September 30, 2014

1962: Tittle’s 4 TD Passes Propel Giants Past Steelers

The New York Giants, defending champions of the NFL Eastern Conference, were 1-1 as they met the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had the same record, on September 30, 1962. In their second year under Head Coach Allie Sherman, the Giants were an outstanding passing team, with a rejuvenated QB Y.A. Tittle (pictured at right), in his 15th pro season but second in New York, throwing to split end Del Shofner and Frank Gifford, once a star halfback but, following a year missed due to injury, back as a flanker. The ground game was led by 31-year-old FB Alex Webster, operating behind a good veteran line. The defense was also experienced and a tough and cohesive unit.

Pittsburgh, coached by Buddy Parker for a sixth season, still had QB Bobby Layne, who was a worn but savvy veteran. The offense also featured FB John Henry Johnson and split end Buddy Dial while the defensive line was anchored by DT Ernie Stautner. However, Pittsburgh’s normally good corps of linebackers was depleted by injury and Parker started only two against the Giants, George Tarasovic and Tom Bettis, until Ken Kirk joined them midway through the second quarter while Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, normally a defensive tackle, lined up at middle guard.

There were 40,916 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at Pitt Stadium. Pittsburgh had first possession and drove 84 yards in 12 plays, the highlight of which was a 36-yard carry by John Henry Johnson. HB Joe Womack ran for the last seven yards and a touchdown. Lou Michaels added the extra point and the Steelers held the early 7-0 advantage.

The Giants responded with a good drive of their own, but it stalled in Pittsburgh territory and Don Chandler kicked a 23-yard field goal. CB Brady Keys returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards with a sensational run to give the Steelers good field position at the New York 40. A two-yard loss on an end-around was followed by a 15-yard penalty against the Giants for defensive holding. Bobby Layne (pictured at left) finished the series off with a throw to flanker Red Mack in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard TD. Michaels again converted and the home team was up by a 14-3 lead at the end of a quarter of play.

Early in the second quarter, safety Jim Patton intercepted a Layne pass and returned it ten yards to the Pittsburgh 38. The Giants advanced to the two, but after being backed up five yards by a penalty, Y.A. Tittle threw to HB Paul Dudley for an 11-yard touchdown. Chandler added the PAT and Pittsburgh’s lead was narrowed to 14-10.

Once again Keys made an outstanding kickoff return for the Steelers, running it back 57 yards this time to the New York 39. They moved inside the ten but they lost sizable yardage to a holding penalty and sack, and settled for a 41-yard Michaels field goal.

In the final two minutes of the half, the Giants came up with a big play when Tittle connected with Alex Webster (pictured at right) on a screen pass, and he went the distance for a 58-yard touchdown. Chandler’s extra point tied the score at 17-17.

The Steelers fought back in what proved to be a wild close to the first half. End Harlon Hill dropped a pass at the New York two and Michaels attempted a 53-yard field goal that was blocked, but HB Dick Hoak recovered for Pittsburgh and ran to the New York 17. With the clock down to seven seconds, the Steelers again lined up for an apparent kick, but instead tried a fake. The resulting pass by holder and backup QB Ed Brown was intercepted in the end zone by safety Allan Webb and the score remained tied at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Keys intercepted a Tittle pass at his own 43 and the Steelers took advantage as Michaels capped the ensuing series with a 33-yard field goal. The home team was back in front by 20-17. 

New York responded with a scoring drive of its own. Tittle passed the Giants down the field and threw to a well-covered Frank Gifford, who pulled the pass away from safety Clendon Thomas for a 27-yard TD. Chandler’s conversion put the visitors in front for the first time by a score of 21-20. The Steelers threatened again late in the period, but a Michaels field goal try from 42 yards was short.

In the early seconds of the fourth quarter, Tittle threw to split end Del Shofner for a 16-yard touchdown. The Steelers fought back, helped by penalties on New York for roughing the passer and pass interference, and Johnson leaped the last yard for a TD. Michaels was good on the extra point to put Pittsburgh four points behind.

As the time wound down in the game, and with the home crowd cheering wildly, the Steelers again drove into scoring position. But after reaching the New York 16, a Layne pass into the end zone that was intended for Buddy Dial was instead intercepted by CB Erich Barnes to seal the 31-27 win for the Giants.

