January 31, 2013

1999: Elway Caps Career as Broncos Beat Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII

The Denver Broncos, winners of the Super Bowl following the 1997 season, were even stronger in 1998 as they topped the AFC West with a 14-2 record and breezed past the Dolphins and Jets in the playoffs to again earn another conference title. On January 31, 1999 they faced the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII to defend their crown.

Coached by Mike Shanahan for the fourth season, the Broncos had regained the services of 38-year-old star QB John Elway (pictured above) for another year after he had considered retirement in the previous offseason. It was widely anticipated that this would be his finale for sure. RB Terrell Davis was a vital cog in the offense as he rushed for 2008 yards. Wide receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey both gained over a thousand receiving yards and TE Shannon Sharpe added 64 catches for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The NFC Champion Falcons were coached for the second year by Dan Reeves, the longtime mentor in Denver who had led the Broncos to three AFC titles (and as many Super Bowl defeats), and had been forced to leave the club for a time in the late season due to heart bypass surgery. They had also gone 14-2, but were not as highly regarded as the defending champs, having won a close Divisional playoff game against the 49ers and then stunning the Minnesota Vikings in overtime for the NFC title. Atlanta featured a strong running attack led by RB Jamal Anderson (1846 yards) while 33-year-old veteran QB Chris Chandler, often injured and cast aside by five teams thus far in his career, stayed healthy and performed capably with his accurate passing. The opportunistic defense, anchored by MLB Jessie Tuggle, led the league with 44 takeaways and a +20 turnover differential. However, they received a jolt when Pro Bowl FS Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting a prostitute the night before the game, providing an unneeded distraction.

Still, the Falcons got off to a fast start before 74,803 fans at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium plus the mammoth television audience. Jamal Anderson gained 13 yards on his first carry and, with the help of a pass interference penalty, they reached the Denver eight yard line. However, on third down Chandler was sacked by LB Bill Romanowski for a seven-yard loss and Atlanta settled for a 32-yard Morten Andersen field goal to take the early 3-0 lead.

Denver came right back with a scoring drive that was highlighted by an Elway throw to Rod Smith that gained 41 yards on a third-and-seven play. Following a 14-yard Elway completion to Shannon Sharpe, FB Howard Griffith, who only carried the ball four times during the regular season, gained the last yard of the series for a touchdown (pictured below).

Late in the opening period, Atlanta got a break when an Elway pass bounced off the hands of Sharpe and was intercepted by CB Ronnie Bradford at the Denver 35. After advancing to the 26, in the first play of the second quarter Anderson was stopped for no gain in a third-and-one situation. Rather than go for the field goal, the Falcons tried to convert the fourth down and Anderson, taking a pitch from Chandler, was thrown for a two-yard loss.

Denver proceeded to put together a long 11-play drive that ended with Jason Elam kicking a 26-yard field goal that increased the lead to 10-3. Again the Falcons reached Denver territory in the following series but a field goal try by Morten Andersen from 26 yards flew wide to the right – likely not helped by a high snap from center. On the next play, Elway went deep for Rod Smith who beat Eugene Robinson and went all the way for an 80-yard touchdown.

Aided by a 42-yard kickoff return by WR Tim Dwight, Atlanta finally scored again before halftime, but it was a case of settling for a field goal of 28 yards by Andersen and they were down 11 points going into the intermission.

The Broncos failed to add to their lead when Elam missed two field goal attempts in the third quarter, from 38 and 48 yards. The first came at the end of the opening series of the second half in which Elway completed four passes in a 13-play possession. The second followed an interception by CB Darrius Johnson that gave the Broncos the ball at the Atlanta 42.

The Falcons were unable to capitalize on the missed field goals, although after the second they mounted a drive that carried to the Denver 21 – a touchdown could have put them very much back in the game. However, Chandler’s pass intended for an open TE O.J. Santiago was deflected at the line by DE Keith Traylor and CB Darrien Gordon (pictured below) intercepted and returned it 58 yards before he was brought down by the pursuing quarterback at the Atlanta 24.

The Broncos took full advantage of the break as Elway threw to WR Ed McCaffrey for a 15-yard gain and Griffith scored a TD, again from a yard out to start the fourth quarter, expanding Denver’s lead to 24-6.

The Falcons once more advanced into Denver territory but, after reaching the 26 yard line, a poorly-thrown pass by Chandler was picked off by Gordon and returned 50 yards to the Atlanta 48. Elway threw short for Terrell Davis, who gained 39 yards, and two plays later Elway ran for a three-yard TD on a quarterback draw that made it 31-6 with 11:20 left in the game.

Dwight returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a TD, but the Broncos responded by driving 34 yards in seven plays that concluded with Elam kicking a 37-yard field goal. A long possession yielded one more touchdown for the Falcons, on a three-yard Chandler pass to WR Terance Mathis, which was followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt as well as an onside kick that the Broncos recovered. With two minutes remaining, however, the result was not in doubt. Denver repeated as NFL Champion by a score of 34-19.

The Broncos had the edge in total yards (457 to 337) and first downs (22 to 21). The Falcons turned the ball over four times, however, to one by Denver and all in all did poorly at taking advantage of scoring opportunities.

John Elway, the MVP of the game, completed 18 of 29 passes for 336 yards with a touchdown and an interception and also had the short rushing TD. Rod Smith (pictured below) was the receiving star with 5 catches for 152 yards and a TD. Terrell Davis gained 102 yards on 25 carries and added 50 more yards on two pass receptions. Howard Griffith, who with four rushes matched his total for the entire season, gained just nine yards but had the two short touchdowns. Darrien Gordon’s two interception returns that totaled 108 yards set a Super Bowl record.

For the Falcons, Chris Chandler was successful on 19 of 35 throws for 219 yards and a TD but also with three interceptions. Jamal Anderson ran the ball 18 times for 96 yards. Terance Mathis caught 7 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown and WR Tony Martin added 79 yards on 5 receptions.

“We just didn’t play well,” summed up Dan Reeves. “We just couldn’t get it done. We missed the field goal, missed the fourth down attempt, settled for two field goals, threw two interceptions. You can’t win if you don’t get it in the end zone.”

“I don’t know if it’s John’s last game,” said Mike Shanahan. “I think it’s a good chance it could be. If you’re going to go out, what a way to go out.”

