 2485 yards (10.4 avg.) while scoring a total of 55 touchdowns.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself).

[Updated 2/15/14]
[Updated 11/28/14]

June 1, 2011

1984: Panthers Rally Behind Backup QB to Beat Gunslingers in Overtime

The Michigan Panthers, defending champions of the United States Football League, looked likely to repeat when they started off at a 6-0 pace in 1984. However, losing star WR Anthony Carter to a season-ending injury sent Head Coach Jim Stanley’s team into a downward spiral. By the time they took on the expansion San Antonio Gunslingers on June 1, they were 7-7 and in danger of falling out of contention.

The Gunslingers, coached by Gil Steinke and one of six new teams in the USFL for ’84, came into the contest with a 5-9 record. The offense had a rookie starting at quarterback, Rick Neuheisel out of UCLA, and had difficulty scoring either through the air or on the ground. The defense, which came to be known as The Bounty Hunters, was better and kept the team competitive.

There were 16,384 fans in attendance at Alamo Stadium for the Friday night game. They witnessed a first half that was almost scoreless. The only points came very late in the opening period as San Antonio’s Nick Mike-Mayer booted a 26-yard field goal to give the Gunslingers a 3-0 lead, capping a 60-yard drive that ended at the Michigan three yard line.

The Panthers’ Novo Bojovic had a chance to tie the game midway threw the second quarter, but he missed a 22-yard field goal attempt, and that was the closest the defending champions came to scoring before halftime. It was the first time during the 1984 season, and the second time ever, that Michigan was shut out in the first half.

San Antonio extended its lead on the club’s first possession of the second half that culminated in Neuheisel passing to WR Jerry Gordon for a 22-yard touchdown. Michigan’s quarterback, Bobby Hebert, left the game due to injury after completing just two of his eight passes for 35 yards, and backup QB Whit Taylor (pictured at top) came into the game. With just under four minutes left in the third quarter, Bojovic was successful with a 28-yard field goal that narrowed San Antonio’s lead to 10-3.

Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, the Panthers tied the game when Taylor threw to TE Mike Cobb for a three-yard touchdown. However, San Antonio went back ahead at 17-10 with 6:28 remaining in regulation as RB George Works dove into the end zone for a TD on a fourth-and-one play.

The Panthers responded with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a four-yard scoring pass from Taylor to WR Anthony Allen with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and with Bojovic’s successful PAT, the contest was again tied at 17-17.

The Gunslingers had a chance to win on the last play of the fourth quarter, but Mike-Mayer’s 58-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar and was no good. The game proceeded into overtime.

With a strong wind blowing, Michigan won the toss and elected to kick off to start the OT period. It didn’t take long for the gamble to pay off. CB Oliver Davis intercepted a Neuheisel pass and returned it for a 27-yard touchdown just 22 seconds into the extra period to win the game for the Panthers by a final score of 23-17.

The Gunslingers outgained Michigan (311 yards to 251) and had a slight edge in first downs (19 to 18), although they also turned the ball over three times, to the Panthers’ one, the last time fatally.

Coming off the bench in the second half, Whit Taylor completed 13 of 23 passes for 139 yards with two touchdowns and none intercepted. Anthony Allen caught 7 passes for 98 yards and a TD. RB Ken Lacy led the running attack with 32 yards on 12 carries, while RB Albert Bentley was right behind at 31 yards on his 10 attempts.

For San Antonio, Rick Neuheisel was successful on 16 of 32 passes for 213 yards that included one TD but also two interceptions. TE Joey Hackett was the top receiver with 4 receptions for 89 yards. RB Mike Hagen rushed for 44 yards on 14 carries.

“We were in double rotation nickel coverage, and I had a short area of responsibility,” said Davis of the play that resulted in the decisive score. “I made a hell of a break for the ball and got to walk it in. My main thing was to make sure I had the ball. I think he (Neuheisel) never really saw me. We disguised the defense to make him think it was a man-to-man.”

“We were in the nickel defense with an extra back,” added Coach Stanley. “This is one of the real good victories for this team. We showed class in the game. I'm proud of this team more than any other.”

The Panthers lost the next week but went on to finish up with two wins in the last four games, just qualifying for the postseason as a wild card with a 10-8 record. They lost to the Los Angeles Express in an epic triple-overtime First Round playoff game. San Antonio ended up at 7-11 and in third place, behind the Panthers, in the Central Division.

The relief performance by Whit Taylor was a highlight of his two seasons with Michigan (ironically, he played for San Antonio in 1985). Overall, he completed 47 of 96 passes for 790 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.