New York accumulated the most total yards (427 to 317) although the Steelers held the edge in first downs (23 to 19). Pittsburgh did a good job defensively against New York’s running game, at least until the fourth quarter, holding the Giants to 95 yards on 27 attempts while gaining 175 yards themselves. However, the Steelers also turned the ball over three times, including the climactic interception in the fourth quarter, to one suffered by New York. The Giants also recorded three sacks while Pittsburgh had none.

Y.A. Tittle completed 17 of 29 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns while giving up one interception. Alex Webster led the Giants with 77 rushing yards on nine carries and also in pass receiving with 5 catches for 101 yards and a TD. Frank Gifford gained 99 yards on four receptions that included a score. 
For the Steelers, Bobby Layne was successful on 12 of 23 throws for 166 yards and a TD as well as two interceptions. John Henry Johnson rushed for 113 yards on 20 attempts that included a touchdown. TE Preston Carpenter had 5 receptions for 44 yards while Buddy Dial accumulated 70 yards on his four catches. Brady Keys (pictured below) averaged 36.8 yards on five kickoff returns that included two of 55 and 57 yards.

Two weeks later, the teams met again at Yankee Stadium and Pittsburgh prevailed, but it was the only loss for the Giants the rest of the way. New York posted a 12-2 record to again top the Eastern Conference, although the Giants still came up short against Green Bay in the NFL title game. The Steelers were a mediocre 3-4 at the season’s halfway point before catching fire and winning six of their last seven games to place second in the conference at 9-5. They appeared in the Playoff Bowl, the postseason exhibition game for second place teams during that era, and lost to Detroit.

Y.A. Tittle received MVP honors from United Press International as well as consensus first-team All-NFL and Pro Bowl recognition as he passed for 3224 yards and a league-record 33 touchdown passes (Houston’s George Blanda passed for 36 in the AFL in 1961, a mark that Tittle would match in ’63). Alex Webster rushed for 743 yards on 207 carries (3.6 avg.) and caught 47 passes for another 477 yards (10.1 avg.), for 1220 yards from scrimmage and a total of nine TDs.

In his last season, Bobby Layne threw for 1686 yards and nine touchdowns and left the NFL as the career leader in several major passing categories. John Henry Johnson enjoyed a big year in his ninth season, rushing for 1141 yards and gaining selection to the Pro Bowl.

September 29, 2014

Highlighted Year: Herb Adderley, 1962

Cornerback, Green Bay Packers

Age: 23
2nd season in pro football & with Packers
College: Michigan State
Height: 6’1”   Weight: 205

Adderley was an All-Big 10 back in college and was chosen by the Packers in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft (12th overall; he was picked by the New York Titans in the second round of the corresponding AFL draft). Projected to be a halfback on offense, his career started slowly as he suffered an injury during the preseason and was used only for kickoff returns, although he performed well in that role and averaged 26.6 yards on 18 returns. A late-season injury to CB Hank Gremminger provided a shot for Adderley on defense, and he made the most of it. Heading into 1962, he was the regular left cornerback.

1962 Season Summary
Appeared in all 14 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Interceptions – 7 [3, tied with five others]
Most interceptions, game – 2 vs. Minnesota 9/16
Int. return yards – 132 [5, tied with Willie Wood]
Most int. return yards, game – 50 (on 1 int.) vs. Chicago 9/30
Int. TDs – 1 [1, tied with eleven others]
Fumble recoveries – 4

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 15 [19]
Yards – 418 [17]
Most yards, game – 103 (on 1 ret.) vs. Baltimore 11/18
Average per return – 27.9 [3]
TDs – 1 [1, tied with four others]
Longest return – 103 yards

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship at NY Giants)
Interceptions – 0
Kickoff returns – 0

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, UPI
2nd team All-NFL: NEA

Packers went 13-1 to finish first in the NFL Western Conference while leading the league in interceptions (31), fewest passing yards allowed (1746), and fewest points allowed (148). Won NFL Championship over New York Giants (16-7).