While there was speculation that John Elway would come back once more with the opportunity to win a third straight championship, he did indeed retire. For his 16-season career, he completed 4123 passes for 51,475 yards, which both ranked second all-time at that point, and 300 touchdowns, which ranked third, and was selected to the Pro Bowl on nine occasions. Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

With inexperienced Brian Griese at quarterback and Terrell Davis limited to 67 carries due to injury, the Broncos sank to 6-10 in 1999. They did return to the postseason in 2000. Atlanta, with Jamal Anderson also being lost for most of the year due to injury, dropped to 5-11. The Falcons would not post a winning record or make a playoff appearance again until 2002. 

January 29, 2013

1968: Vikings Obtain Gary Cuozzo from Saints

On January 29, 1968, which was the eve of the combined NFL/AFL draft, it was announced that the Minnesota Vikings traded their first-round draft picks for both 1968 and ‘69 to the New Orleans Saints for QB Gary Cuozzo.

The deal gave the Saints the seventh pick in the ’68 draft. They had lost their first round choice as compensation to the Packers for signing FB Jim Taylor as a free agent in ‘67. Meanwhile, Minnesota still held the first overall pick thanks to their trade with New York the previous year involving QB Fran Tarkenton. It was widely speculated that they would take a lineman with that first choice, and so they did, choosing USC tackle Ron Yary, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career.

Cuozzo was 27 years old and had played collegiately at the University of Virginia, where he had also been a Phi Beta Kappa student. He signed with the Baltimore Colts as an undrafted free agent in 1963 and backed up all-time great QB Johnny Unitas for four years, drawing attention when Unitas was injured during the ’65 season. Cuozzo performed capably in relief – in particular, a five-TD passing performance against the Vikings – before he also went down with a shoulder separation.  

So highly was he regarded that the expansion Saints acquired him from the Colts in 1967 for first and third draft choices plus C Bill Curry. However, he proved to be a poor fit as an immobile quarterback on a weak first-year club and was unable to hold on to the starting job. He completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 1562 yards, averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt, with seven touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

“We feel Gary will upgrade our offensive team,” said Minnesota GM Jim Finks. “If he can execute the forward pass like he has done in the past, he will help our offensive team considerably.”

“Gary has been in the league for five years. It’s time for him to assert himself,” was the challenge put forth by second-year Head Coach Bud Grant.

Finks declined comment on how the trade would affect the status of the three quarterbacks already on the roster, including starter Joe Kapp plus Ron VanderKelen and Bob Berry. The position had been at issue since Tarkenton was traded away. VanderKelen, the long-time apprentice, failed in the early going in 1967 and 29-year-old Joe Kapp, an eight-year veteran of the CFL, was signed to take over the starting job. With his fiery leadership to compensate for a lack of pure passing skill, Kapp did a creditable job – especially considering he had not had the benefit of a training camp with his new team. Minnesota scored just 11 touchdowns through the air in ’67.

With some good running backs and a promising group of receivers – not to mention an up-and-coming defense – it was widely believed that obtaining a solid quarterback could make the Vikings a contender in the NFL Central, and that Cuozzo would most likely land the starting job.

In fact, it was Kapp starting for the Vikings in 1968 and ’69 as they won the first two division titles in franchise history and the NFL Championship in the second year – although they fell short against the Chiefs in the last pre-merger Super Bowl. But the 1969 season proved to be the last for Kapp in a Minnesota uniform – a contract dispute led to his holding out in ’70 and he was dealt to the Patriots.

Cuozzo was finally the starting quarterback for the Vikings in his third season with the club. The team went 12-2 to again top its division (now the NFC Central) but it was the strong defense, not the offense, leading the way. Cuozzo was the conference’s tenth-ranked passer, completing 128 of his 257 throws (49.8 %) for 1720 yards with just seven touchdowns against 10 interceptions, averaging 6.7 yards per attempt and 13.4 yards per completion - only the last number ranked in the league’s top 10. Moreover, Minnesota lost in the Divisional playoff round to the 49ers in a home game in which he performed poorly.

In the offseason, the Vikings swung a trade with the Eagles for ten-year veteran QB Norm Snead. Cuozzo ended up starting most of Minnesota’s games in 1971, with young Bob Lee also in the mix along with Snead. Once again the Vikings topped their division with a fine 11-3 tally, and once again they were quickly dispatched in the postseason.

The Vikings dealt both Cuozzo and Snead in the offseason. Snead went to the Giants for Fran Tarkenton, the quarterback whose departure following the 1966 season had first set off the process of finding a capable replacement. Cuozzo was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for WR John Gilliam and a second-round draft choice. Competing with Jim Hart and Tim Van Galder in St. Louis, Cuozzo started six games in his final year in the NFL.

An intelligent player and accurate passer, he had neither the arm strength nor leadership ability to succeed consistently as a starting quarterback in the NFL despite being highly sought after.  He started a total of 40 games and had a record of 21-19 while completing just under half of his passes (49.4 %) for 7402 yards and 43 touchdowns along with 55 interceptions. His postseason performances were no better.

As a footnote, the two first-round draft choices that the Saints received for Cuozzo were used to take Kevin Hardy, a defensive end out of Notre Dame, in 1968 and Xavier guard John Shinners in ’69. Hardy never played for New Orleans, being awarded during the summer to the 49ers along with a 1969 first-round pick as compensation for the signing of free agent WR Dave Parks. He lasted one season in San Francisco and played as a backup for the Packers and Chargers before his disappointing career ended in 1972. Shinners did play with New Orleans for three years before moving on to the Colts for a year and then Cincinnati for five undistinguished seasons. 

January 28, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Charle Young, 1973

Tight End, Philadelphia Eagles

Age: 22
College: Southern California
Height: 6’4”   Weight: 230

An All-American in college, Young was the second of two first-round draft picks (sixth overall) by the Eagles in 1973. The outspoken rookie moved directly into the starting lineup and backed up his words with production as part of the “Fire High Gang” along with tall wide receivers Harold Carmichael (6’8”) and Don Zimmerman (6’4”).

1973 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 55 [4, tied with Ed Podolak]     
Most receptions, game – 8 (for 108 yds.) vs. New England 11/4
Yards – 854 [4]
Most yards, game – 113 (on 4 catches) at Dallas 11/18
Average gain – 15.5 (19)
TDs – 6 [12, tied with Jerome Barkum, Otto Stowe & Larry Brown]
100-yard receiving games - 4

Attempts – 4
Yards – 24
Average gain – 6.0
TDs – 1

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 14
TDs – 0

TDs – 7 [18, tied with seven others]
Points – 42

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, Pro Football Weekly
2nd team All-NFL: NEA
1st team All-NFC: AP, Pro Football Weekly
2nd team All-NFC: UPI
Pro Bowl

Eagles went 5-8-1 to finish third in the NFC East while leading the NFL in passing offense (2998 yds.).

