January 9, 2011

1977: Raiders Dominate Vikings in Super Bowl XI

Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 featured two teams that had a history of contending but coming up short in the postseason. The Oakland Raiders had been to the Super Bowl once before, as champions of the AFL following the 1967 season, and had made it to the playoffs in seven of the eight years following without winning a title. The Minnesota Vikings had also been in the postseason in seven of the previous eight campaigns, but had made it to the Super Bowl on three occasions - once having won the NFL title in 1969 and twice after the merger as representatives of the NFC. However, they had come up empty each time.

Oakland, coached by John Madden, easily won the AFC West for the fifth straight year with an NFL-best 13-1 record. QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler (pictured above) had an outstanding season, leading the league in passing (103.4 rating), touchdown passes (27), completion percentage (66.7), and yards per attempt (9.4). Deep-threat WR Cliff Branch caught 46 passes and ranked second in the league in yards (1111) and first in TD receptions (12). 33-year-old WR Fred Biletnikoff contributed 43 catches, while All-Pro TE Dave Casper led the team with 53 receptions, 10 of which were for scores. FB Mark van Eeghen ran for 1012 yards. Defensively, the team successfully converted to a 3-4 alignment and had a key acquisition in DE John Matuszak to go along with veteran linebackers Phil Villapiano and Ted Hendricks, CB Willie Brown, and safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson.

The Vikings were coached for the tenth season by Bud Grant and compiled an 11-2-1 tally to top the NFC Central. 36-year-old QB Fran Tarkenton put together a typically strong showing, throwing for an NFC-leading 2961 yards and 17 touchdowns while posting the league’s lowest interception percentage (1.9). He was helped by the performance of two new wide receivers, veteran Ahmad Rashad and rookie Sammy White. RB Chuck Foreman ran for 1155 yards and pulled in 55 passes for 567 more. The aging defense was still effective and contained such stalwarts as ends Carl Eller and Jim Marshall, DT Alan Page, MLB Jeff Siemon, and FS Paul Krause.

The Raiders defeated the Patriots in the Divisional round and Pittsburgh for the AFC title while Minnesota handily beat the Redskins and Rams, respectively, for the NFC Championship.

There were 100,421 fans present at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Oakland’s opening drive covered 55 yards to the Minnesota 11, but the Raiders came up empty when Errol Mann’s 29-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and was no good.

With about five minutes left in the first period, Minnesota LB Fred McNeill blocked a punt by Ray Guy (the first time in Guy’s pro career that he had a kick blocked) and recovered the ball at the Oakland three yard line. Following a one-yard run by Foreman, RB Brent McClanahan fumbled when hit by LB Phil Villapiano and NT Dave Rowe; LB Willie Hall recovered for the Raiders.

The Vikings defense seemed to have Oakland contained, but on third-and-seven at the six yard line HB Clarence Davis (pictured at left) took off around left end on a 35-yard run. Stabler threw to HB Carl Garrett for 11 yards and then to Casper for 25. The possession culminated in a 24-yard field goal by Mann early in the second quarter. From a situation in which it appeared Minnesota would score the game’s first points, the advantage instead shifted to the Raiders.

The Vikings had to punt on their next possession, and Oakland took over at its 36. After a couple of short passes and runs by van Eeghen and Davis, Stabler threw to Casper for 19 yards. Garrett ran for 13 yards and Biletnikoff caught a pass at the one. Stabler then threw to a wide-open Casper in the end zone for a touchdown. Oakland was ahead by 10-0.

With seven minutes left in the half, the Vikings got the ball back but once more had to punt and DB Neil Colzie returned it 25 yards to the Minnesota 35. Two running plays gained 17 yards and then Stabler passed to Biletnikoff for 17, again to the one yard line. The Raiders kept it on the ground this time as RB Pete Banaszak plunged over right tackle for a touchdown. Mann missed the extra point attempt that nicked the right upright, but the score was 16-0 at halftime.

Oakland had clearly dominated, controlling the ball for 21 minutes during the first half and outgaining the Vikings by 288 yards to 86 while leading in first downs by 16 to 4. By contrast, Tarkenton completed just 5 of 12 passes for 59 yards.

Ten minutes into the third quarter, Mann kicked a 40-yard field goal to extend the Oakland lead to 19-0. It appeared that the Minnesota offense would remain stymied, especially when they had to punt following the next possession. However, Oakland’s Hendricks roughed punter Neil Clabo and the Vikings kept the ball. Reinvigorated, Minnesota finally began to move as Tarkenton completed passes of 15 yards to TE Stu Voigt, 21 yards to Rashad, 10 to Foreman, and eight to Sammy White for a touchdown. The Vikings were finally on the board with 47 seconds left in the third quarter.

On the next Minnesota possession, Tarkenton threw while being pressured by Hendricks and was intercepted by Willie Hall, who returned it 16 yards to the Oakland 46. Three plays later, Stabler threw to Biletnikoff, who caught the pass at the Minnesota 35 and took it all the way down to the two yard line for a 48-yard gain. On the next play, Banaszak ran for the two-yard TD. For all intents and purposes, at 26-7 midway through the fourth quarter, the game was over.

A desperation pass by Tarkenton was intercepted by CB Willie Brown, who returned it 75 yards for a touchdown and 32-7 lead (the erratic Mann missed another PAT). That was all for Tarkenton, who was replaced by Bob Lee. Lee led the Vikings on a meaningless 86-yard drive that ended with his 13-yard touchdown pass to Voigt and provided the final score of 32-14.

The Raiders rolled up 429 yards, setting a then-Super Bowl record, to 353 for Minnesota. They also outrushed the Vikings by a whopping 266 yards to 71, which was as much a tribute to OT Art Shell and G Gene Upshaw as it was to the running backs. Minnesota turned the ball over three times, to none suffered by the Raiders.

Clarence Davis rushed for 137 yards on 16 carries and Mark van Eeghen added 73 more yards on 18 attempts. Ken Stabler had a solid performance, completing 12 of 19 passes for 180 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Fred Biletnikoff (pictured at right) caught 4 passes for 79 yards and was voted the game’s MVP while Dave Casper was right behind with 4 receptions for 70 yards and a TD.

As for the Vikings, Fran Tarkenton was successful on just 17 of 35 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. In relief, Bob Lee completed 7 of 9 for 81 yards and a TD. Sammy White caught 5 passes for 77 yards with a score. Chuck Foreman had 5 receptions for 62 yards and led the club in rushing with 44 yards on 17 attempts.

“I had my own personal drive out there because of that stuff about us not winning the big ones,” said Oakland’s John Madden. “This was a pretty big one, wasn't it?”

“We have the best offensive line in the league,” said Ken Stabler. “When you have All-Pros like Upshaw and Shell, you use them. When you have the horses, you ride them.”

“They totally dominated us,” said a disappointed Fran Tarkenton. “They played extremely well, and we played badly. That was it.”

It was a fourth loss for the Vikings in the Super Bowl – and last under Bud Grant. They made it to the postseason four more times under the Hall of Fame coach, but didn’t advance beyond the conference title game. As for the Raiders, they just missed returning to the Super Bowl following the ’77 season with a loss to the division-rival Broncos in the AFC Championship game – they would next make it to the playoffs, and win another championship, in 1980 with Tom Flores at the helm.