Adderley had another outstanding season in 1963, again gaining consensus All-NFL honors as well as being selected to the Pro Bowl for the first of five straight years. Fast enough to play loose in coverage, he was also an instinctive ball hawk who could tackle. In all, he appeared in five NFL Championship games with the Packers and the first two Super Bowls. His 60-yard interception return for a TD in Super Bowl II helped nail down Green Bay’s win over the Raiders.  Adderley moved on to the Dallas Cowboys in 1970 and, in three years with the team, it reached the Super Bowl twice and won once, making him part of six championship teams over the course of his 12-year career. Overall, Adderley intercepted 48 passes (39 with the Packers), seven of which he returned for touchdowns. He also averaged 25.7 yards on 120 kickoff returns, two of which were TDs. Adderley was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection four times, received at least second-team honors after three other seasons, and was chosen to the Pro Bowl five times. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1980.


Highlighted Years features players who were consensus first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

September 28, 2014

1958: Brodie Rallies 49ers Past Steelers

On September 28, 1958 the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first week of the NFL season. The 49ers, coached by former star quarterback Frankie Albert, had come close to winning the Western Conference in ’57, going 8-4 and losing a tiebreaking playoff to Detroit in a dramatic second half comeback. QB Y.A. Tittle had received some MVP recognition, but was competing with second-year QB John Brodie (pictured above), who had a good preseason and was the opening-game starter. FB Joe Perry, who entered the opening game 60 yards behind Steve Van Buren’s NFL career rushing record, and HB Hugh McElhenny, a top open-field runner, were stalwarts in the backfield and the receiving corps was a good one.

The Steelers were coming off of a 6-6 finish in their first season under Head Coach Buddy Parker, who had led the Lions to two championships but abruptly resigned and joined up with Pittsburgh during the ’57 preseason. Third-year QB Earl Morrall, originally drafted by the 49ers, started at quarterback for Pittsburgh. The Steelers had newcomers in end Jimmy Orr and HB Dick Christy, and the offense was thus still coming together as the season began.

There were 32,150 fans in attendance at Kezar Stadium. The Steelers had first possession and punted, and the 49ers drove 59 yards in just four plays. John Brodie passed down the middle to Hugh McElhenny for 45 yards. A pass to end Gordie Soltau was good for seven more. McElhenny ran to the one and then, attempting to run to the right, he reversed field and barely reached the corner of the end zone, diving for a touchdown. Soltau kicked the extra point.

The teams traded punts before San Francisco appeared to be driving to another score later in the period, reaching the Pittsburgh 17, but DHB Dick Alban intercepted a Brodie pass. FB Tank Younger promptly broke away for a 29-yard gain, but as the series extended into the second quarter, the Steelers were ultimately forced to punt after Morrall was sacked by DT Leo Nomellini for a 15-yard loss.

Following another punt by the Niners, the Steelers threatened to score as they advanced to the San Francisco 20, the biggest play being a Morrall completion to Christy for 26 yards. However, he was then picked off by safety Bill Stits.

The 49ers went three-and-out and, following the punt, Pittsburgh came back on the next series to travel 49 yards in seven plays and this time didn’t come up empty. Morrall completed three passes and, under pressure, fired a desperation throw to end Ray Matthews in the right corner of the end zone for a TD. Tom Miner successfully converted to tie the score at 7-7.

As time ran down in the first half, the 49ers reached the Pittsburgh 41 before Brodie was sacked by LB Bob Dougherty for a loss of 16 yards and, after two passes were incomplete, they had to punt. Younger, heading toward left end and about to be tackled, lateraled back to Morrall and the quarterback ran 40 yards on the last play of the half.

The veteran Y.A. Tittle came in at quarterback for San Francisco in the third quarter, but the 49ers had to punt following their first possession of the second half. The Steelers moved quickly down the field as a Morrall pass to end Jack McClairen picked up 33 yards and set up a Miner field goal of 22 yards to give the visitors a 10-7 lead.

DHB Jack Butler then intercepted a Tittle pass on the next series, and with the help of a lateral to safety Gary Glick on the return, the Steelers were at the San Francisco 10. Four plays later, Younger plowed over for a one-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, the Steelers were up by 17-7. A poorly-thrown pass by Tittle again was intercepted by Butler, who returned it 19 yards. The result of the turnover was another Miner field goal, this time from 33 yards.

Down by 13, Coach Albert sent Brodie back into the game. The 49ers responded by driving 73 yards in eight plays, two of them outstanding catches by flanker R.C. Owens (pictured at left) for 17 and 11 yards. Brodie connected with end Clyde Conner for 21 yards and HB Jim Pace then ran for an 11-yard touchdown. Alban blocked Soltau’s extra point attempt, but the home team had narrowed the Pittsburgh lead to 20-13.