Young followed up his outstanding rookie season by gathering in a NFC-leading 63 catches for 696 yards (11.0 avg.) and three touchdowns in 1974. He was again selected to the Pro Bowl in 1974 and ’75, although his production dropped with the offensively-challenged Eagles in 1975 and ’76. His first name also went through several different changes, from Charles to Charlie, Charli, and finally Charle. A contract dispute forced the trade of his rights to the Los Angeles Rams in 1977 for QB Ron Jaworski, and he dropped into obscurity behind Terry Nelson. In three seasons in LA, he caught just 36 passes. Moving on to San Francisco, Young was a better fit and, in the 1981 Super Bowl-winning season, had 37 pass receptions for 400 yards and five TDs. Following three years with the 49ers, he finished up with three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. For his 13-season career, Young caught 418 passes for 5106 yards (12.2 avg.) and 27 touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/6/14]

January 27, 2013

2002: Bledsoe Comes Off Bench to Lead Patriots Over Steelers for AFC Title

The AFC Championship game on January 27, 2002 featured the overachieving New England Patriots against the defensively-solid Pittsburgh Steelers. In their second season under Head Coach Bill Belichick, and coming off a 5-11 record in 2000, the Patriots started off 2001 at 5-5 before reeling off six straight wins to finish first in the AFC East at 11-5. A key development along the way had been an injury to QB Drew Bledsoe that resulted in unheralded backup Tom Brady moving into the lineup and remaining there even after the 29-year-old veteran had recovered. Overall, the Patriots were not an overwhelmingly talented team, but they did jell under Belichick’s coaching. They defeated the Raiders in a snowy overtime Divisional playoff game that featured a controversial reversal of an apparent fumble due to the tuck rule to advance to the conference title game.

The Steelers, in their tenth year under Head Coach Bill Cowher, came into the game as nine-point favorites. After missing the postseason in the three previous seasons, Pittsburgh went 13-3 in ’01 to top the AFC Central and gain top seed in the playoffs. Guided on offense by talented but erratic QB Kordell Stewart, the Steelers were adept at running the ball, although Pro Bowl RB Jerome Bettis had been slowed by a groin injury that had kept him out of action since Week 12. Still, they had two thousand-yard wide receivers in Hines Ward, another Pro Bowler, and Plaxico Burress. But the key to their success was the league’s top-ranked defense that featured linebackers Jason Gildon, Kendrell Bell, and Joey Porter. The Steelers had easily dispatched the defending league champions, the Ravens, in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

There was a crowd of 64,704 at Heinz Field, and they saw a quiet start to the contest as both teams traded punts back and forth. With just over four minutes remaining in the opening period, the Steelers had to punt from their own 13 and Josh Miller got off a 64-yard boot, but had to kick again when WR Troy Edwards was flagged for stepping out of bounds and returning to the field. It made a big difference as the second kick was returned 55 yards for a touchdown by WR Troy Brown to give the Patriots a lead.

In a series that extended into the second quarter, the Steelers drove into New England territory. After reaching the 11 yard line, Kris Brown kicked a 30-yard field goal to get the home team on the board. The contest again settled into a defensive battle until the Patriots took possession at their own 30 with less than three minutes remaining in the half. On the third play, Brady passed to Troy Brown for a 28-yard gain, but the quarterback was hit hard by SS Lee Flowers. Brady left the game with an injured left leg.

In to replace him was the quarterback who had been relegated to the bench, Drew Bledsoe (pictured at top). Four plays later, after hitting WR David Patten for gains of 15 and 10 yards and then running for four yards, Bledsoe threw again to Patten for an 11-yard touchdown. The Patriots were up by 14-3 at halftime.

In their second possession of the third quarter, the Steelers drove to the New England 16, but a 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by DT Brandon Mitchell and Troy Brown picked up the loose ball, ran 11 yards, and then lateraled to DB Antwan Harris who carried it the remaining 49 yards for a TD.

Pittsburgh came back with a long 79-yard series in eight plays that featured Stewart completions to Ward for 24 yards and RB Amos Zereoue for 19 and culminated in a one-yard scoring run by Jerome Bettis. New England’s lead was cut to 21-10 with over five minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Steelers closed the gap even more following a 28-yard punt return by Troy Edwards to the New England 32. They went 32 yards, the final 11 coming on a run by Zereoue. It was a four point game heading into the fourth quarter.

A long, methodical drive by the Patriots added more points less than four minutes into the final period on a 44-yard Vinatieri field goal. The Steelers had plenty of time, but their remaining three possessions ended in a punt and two interceptions, by FS Tebucky Jones and SS Lawyer Milloy. Vinatieri missed a 50-yard field goal try in an effort to extend the lead, but it didn’t matter. The Patriots were AFC Champions by a final score of 24-17.

The Steelers had the edge in both total yards (306 to 259) and first downs (23 to 15). However, they also turned the ball over four times, to none by New England. Linebackers Willie McGinest and Ted Johnson did a great job of shutting down Pittsburgh’s running game, as the Steelers gained only 58 yards on 22 carries. Pittsburgh also recorded more sacks (four to three) and the Patriots hurt themselves with 12 penalties, at a cost of 87 yards, as opposed to three flags thrown on the home team.

In his relief effort, Drew Bledsoe completed 10 of 21 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Before exiting, Tom Brady was successful on 12 of 18 throws for 115 yards. Troy Brown (pictured below) had a big day, catching 8 passes for 121 yards, returning a punt for a TD, and contributing to the score on the blocked field goal. Antowain Smith rushed for 47 yards on 15 attempts.

For the Steelers, Kordell Stewart went to the air 42 times and completed 24 of those passes for 255 yards and no touchdowns along with three interceptions. He also led the club in rushing with 41 yards on 8 carries while the hobbled Jerome Bettis was held to 8 yards on 9 attempts that included a short TD and Amos Zeroue gained 11 yards and scored once on four carries, although he also caught 4 passes for 50 yards. Hines Ward had 6 pass receptions for 64 yards and Plaxico Burress gained 67 yards on 5 catches.

“I’ve done this for a long time and at times at a pretty high level,” said Drew Bledsoe of his performance off the bench. “I felt confident coming out. I’ve been working out and preparing for this exact scenario.”

Tom Brady was back for the Super Bowl and the upstart Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams in a stunning upset. They missed out on the postseason in 2002 but came back to win the first of back-to-back NFL titles in ’03. Pittsburgh again reached the playoffs in ’02 and lost in the Divisional playoff round.