As the game headed into the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged punts. An interception of a Morrall pass by Stits, his second of the game, led to an eight-play scoring drive by the 49ers. Brodie had two more completions to Owens and end Fred Dugan caught a pass for 22 yards to the Pittsburgh three. Brodie capped the drive by sneaking over for a TD from a yard out. Soltau converted this time to tie the score.

On the first play following the kickoff, Morrall went long from his 20 and the pass was again intercepted by Stits, this time at the Pittsburgh 48. Brodie threw three passes to Owens for 12, 8, and 14 yards. The drive stalled at the 15, and with 2:31 left in the contest, Soltau kicked a 22-yard field goal to put the 49ers on top. The Steelers mounted a furious drive in the last two minutes, but time ran out on the visitors at the San Francisco 17 and the 49ers prevailed by a final score of 23-20.

San Francisco had the clear lead in total yards (322 to 217) and first downs (18 to 10). The Steelers turned the ball over four times, with decisive effects in the second half, to three suffered by the 49ers.

John Brodie completed 19 of 28 passes for 244 yards, 11 of 16 coming after he returned in the second half, and had no touchdowns but one interception. Y.A. Tittle was one-of-five for six yards and had two picked off. R.C. Owens had a big game with 9 catches for 103 yards. However, Joe Perry came up short in his quest to pass Steve Van Buren, rushing for 42 yards on 15 carries (he moved past Van Buren the following week). Hugh McElhenny contributed 35 yards on eight attempts. On defense, Bill Stits intercepted three passes – his only interceptions of the season.

For the Steelers, Earl Morrall was successful on 9 of 24 throws for 117 yards and a TD but gave up three interceptions. He also ran the ball twice for 43 yards. Tank Younger (pictured at right) gained 60 yards on 11 carries while Dick Christy led the Steelers with four catches for 53 yards.

The come-from-behind win for the 49ers was followed by two losses in which they scored a total of nine points, and they went on to a disappointing 6-6 record that placed them fourth in the Western Conference. Pittsburgh was beaten by the Browns in the second week but, at that point, Coach Parker swung a trade that included Earl Morrall going to Detroit for star QB Bobby Layne. The Steelers surged through the second half of the season and ended up third in the Eastern Conference at 7-4-1, which was the franchise’s best record since 1947.

John Brodie continued to split the quarterback duties with Y.A. Tittle, although Tittle ultimately regained the starting job. Brodie still threw 172 passes and led the league with a 59.9 completion percentage, accumulating 1224 yards and six touchdowns, but also 13 interceptions. His best years were still well ahead of him. R. C. Owens caught 40 passes for 620 yards (15.5 avg.) and a TD.

Tank Younger, who starred with the Rams for nine years before coming to the Steelers, ended up rushing for 344 yards in what was his last NFL season. Dick Christy, who was supplanted at halfback by ex-Detroit Lion Tom Tracy, primarily returned kicks during the rest of the season and would have his most productive years with the New York Titans in the AFL.

September 27, 2014

1998: Cards Defeat Rams in Return to St. Louis

The Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix following the 1987 season after 28 years and, now called the Arizona Cardinals, they returned on September 27, 1998 to play the Rams, who had relocated from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995.

The Cards had yet to post a winning record in Arizona and, thus far in 1998, were 1-2 after winning for the first time the previous week. Head Coach Vince Tobin was in his third season at the helm and had a promising second-year quarterback in Jake Plummer (pictured above). There were good wide receivers in Frank Sanders and Rob Moore and RB Adrian Murrell was dependable. CB Aeneas Williams was the top player in a fair defense.

St. Louis was in its second season under Head Coach Dick Vermeil and had not been a winning team since 1989, well before the move from LA. The Rams were also 1-2 and were coming off of a win the week before. QB Tony Banks had all the physical tools but had not produced consistently, and star WR Isaac Bruce was hampered by an injury. Much was expected from rookie RB Robert Holcombe, the team’s second round draft pick out of Illinois.

There were 55,832 fans in attendance at the Trans World Dome and many of them booed the visiting Cardinals, who were playing their first regular season game in St. Louis since moving. The Rams went three-and-out in their first series and, starting at their 44 yard line following the punt, Jake Plummer threw to TE Johnny McWilliams for 17 yards. Two carries by Adrian Murrell and another short pass advanced the ball to the St. Louis 31, but Joe Nedney’s 48-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful.

The teams traded punts before St.Louis put together a scoring drive. With Robert Holcombe carrying six times for 30 yards and Tony Banks running for 19 and completing two passes, the Rams went 68 yards in nine plays capped by Holcombe running five yards for a touchdown. Jeff Wilkins added the extra point to make it 7-0.

The Cardinals responded with a series that extended into the second quarter. Plummer connected on four passes, two of them to Frank Sanders (pictured at left) for 11 and 19 yards and the longest to Rob Moore for 25 yards to the St. Louis 11. The 72-yard drive ended with Nedney booting a 22-yard field goal.

The Rams again moved well on their next possession, with Holcombe running effectively and Banks successful on three passes, including one to WR Ricky Proehl that picked up 16 yards to the Arizona 41. However, the drive stalled at the 27 and Wilkins missed a 45-yard try for a field goal.

Arizona responded by going 65 yards in 11 plays. Plummer completed four passes, converting a third-and-eight situation with a toss to Moore for 12 yards and scoring a touchdown with a throw to Sanders from 13 yards out. Nedney converted and the visitors were ahead for the first time by 10-7.

On their next series, the Cards got a big gain right away when Plummer threw to WR Eric Metcalf for 29 yards. Two penalties on the Rams helped the drive along and Murrell ran for a four-yard TD, with Nedney adding the extra point to give Arizona a ten-point lead.

St. Louis got the ball back with a minute remaining in the period and moved down the field, the biggest plays being Banks passes to RB Amp Lee for 23 yards and to Proehl for 13. On the final play of the first half, Wilkins kicked a 57-yard field goal and the score stood at 17-10 in favor of the Cardinals at the intermission.

The teams exchanged punts through a scoreless third quarter. The Cardinals reached the St. Louis 33 early in the final period but FS Keith Lyle intercepted a Plummer pass to end the threat. While the Rams weren’t able to move the ball and punted, they got a break on the Cards’ ensuing punt when they were penalized for interfering with the fair catch and St. Louis started in Arizona territory at the 46. The Rams struck quickly as Banks threw to WR J.T. Thomas for 42 yards and Holcombe ran around right end for a four-yard touchdown. Wilkins converted to tie the score at 17-17 with 9:52 to play in regulation.

The Cardinals, starting the next series at their 14, drove to their 37 before facing a third-and-14 situation, but a pass interference penalty on CB Dexter McCleon picked up 43 yards to the St. Louis 20 and, four plays later, Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the visitors back in front by three. The Rams had one last chance but went three-and-out, punted, and the Cardinals were able to control the ball and run out the clock. They came away winners by a final score of 20-17.  

Arizona had the edge in total yards (281 to 264) and first downs (22 to 17). The Cardinals also recorded four sacks (two by DE Andre Wadsworth) to one by St. Louis, but also suffered the only turnover of the game. The Rams hurt themselves with 10 penalties at a cost of 138 yards, with the big pass interference calls the most damaging of all, while five flags were thrown on the Cards.

Jake Plummer completed 21 of 31 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown while giving up one interception. Frank Sanders had 9 catches for 86 yards and a TD and Adrian Murrell rushed for 68 yards on 29 carries, one of which was for a score.

For the Rams, Robert Holcombe (pictured at right) was the star on offense as he gained 84 yards on 21 rushing attempts that included two touchdowns. Tony Banks was successful on 15 of 26 throws for 171 yards with no TDs or interceptions. Amp Lee topped the receivers with 5 catches for 53 yards.

“It’s great to be 2-2 after an 0-2 start,” said Coach Tobin of the Cardinals, who gave owner Bill Bidwill the game ball. “We haven’t been 2-2 since I’ve been here.”

Arizona lost to the Raiders the next week and hung around .500 until winning the last three games of the season, placing second in the NFC East and qualifying for a Wild Card playoff spot. The Cardinals defeated the Cowboys in the first round, the franchise’s first postseason win since they were the Chicago Cardinals in 1947, but lost to the Vikings in the Divisional game.

For the Rams, the loss to the Cardinals was the eighth consecutive at home on the way to a 4-12 last place finish in the NFC West, although a stunning turnaround was in the offing for 1999.