The relief appearance by Drew Bledsoe marked the end of his nine-year career in New England. He moved on to the division-rival Buffalo Bills for 2002. 

January 25, 2013

MVP Profile: Joe Theismann, 1983

Quarterback, Washington Redskins

Age:  34 (Sept. 9)
13th season in pro football, 10th in NFL & with Redskins
College: Notre Dame
Height: 6’0”   Weight: 198

Runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1970, Theismann was a 4th-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in ’71 but signed with Toronto of the CFL instead. After three years in Canada, he joined the Redskins (who had traded for his draft rights) in 1974 but was stuck behind veterans Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen. Jurgensen retired following the ’74 season, and Kilmer in ’77, at which point the cocky quarterback got his chance to start full-time. He passed for over 2500 yards in each season from 1978 thru ’81, with a high of 3568 in 1981. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Redskins went 8-1 and won the Super Bowl. Theismann was selected to the Pro Bowl and received the Bert Bell Trophy from the Maxwell Club. Mobile and a fiery leader, he was well-established as the starting quarterback and had a title under his belt.

1983 Season Summary
Appeared and started in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 459 [9]
Most attempts, game – 46 at San Diego 10/31
Completions – 276 [8]
Most completions, game – 28 vs. Dallas 9/5
Yards – 3714 [5]
Most yards, game – 417 vs. LA Raiders 10/2
Completion percentage – 60.1 [8]
Yards per attempt – 8.1 [4]
TD passes – 29 [2, tied with Danny White]
Most TD passes, game – 3 at Seattle 9/25, vs. LA Raiders 10/2, vs. Atlanta 12/4
Interceptions – 11
Most interceptions, game – 4 vs. NY Giants 12/17
Passer rating – 97.0 [2]
400-yard passing games – 1
300-yard passing games – 4
200-yard passing games – 9

Attempts – 37
Most attempts, game - 5 (for 18 yds.) at Seattle 9/25
Yards – 234
Most yards, game – 36 yards (on 3 carries) vs. Dallas 9/5
Yards per attempt – 6.3
TDs – 1

TDs – 1
Points – 6

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 84
Most attempts, game - 35 vs. LA Raiders, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 48
Most completions, game - 18 vs. LA Rams, NFC Divisional playoff
Passing yardage – 774
Most yards, game - 302 vs. LA Rams, NFC Divisional playoff
TD passes – 3
Most TD passes, game - 2 vs. LA Rams, NFC Divisional playoff
Interceptions – 3
Most interceptions, game - 2 vs. LA Raiders, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 5
Most rushing attempts, game - 3 vs. LA Raiders, Super Bowl
Rushing yards – 30
Most rushing yards, game - 18 vs. LA Raiders, Super Bowl
Average gain rushing – 6.0
Rushing TDs – 0

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

Redskins went 14-2 and finish first in the NFC East while leading the league in scoring (541 points) and touchdowns (63). Won NFC Divisional Playoff over Los Angeles Rams (51-7) and NFC Championship over San Francisco 49ers (24-21). Lost Super Bowl to Los Angeles Raiders (38-9).

Theismann passed for 3391 yards and 24 TDs in 1984 as the Redskins again reached the postseason. He continued to start until suffering a career-ending broken leg in a Monday Night game against the Giants during the 1985 season. Overall, he threw for a career pro total of 31,299 yards (6093 in CFL, 25,206 in NFL) and 200 touchdowns (40 in CFL, 160 in NFL).


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 2/6/14]

January 24, 2013

2010: Colts Rally Past Jets to Win AFC Title

Few teams had won as consistently over the course of a decade as the Indianapolis Colts as they entered the 2009 season. They had missed the playoffs just once in the previous ten years, winning the Super Bowl following the 2006 campaign. It was no different in ’09 as the Colts won their first 14 games and topped the AFC South with a 14-2 record. 33-year-old QB Peyton Manning (pictured above) was the one constant during the whole period, and he had another MVP year. The team had a new head coach in Jim Caldwell, replacing the highly-successful Tony Dungy, and while slashing RB Joseph Addai was still the top runner, and WR Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark were offensive stalwarts, two younger wide receivers, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, broke in with good results. Meanwhile, the defense had stalwarts in ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Indianapolis rolled over the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

The team they faced for the AFC Championship on January 24, 2010 was the New York Jets. New York also had a new head coach in Rex Ryan and a talented and aggressive defense to go along with a run-oriented offense directed by rookie QB Mark Sanchez. The brash Jets had finished strong in the regular season (including a win over the Colts, who pulled their starters in the second half) to qualify for the playoffs as a 9-7 Wild Card team and, in the process of winning five straight road games coming into the contest at Indianapolis, had beaten the Bengals in the first postseason round and Chargers at the Divisional level.

There were 67,650 fans in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts punted following the first series of the game and the Jets responded with a 45-yard drive into Indianapolis territory. Mark Sanchez had completions of 14 yards to WR Jerricho Cotchery and 20 yards to WR Braylon Edwards but lost five yards on running plays before Jay Feely missed a 44-yard field goal attempt.

The teams traded punts but the Colts were driving at the end of the opening period. On the first play of the second quarter, Matt Stover booted a 25-yard field goal. However, the Jets responded quickly on their next play from scrimmage when Sanchez connected with Edwards on a play-action pass for an 80-yard touchdown. With the successful extra point, it was 7-3 in favor of the visitors.

Indianapolis came back with a long sustained drive of 79 yards in 12 plays. Manning completed passes to Reggie Wayne for 25 yards to get into New York territory and then, in a third-and-two situation at the 26, to Austin Collie for 22 yards. The Jets defense held, however, and the Colts settled for Stover’s 19-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

The Jets drove 77 yards in seven plays in their next series. RB Shonn Greene started off with three straight runs for 20 yards before WR Brad Smith, operating out of the team’s “pistol” formation, threw to Cotchery for a 45-yard gain to the Indianapolis 12. Three plays later, Sanchez passed to TE Dustin Keller for a nine-yard TD and the Jets opened up a 14-6 lead.

It got worse for the Colts when Joseph Addai fumbled on the next series and the Jets got the ball back at the Indianapolis 29 thanks to the recovery by SS Jim Leonhard. But a false start penalty on the Jets, combined with the stingy defense, moved them back and New York got three more points on a 48-yard field goal by Feely.