Jake Plummer was a big part of the late-season surge for the Cardinals as he passed for 3737 yards and 17 touchdowns. Frank Sanders caught 89 passes for 1145 yards (12.9 avg.) and three TDs.

Robert Holcombe’s early promise did not pan out as he ran for just 230 yards on 98 carries (2.3 avg.). The two touchdowns against the Cards were his total output for the year. With the arrival of Marshall Faulk, he was shifted to fullback in 1999 and lasted a total of four years in St. Louis before moving on to Tennessee, never gaining more than 294 rushing yards in a season.

September 26, 2014

Rookie of the Year: Paul McFadden, 1984

Placekicker, Philadelphia Eagles

Age:  23 (Sept. 24)
College: Youngstown State
Height: 5’11” Weight: 160

McFadden kicked a school-record 54-yard field goal and added another of 52 yards in his first college game. Kicking barefoot, he ended up with 52 field goals out of 90 attempts, with a high of 17 in 1982, and with 78 PATs accumulated a total of 240 points. McFadden was drafted ninth by the USFL’s Chicago Blitz but signed with the Eagles, who chose him in the 12th round of the ’84 NFL draft.

1984 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Field goals – 30 [1]
Most field goals, game - 4 vs. Minnesota 9/9
Field goal attempts – 37 [1]
Most field goal attempts, game – 4 vs. Minnesota 9/9, vs. Washington 11/18, at St. Louis 11/25
Field goal percentage – 81.1 [3]
PATs – 26
PAT attempts – 27
Longest field goal – 52 yards at Detroit 11/4

Field Goals – 30
PATs – 26
Points – 116 [5]

Awards & Honors:
NFC Rookie of the Year: UPI
2nd team All-NFC: UPI

Eagles went 6-9-1 to finish fifth in the NFC East.

Having set a team season scoring record as a rookie, McFadden followed up in 1985 with another solid year, connecting on 83.3 percent of his field goal attempts (25 of 30), but he dropped off to 20 in 31 attempts (64.5 %) in ’86 and 16 of 26 (61.5 %) in 1987, when he was nearly released during the season. His four-year total of 91 field goals with Philadelphia was the franchise record at the time. Waived during the 1988 preseason, McFadden was picked up by the New York Giants when Raul Allegre was out with a groin injury and kicked 14 field goals in 10 games before moving on to the Atlanta Falcons in ’89, which was his last season. Overall, McFadden kicked 120 field goals in 163 attempts (73.6 %), with his longest measuring 54 yards, and 160 extra points for a total of 520 points. His outstanding rookie year remained his best.


Rookie of the Year Profiles feature players who were named Rookie of the Year in the NFL (including NFC/AFC), 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).

September 25, 2014

1994: Marino & Dolphins Rally but Moon & Vikings Prevail

The Miami Dolphins were off to a 3-0 start as they traveled to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Vikings on September 25, 1994. Under the guidance of Head Coach Don Shula for the 25th year, the Dolphins had a potent passing attack directed by 33-year-old QB Dan Marino, who was coming off an Achilles tendon injury that had sidelined him for most of ’93. However, the ground game was a different story and while the defense was effective against the run, injuries in the defensive backfield made the Dolphins vulnerable.

Minnesota, coached by Dennis Green, was 2-1 and also had a prolific veteran passer in QB Warren Moon (pictured above), who had been obtained from the Houston Oilers the previous offseason. Wide receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed made for a good tandem and RB Terry Allen was back after missing all of ’93 due to a knee injury that required surgery. The tough defense had not given up more than 16 points in any of the first three games.

There were 64,035 fans in attendance at the Metrodome. Both teams went three-and-out to start the game. The Vikings then put together an 84-yard drive in eight plays. Terry Allen (pictured below) started it off with a 45-yard run to the Miami 39, and Warren Moon completed three passes, the last to Cris Carter for a two-yard touchdown. Fuad Reveiz added the extra point.

Another short Miami series ended with a punt and this time Minnesota advanced 66 yards in 10 plays. Moon completed five passes, three of them to Jake Reed for 13, 17, and 15 yards, and Allen capped the series with an eight-yard run for a TD. Reveiz converted to stake the Vikings to a 14-0 lead that they carried into the second quarter.

The Dolphins, who had been quiet on offense thus far, finally began to move the ball and Dan Marino threw to WR Irving Fryar for a 43-yard gain to the Minnesota 23. However, the drive bogged down at that point and the visitors came up empty when Pete Stoyanovich was wide to the left on a 40-yard field goal attempt.

The Vikings punted but got the ball back when LB Jack Del Rio intercepted a Marino pass to give them possession at their own 47. Minnesota made the most of the turnover, going 53 yards in five plays. The biggest was a pass from Moon to Carter that covered 44 yards for a touchdown. Reveiz again added the extra point.

Now down 21-0 midway through the second quarter, Marino filled the air with passes. A third-and-13 throw to WR Mike Williams picked up 15 yards and another third down toss was complete to Fryar for 17 yards to the Minnesota 45. But after getting down to the 28, the Dolphins again came up empty when Marino was picked off by DB Lamar McGriggs.

Now it was Minnesota’s turn to go to the air, and Moon hit on five passes, the longest to RB David Palmer for 39 yards to the Miami eight and, from there, the last was to Carter for a TD. It was 28-0 with less than a minute remaining in the half, but the Dolphins responded by taking advantage of a short kickoff and going 49 yards in three plays. Marino finally got Miami on the board with a throw to WR O.J. McDuffie for a 26-yard touchdown. The try for a two-point conversion failed (and starting RB Terry Kirby suffered a season-ending injury on the play), and the Vikings took a 28-6 lead into halftime.

The Dolphins had the first possession in the third quarter and Marino (pictured at right) completed six passes in an 11-play, 74-yard series that included a fourth-and-ten throw to Williams for 19 yards and concluded with a three-yard TD toss to TE Greg Baty. Marino then connected with Fryar for a two-point conversion that made the score 28-14.

On Minnesota’s next possession, Moon completed a pass to WR Qadray Ismail for 34 yards, but the Vikings came up empty when Reveiz was short on a 52-yard field goal attempt. They got the ball back when Del Rio again intercepted a Marino pass at his own 27. This time the Vikings went three-and-out and had to punt, and the Dolphins weren’t stopped this time. Marino started off with a pass to Fryar for 19 yards to get into Minnesota territory and, facing third-and-14 after being sacked by DE James Harris, he connected with FB Keith Byars for six yards and converted the resulting fourth down with a 15-yard completion to Fryar. Two plays later, Marino hit TE Keith Jackson for a 25-yard touchdown and, with Stoyanovich booting the extra point, the Dolphins were down by only 28-21 heading into the final period.

The Vikings reached midfield on their next series before having to punt, and Miami came surging back with a 76-yard drive in six plays. Marino had a 25-yard completion to Jackson, converted a third-and-ten play with a throw to Byars for the necessary 10 yards, and a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the Minnesota ten, from where RB Bernie Parmalee ran for a TD. Stoyanovich kicked the game-tying PAT to make the tally 28-28, capping a franchise-record rally.

There were still over ten minutes remaining in regulation as the Vikings regained possession, and Moon moved them quickly down the field with throws to Reed for 13 and 21 yards. From the Miami 36, Allen ran 30 yards up the middle and, two plays later, RB Scottie Graham rushed for a three-yard touchdown. Reveiz converted and the home team was back in front by 35-28.

Reveiz then squibbed the kickoff which was fumbled and LB Dave Garnett recovered for the Vikings at the Minnesota 49. With Graham running the ball, the Vikings reached the Miami 42 before a series of three penalties – the first on Miami, the last two on Minnesota – had them facing first-and-27 at the Miami 41. Moon threw two completions that covered 18 yards, Graham ran for three, and Reveiz kicked a 38-yard field goal to extend the lead to ten points.

The Dolphins appeared anything but done when McDuffie returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards to the Minnesota 49 with 3:37 to play. Marino passed to Byars for 11 yards and then Fryar for a big gain of 35 yards that, with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty added on, placed the ball on the two yard line. Parmalee was held to no gain on a running play, and then it was three straight passes, the last falling incomplete on fourth down to give the ball back to the Vikings.

A short series had Minnesota punting the ball back to the Dolphins, who started off at the 50 with the clock now down to 1:47. Once again Marino passed them down the field, and again it was a toss to Fryar that was good for a big gain of 31 yards to the Minnesota eight. This time Miami didn’t come up empty as Byars finished off the five-play, 50-yard drive with a one-yard scoring carry. Stoyanovich added the extra point to make it a three-point contest.