The Colts got the ball again with 2:11 left in the half and wasted little time in putting points on the board. Following an incomplete pass on first down, Manning connected with Collie (pictured below) three straight times, first for 18 yards, then 46, and finally 16 yards for a touchdown. The teams went into halftime with the Jets leading by 17-13.

New York had the first possession in the third quarter and drove to the Indianapolis 34, with the big play a Sanchez pass to Cotchery for 17 yards. But the Jets came up empty when Feely’s 52-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right. The Colts responded with a 57-yard series in eight plays. All were passes by Manning, the last being a four-yard toss to Pierre Garcon in the rear corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

The teams traded punts until, in their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Colts put together another scoring drive. Manning threw to Dallas Clark for a 15-yard TD and, with Stover once again adding the extra point, Indianapolis was in front by 10 points.

The Jets went three-and-out in their next series and the Colts came back with a long scoring possession of 71 yards in 12 plays. They converted two third downs along the way, the second with a Manning completion to Garcon for 23 yards on a third-and-nine play. The drive burned 5:33 off the clock and concluded with Stover booting a 21-yard field goal.

Down by 13 points with 2:33 remaining, the Jets were finished off when a Sanchez pass was intercepted by CB Kelvin Hayden. The Colts won the AFC Championship by a score of 30-17.

Indianapolis gained more total yards (461 to 388) and accumulated more first downs (27 to 17). New York’s running game was held to 86 yards and the Jets were penalized six times, to just one flag thrown on the Colts. Each club turned the ball over once.

Peyton Manning completed 26 of 39 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Pierre Garcon (pictured below) caught 11 of those throws for 151 yards and a TD and Austin Collie gained 123 yards on his 7 catches that included a score. Joseph Addai paced the ground game with 80 yards on 16 carries.

For the Jets, Mark Sanchez was successful on 17 of 30 throws for 257 yards and two TDs with one intercepted. Jerricho Cotchery had 5 catches for 102 yards and, thanks to the long scoring reception, Braylon Edwards gained 100 yards on his two catches. Thomas Jones rushed for 42 yards on 16 attempts and Shonn Greene added 41 yards on 10 carries.

“The guys have always been a very confident bunch and they do a great job of hanging in there,” said Jim Caldwell of his team. “Peyton had just an outstanding game. He’s one of those guys that can adjust to different situations…A real champion.”

“Today wasn’t out day,” said a humbled Rex Ryan. “There’s no question. You have to give credit to the Colts. Obviously they’re the cream of the crop right now.”

The Colts went on to lose the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints. They had a tougher time in 2010, but once again topped the AFC North. The Jets were again a Wild Card team at 11-5 and defeated Indianapolis in the first playoff round on the way to once more reaching the AFC title game, which they lost to the Steelers. Things would change significantly for the worse for both clubs in 2011.

January 23, 2013

2000: Rams Edge Bucs in Defensive Battle for NFC Title

After nine straight losing seasons, dating back to when the franchise was still located in Los Angeles, the St. Louis Rams rose to 13-3 in 1999 and were in the playoffs for the first time since 1989. 63-year-old Head Coach Dick Vermeil, in his third year at the helm following a lengthy hiatus from coaching, had built an offensive powerhouse, although it certainly didn’t look to be the case when newly-acquired QB Trent Green went down with a season-ending injury in the preseason. But in a stunning development, unheralded backup QB Kurt Warner stepped into the job with spectacular results. He was helped by the presence of outstanding veteran WR Isaac Bruce and rookie WR Torry Holt as well as, perhaps most significantly, RB Marshall Faulk, obtained from the Colts, who had over a thousand yards each in rushing and catching the ball. The defense was an afterthought but was also much improved. The high-powered offense had been on full display in a 49-37 Divisional round win over the Vikings.

On January 23, 2000 the Rams hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC Championship. Coached by Tony Dungy, the Bucs went 11-5 in topping the NFC Central and were coming off of a one-point win over Washington in the Divisional playoff round. They featured an outstanding defense that included DT Warren Sapp, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson, and SS John Lynch, all of whom went to the Pro Bowl. The offense was conservative and ground-oriented, depending on running backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. QB Shaun King had replaced injured veteran Trent Dilfer and was attempting to become the first rookie quarterback to guide his team to a Super Bowl. Nevertheless, the Rams came into the contest as solid 14-point favorites.

There were 66,946 fans at the Trans World Dome hoping to see their team win its first conference title since moving to St. Louis. Kurt Warner received an immediate indication that he was in for a battle when his first pass was tipped and then intercepted by DE Steve White in St. Louis territory. The Bucs got a 25-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica off of the turnover to take a 3-0 lead.

St. Louis came back to score with a methodical 16-play drive that covered 74 yards and led to a Jeff Wilkins field goal from 24 yards. On the first play of the second quarter, the Rams got a break on defense when a snap to Shaun King, in shotgun formation, flew past the quarterback and into the end zone. King, seeking to prevent a possible defensive touchdown, knocked the ball through the end zone for a safety.

The Rams had a chance to score again after the free kick but a 44-yard field goal try by Wilkins was unsuccessful. The teams traded punts and the Bucs put together a promising drive that reached the St. Louis 24. However, Mike Alstott was then thrown back for a two-yard loss and King was sacked by LB Charlie Clemons to take them out of field goal range. Before the first half was over Tampa Bay threatened again, but CB Todd Lyght intercepted King’s pass at the St. Louis 33 to extinguish the drive. The Rams carried a precarious 5-3 lead into halftime.

Opening the third quarter, the Buccaneers put together a solid series that covered 66 yards in nine plays and included a pass from King to WR Jacquez Green for 32 yards in a third-and-eight situation that had more yardage attached due to a facemask penalty. Gramatica capped the drive with a 23-yard field goal that put Tampa Bay in front by 6-5.

The Rams came out throwing on their next series as Warner tossed nine passes and they moved from their 13 to the Tampa Bay 24. But the tenth pass was picked off by LB Hardy Nickerson at the Tampa Bay two to snuff out a scoring threat with just under four minutes remaining in the period.

The Buccaneers kept the ball on the ground and punted. Now in the fourth quarter, Warner again threw an interception in the Rams’ next series, this time with CB Brian Kelly giving Tampa Bay good field position at the St. Louis 42. The Bucs were unable to do anything with it and the teams again traded punts.

The Rams made a big play on defense midway through the fourth quarter when rookie CB Dre’ Bly intercepted a Shaun King pass at midfield. Six plays later, in a third-and-four situation, the Rams finally hit pay dirt.

With 4:44 left in the game, Warner threw to the team’s number four receiver, WR Ricky Proehl, who pulled the pass in along the left sideline over a leaping Brian Kelly for a 30-yard touchdown. While he juggled the ball momentarily, he came down cleanly in the end zone (pictured at top). The pass attempt for a two-point conversion failed but the Rams were back in front.

The Buccaneers had time but continued to come up short against the Rams defense. On their final drive, the Rams came through with two sacks of King, by DT Jeff Zgonina and DE Grant Wistrom. With 47 seconds left, an apparent 13-yard completion to WR Bert Emanuel to the St. Louis 23 was overturned on review. King, needing long yardage, then tossed two incomplete passes to end any hopes for the Bucs. St. Louis came away with a hard-fought 11-6 win to advance to the Super Bowl.

The Rams led in total yards (309 to 203) and first downs (17 to 12). Neither team was able to run the ball effectively, with the Bucs gaining 77 yards on 23 rushing attempts and St. Louis amassing just 51 yards on 21 carries. The Rams turned the ball over three times, to two by Tampa Bay, while the St. Louis defense stepped up with five sacks.

Kurt Warner, heavily harassed but never sacked, completed 26 of 43 passes for 258 yards with a touchdown but also three critical interceptions. The Tampa Bay defense did a good job of taking Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce out of the game – Faulk rushed for 44 yards on 17 carries, with six of those rushing attempts going for either no gain or a loss, and had only three catches for five yards, and Bruce gained 22 yards on three pass receptions. Instead, slow but dependable Ricky Proehl, typically an afterthought in the speed-based passing attack, gained 100 yards on 6 catches that included the game-winning TD and Torry Holt hauled in 7 receptions for 68 yards.                                                                                   

For the Buccaneers, Shaun King (pictured below) was successful on 13 of 29 throws for 163 yards with no TDs but three interceptions. Mike Alstott rushed for 39 yards on 12 carries and Warrick Dunn contributed 35 yards on 9 attempts. Dunn also was the team’s co-leader with four catches, for 37 yards, while Jacquez Green gained 59 yards on his four receptions.

“Kurt (Warner) and I talked prior to the play on a TV timeout,” explained Ricky Proehl, who had not caught a touchdown pass during the regular season, of the game-winning score. “He said if the safety comes we’re running a fade. They had good coverage. I went up to the ball and tried to screen (Brian Kelly) off. I was fortunate to make the play.”

“Kurt Warner put it (the pass) up exactly where he had to put it,” said Warren Sapp. “You take your hat off. He threw it early because we had the blitz on, but he put it in a perfect spot. That’s why he made the play.”

Speaking about the Tampa Bay defense after the game, a relieved Kurt Warner said, “they had a great scheme coming in. We never knew when they were going to blitz and when they weren’t. It seemed like everything we did, they were all over us.”

The Rams went on to win a close-fought Super Bowl over the Tennessee Titans. With Coach Vermeil stepping down into what became a brief retirement, offensive coordinator Mike Martz was promoted to head coach and St. Louis went 10-6 in 2000, losing to division-rival New Orleans in the Wild Card round. Tampa Bay came back to go 10-6 in 2000 and finish second in the NFC Central, although still grabbing a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The Bucs fell to Philadelphia, also in the first postseason round.

January 22, 2013

1984: Raiders Overwhelm Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII

Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984 featured the defending NFL Champions, the Washington Redskins, against the Los Angeles Raiders. If anything, the Redskins, coached by Joe Gibbs, appeared to be even better in ’83, at least on offense. After losing their opening game, they breezed through the rest of the schedule to again top the NFC East at 14-2. Along the way, they set a new league record for points (541) thanks to a high-powered offense directed by QB Joe Theismann and including RB John Riggins and wide receivers Charlie Brown, Art Monk, and Alvin Garrett along with an outstanding offensive line, known as “the Hogs”. If there were major concerns, they were in regard to the pass defense. 

The Raiders, coached by Tom Flores, topped the AFC West with a 12-4 record. While QB Jim Plunkett had lost his job to Marc Wilson for a time during the season, he played well down the stretch. Second-year RB Marcus Allen (pictured above) was outstanding both as a runner from scrimmage and receiver out of the backfield, TE Todd Christensen caught 92 passes, and veteran WR Cliff Branch was still productive when healthy. The veteran-laden defense was tough and aggressive.

The two teams had met during the regular season and the Redskins won an exciting back-and-forth contest in Washington. The defending champs, having thrashed the Rams and then just gotten past the 49ers in the postseason to win the NFC title, were three-point favorites coming into the game. Meanwhile, LA had soundly beaten the Steelers and Seahawks in the playoffs.

There were 72,920 fans in attendance at Tampa Stadium. Following their first possession, the Redskins were forced to punt from their 30 yard line. The kick by Jeff Hayes was blocked by TE Derrick Jensen (pictured below), who then recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to give Los Angeles the early lead.

On Washington’s next series, it was the turn of the Raiders to suffer a miscue on a punt as the kick by Hayes hit Los Angeles CB Ted Watts in the back and was recovered by the Redskins. However, they failed to capitalize, gaining just 15 yards before Mark Moseley missed a field goal try from 44 yards out.

Both teams had difficulty generating offense in the early going. On the third play of the second quarter, it seemed as though the Redskins might benefit from a botched punt when Ray Guy had to jump for a high snap, but he one-handed it and was able to get the kick away. LA held the Redskins on the next series and, upon regaining possession, came out throwing. Jim Plunkett connected with Cliff Branch down the middle for a 50-yard gain. Two plays later, it was Plunkett to Branch again for a 12-yard touchdown and, with the successful extra point, a 14-0 lead.

Down by two touchdowns, the Redskins put together a 13-play, 73-yard series, highlighted by Theismann completing a pass to Alvin Garrett for 17 yards in a third-and-17 situation and throwing to TE Clint Didier twice, for 18 yards and then 20 yards to get inside the LA 20. However, they were unable to reach the end zone as the drive stalled at the seven. Moseley kicked a 24-yard field goal to get Washington on the board.

The Redskins got the ball back following a punt by the Raiders at their 12 yard line with 12 seconds left in the half. Theismann, with three receivers set wide to his right, tossed a swing pass to the left intended for RB Joe Washington – a play that had been a big-gainer when the clubs met in the regular season – but LB Jack Squirek stepped in front of the receiver, picked off the pass at the five, and had clear sailing for a touchdown (pictured at left) that made it 21-3 in favor of the Raiders at the half.

Washington started the second half strong with a 70-yard scoring drive. Theismann completed three passes and John Riggins ran the ball six times, the last on a one-yard plunge into the end zone for a TD. However, TE Don Hasselbeck blocked Moseley’s extra point attempt to keep the score at 21-9.

The Raiders responded with a 70-yard drive in eight plays that was helped along by a 38-yard pass interference penalty on CB Darrell Green. Los Angeles converted a third-and-four play at the Washington 11 as Plunkett threw to FB Frank Hawkins for six yards and Marcus Allen capped the series with a five-yard touchdown carry.

Trying to keep up, the Redskins were unable to convert on fourth-and-one at the LA 26 and, on the last play of the third quarter, Allen made a big play that, for all intents, finished off the defending champs. With a first down at the LA 26, Allen took a pitchout from Plunkett and began to sweep to his left. However, with SS Ken Coffey fast approaching, he reversed field and had clear sailing to a 74-yard TD. It set a new Super Bowl record for longest run, eclipsing the 58-yard carry by Tom Matte of the Colts in Super Bowl III. More importantly for the Raiders, it put Washington in a very deep hole at 35-9.

The fourth quarter was anticlimactic. The Raiders added a 21-yard field goal by Chris Bahr following an interception by CB Mike Haynes and came away with a stunning 38-9 win. It was the most points scored in a Super Bowl up to that time, as well as a record victory margin.

LA had more total yards (385 to 283) although the Redskins generated more first downs (19 to 18). But, critically, Washington was only able to gain 90 yards on the ground, averaging 2.5 yards per carry as the Raiders typically dominated the line of scrimmage.  In addition, the Los Angeles defense sacked Theismann six times and the Redskins turned the ball over three times – once directly for a score – as opposed to two turnovers by LA.

NT Reggie Kinlaw was a big part of the successful effort against the ground game while cornerbacks Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes blanketed wide receivers Charlie Brown and Art Monk.

Marcus Allen was the game’s MVP as he rushed for 191 yards on 20 carries that included two touchdowns;  the rushing total set a new Super Bowl record, breaking that of John Riggins set a year earlier. Jim Plunkett completed 16 of 25 passes for 172 yards and a TD with none intercepted. Cliff Branch (pictured at right) caught 6 passes for 94 yards and a score.

For the Redskins, the continually-harassed Joe Theismann was successful on 16 of 35 throws for 243 yards with no touchdowns and two picked off. John Riggins was held to 64 rushing yards on 26 carries and scored a TD. Clint Didier led the club with 5 pass receptions, for 65 yards, while Charlie Brown gained 93 yards on his three catches.

 “The turning point was when they scored at the start of the second half and we came right back and scored,” said Tom Flores. “That was big for us.”

“What hurt the most was the Raiders coming back right after we scored at the start of the third quarter,” echoed Charlie Brown in summing up the defeat.

“This is the first time since Joe Gibbs has been here that any team has controlled our offense the way the Raiders did,” Joe Theismann noted.

“They pressed us with tight man-to-man coverages,” explained Coach Gibbs. “When they play you like that you either get the big plays or you have problems.”

In speaking to the Raiders afterward, managing general partner Al Davis enthused, “Of all the great teams we’ve had, this team dominated so much that, in my opinion, you are the greatest Raider team of all time and you rank with the greatest teams that ever played in any sport.”

The Raiders were 11-5 in the highly-competitive AFC West in 1984, reaching the postseason as a Wild Card team and losing to the division-rival Seahawks in the first playoff round. Washington topped the NFC East again in ’84, but also fell short of a return to the Super Bowl with a loss to the Bears in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Redskins would win another NFC title in 1987, by which time such stalwarts as Joe Theismann and John Riggins were long gone. 

January 21, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Cadillac Williams, 2005

Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Age: 23
College: Auburn
Height: 5’11” Weight: 217

Following a record-setting college career in which he rushed for 3831 yards and broke Bo Jackson’s school record with 45 touchdowns, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was taken in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft (fifth overall). He was prized for his versatility and had an immediate impact. However, after a fast start to the 2005 season in which he rushed for 434 yards in the first three games, he missed two contests due to injury, setting the tone for his career.

2005 Season Summary
Appeared in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 290 [11]
Most attempts, game - 37 (for 158 yds.) at Green Bay 9/25
Yards – 1178 [13]
Most yards, game – 158 yards (on 37 carries) at Green Bay 9/25
Average gain – 4.1
TDs – 6 [18, tied with five others]
100-yard rushing games – 6

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 20      
Most receptions, game – 3 (for 25 yds.) vs. Carolina 11/6, (for 13 yds.) at Atlanta 11/20, (for 4 yds.) at New England 12/17
Yards – 81
Most yards, game - 25 (on 3 catches) vs. Carolina 11/6
Average gain – 4.1
TDs – 0

TDs – 6
Points – 36

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff vs. Washington)
Rushing attempts – 18
Rushing yards – 49
Average gain rushing – 2.7
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 3
Pass receiving yards - 10
Average yards per reception – 3.3
Pass Receiving TDs - 0

Awards & Honors:
NFL Rookie of the Year: League/Pepsi
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: AP, PFWA

Buccaneers went 11-5 to finish first in the NFC South. Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Washington Redskins (17-10).

Williams suffered a foot injury in 2006 and, with the team sinking below .500, was often not a factor in the second half of games. He rushed for 798 yards and caught 30 passes for 196 more. Williams appeared in just 10 games combined in 2007 and ’08, due to two major knee injuries, but bounced back in 2009 to run for 823 yards. Used more in third down situations in 2010, he caught a career-high 46 passes for 355 yards while gaining 437 yards on the ground. Williams moved on to the St. Louis Rams as a free agent in 2011, backing up Steven Jackson. For his injury-marred career through 2011, he rushed for 4038 yards on 1055 carries (3.8 avg.) and had 148 pass receptions for 1002 yards with a total of 25 TDs.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL, AFL (1960-69), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press – Offense or Defense, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, or the league itself – Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year). 

[Updated 2/6/14]

January 20, 2013

1980: Steelers Make Big Plays to Overcome Rams and Win Super Bowl XIV

It looked to be a mismatch in Super Bowl XIV on January 20, 1980 as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepared to defend their NFL title against the Los Angeles Rams. Head Coach Chuck Noll’s Steelers had won the AFC Central with a 12-4 record and blew past the Dolphins and Oilers to reach the Super Bowl for the second straight year and fourth time in six seasons. QB Terry Bradshaw (pictured at right), running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, and the line anchored by All-Pro C Mike Webster were familiar cogs on offense and the defense still contained DE L.C. Greenwood, DT “Mean Joe” Greene, MLB Jack Lambert, OLB Jack Ham, CB Mel Blount, and SS Donnie Shell. This was a well-seasoned club that slumped briefly during the regular season but was getting the job done when the games counted most and was strongly favored to retain its title.

Meanwhile the Rams, coached by Ray Malavasi, had topped the NFC West at just 9-7 and then defeated the Cowboys and upstart Buccaneers on the road to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time. To be sure, LA was no stranger to the postseason, having topped the division in each of the previous six seasons under Chuck Knox and then Malavasi, who was at the helm for the second year. The Rams had even reached the NFC Championship game four times, as recently as 1978, and had lost in each instance. Now, following their worst regular season showing since 1972, they had finally broken through in the playoffs. Injuries had played a big role in ’79, most notably when QB Pat Haden went down with a broken finger. But unproven backup QB Vince Ferragamo proved capable in relief and, relying on the sound running game and a very tough defense, the Rams won their last four games of the regular season and were at their best in the playoffs.

There was a huge crowd of 103,985 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California for the Super Bowl. Los Angeles went nowhere in the game’s first series and punted. The Steelers then drove 55 yards on their initial possession, with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier carrying the ball on eight of the ten plays and Harris gaining 32 yards after catching a swing pass from Bradshaw. However, a pass into the end zone intended for Lynn Swann was broken up by CB Pat Thomas and the series ended with Matt Bahr kicking a 41-yard field goal for the early lead.

Following a short kickoff, the Rams had good starting field position at their 41 and made the most of it, going 59 yards in eight plays. A short completion by Vince Ferragamo to HB Wendell Tyler was followed by seven runs, including one by Tyler that covered 39 yards to the Pittsburgh 14, and the last was for a touchdown from a yard out by FB Cullen Bryant.

Pittsburgh came right back as CB Larry Anderson returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards. The Steelers took nine plays to score, with Harris running for a one-yard TD and, with the successful extra point, it was 10-7 two minutes into the second quarter. Along the way, Bradshaw completed passes of 12 yards to Swann and to TE Bennie Cunningham for 13.

LA put together another scoring possession, driving 67 yards and tying the game with a 31-yard Frank Corral field goal. The series was helped along by a pass interference penalty on Donnie Shell that picked up 20 yards.

The scoring subsided as the teams traded punts until SS Dave Elmendorf intercepted a Bradshaw pass to give the Rams the ball at the Pittsburgh 39. They were only able to advance 12 yards in eight plays, with Ferragamo sacked twice, including one by DE John Banaszak for a 14-yard loss on a third-and-10 play, but Corral kicked another field goal, this time from 45 yards with 14 seconds left before halftime. LA was on top by 13-10 at the intermission. The first half had been remarkably even on both sides, with the one turnover accounting for the difference in the score.

The Steelers got off to a fast start in the third quarter. Anderson returned the kickoff 37 yards and five plays later Bradshaw connected with a double-covered Swann who made a leaping grab for a 47-yard touchdown. However, Los Angeles responded in kind. It took just four plays as Ferragamo threw to WR Billy Waddy for a 50-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 24 and, on the next play, Ferragamo handed off to RB Lawrence McCutcheon who, sweeping to the right, held up and tossed an option pass to WR Ron Smith that resulted in a TD. Corral shanked the extra point attempt but the Rams were back in front by 19-17.

Near the end of the period, CB Rod Perry intercepted a Bradshaw pass deep in his own territory to snuff out a promising Pittsburgh drive. After advancing to its 23, Los Angeles had to punt it back. Three plays later, and early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers struck back as a heavily-pressured Bradshaw passed to John Stallworth, the ball barely making it over Perry’s outstretched hand, for an electrifying 73-yard touchdown (pictured at left).

After the teams traded punts, the Rams again drove into Steelers territory but Jack Lambert intercepted a Ferragamo pass at the Pittsburgh 14 to snuff out the threat. The Steelers drove 70 yards for another score. Bradshaw again went long for Stallworth, who gained 45 yards to the LA 22. Four plays later, and with the help of a pass interference penalty on Thomas, Harris scored a second TD from a yard out.

The last gasp by the Rams ended when they had to give up the ball on downs at the Pittsburgh 37. The Steelers were once again league champions by a score of 31-19.

Pittsburgh led in total yards (393 to 301) and first downs (19 to 16), although the Rams defense performed remarkably well against the vaunted ground attack of the Steelers, which compiled just 84 yards on 37 running plays. The Steelers sacked Ferragamo four times, while the Rams pressured but failed to sack Bradshaw. Pittsburgh turned the ball over three times, all on interceptions (neither team fumbled during the game), to one by the Rams.

Terry Bradshaw, the contest’s MVP, completed 14 of 21 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns as well as the three interceptions. Lynn Swann caught 5 of those throws for 79 yards and a TD while John Stallworth, thanks to the two big plays in the fourth quarter, gained 121 yards on his three receptions that included a score. Franco Harris had two short touchdown carries but gained only 46 yards on 20 attempts while Rocky Bleier contributed 25 yards on 10 carries. Also of note, Larry Anderson (pictured below) gained 162 yards on five kickoff returns, a Super Bowl record at the time.

For the Rams, Vince Ferragamo was successful on 15 of 25 throws for 212 yards with no TDs and had one picked off while Lawrence McCutcheon had the one option scoring pass. Wendell Tyler, who took such a beating during the game that he had to leave periodically due to bouts of nausea, topped the running game with 60 yards on 17 carries and was one of three LA receivers with three catches. His gained 20 yards while Billy Waddy totaled 75 yards on his three receptions and Cullen Bryant picked up 21 to go along with his 30 yards on 6 running attempts that included a touchdown.

With the fourth NFL Championship in six years, the Steelers were at the pinnacle of their success during the Chuck Noll era. The club slipped from its perch in 1980, dropping to 9-7 and missing the playoffs. While the decline would not be precipitous – Pittsburgh returned to the postseason in 1983 and did not post a losing record until 1985 - the players who were keys to the four titles began to age and depart and their successors were not as talented. The Steelers did not appear in another Super Bowl until the 1995 season.

The Rams, who moved from the Memorial Coliseum to Anaheim Stadium in 1980, failed to win the NFC West but still made it into the playoffs again as a Wild Card entry with an improved 11-5 tally. They were eliminated in the opening round of the postseason, however, and fell under .500 in ’81. They would not participate in another NFC title game until 1985 or reach the Super Bowl until 1999, when the franchise was in St. Louis.