However, there was only a little over a minute remaining and, when the onside kick attempt was recovered by Minnesota WR Chris Walsh, the Vikings finally clinched a 38-35 win.

Miami, playing from behind for almost the entire game, led in total yards (473 to 458) and first downs (27 to 24). However, the Dolphins also turned the ball over four times, to none suffered by Minnesota, while the Vikings were penalized 10 times to just two flags thrown on Miami. Failing to come out on top after erasing the 28-point deficit cost the Dolphins a share of the NFL record for most points overcome to win a game.

Warren Moon completed 26 of 37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Terry Allen ran for 113 yards and a TD on 15 carries. Jake Reed topped the Minnesota receivers with 9 catches for 127 yards and Cris Carter contributed 7 receptions for 81 yards and three scores. On defense, Jack Del Rio accounted for two interceptions.

For the Dolphins, Dan Marino was successful on 29 of 54 throws for 431 yards and three TDs as well as three interceptions. Keith Byars caught 10 of those passes for 79 yards and Irving Fryar (pictured below) gained 160 yards on 6 receptions. Bernie Parmalee topped the miniscule ground attack with 22 yards on six carries. Terry Kirby gained 13 yards on 9 attempts before being lost with torn knee ligaments.  

Minnesota lost the next week but then went on to win four straight on the way to topping the NFC Central with a 10-6 record. The Vikings lost to the division-rival Bears in the Wild Card playoff round. The Dolphins won the AFC East, also with a 10-6 tally, and reached the Divisional round of the postseason before being edged by San Diego.

Warren Moon led the NFC in pass attempts (601), completions (371), and yards (4264), although his interceptions (19) outnumbered his touchdown passes (18). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the seventh straight year. Dan Marino came in ahead of Moon with 615 attempts, 385 completions, and 4453 yards, which all ranked second in the NFL to New England’s Drew Bledsoe. Marino led the AFC with 30 TD passes while giving up 17 interceptions. He received second-team All-NFL honors from the Associated Press as well as All-AFC and Pro Bowl recognition for the eighth time.

Cris Carter set a short-lived NFL record by catching 122 passes (Detroit’s Herman Moore broke it the following year). He gained 1256 yards (10.3 avg.), scored seven TDs, and was a consensus first-team All-NFL honoree as well as being chosen to the Pro Bowl for a second year in a row (of an eventual string of eight). Jake Reed ended up with a career-high 85 receptions for 1175 yards (13.8 avg.) and four scores. Terry Allen, successfully coming back from his severe injury, rushed for 1031 yards on 255 carries (4.0 avg.) and accumulated eight touchdowns.

Irving Fryar gained Pro Bowl recognition for the second consecutive year by catching 73 passes for 1270 yards (17.4 avg.) and seven TDs. Keith Byars went down with an injury nine weeks into the season, having caught 49 passes for 418 yards (8.5 avg.) and five touchdowns.

September 24, 2014

1967: Late Chandler FG Allows Mistake-Prone Packers to Edge Bears

The Green Bay Packers had won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1965 and ’66, but were facing problems as they hosted the Chicago Bears on September 24, 1967. Age and injuries were catching up to many of the key players who had helped to produce four NFL titles since the arrival of Vince Lombardi as head coach and GM in 1959. For instance, gone was the great backfield combination of HB Paul Hornung and FB Jim Taylor, and QB Bart Starr, the league’s MVP in ’66, was playing hurt. But there were still plenty of savvy veterans on the roster combined with some promising younger talent. Nevertheless, the Packers had been shaky in a season-opening game against Detroit the previous week, rallying to salvage a 17-17 tie and with time running out before they could attempt a long field goal. Starr had tossed more interceptions in that one game (4) than he had given up in all of 1966 (3).

The Bears, coached by 72-year-old owner George Halas, “the Papa Bear”, were coming off a 5-7-2 record and had lost badly to the Steelers the week before coming to Green Bay. Key players on the team were all-purpose HB Gale Sayers on offense and MLB Dick Butkus on the defensive side, but there were many question marks elsewhere, notably at quarterback where Larry Rakestraw was to start but it was hoped that Jack Concannon, obtained in an offseason trade from Philadelphia for discontented star TE Mike Ditka, would ultimately step in.  

There were 50,861 fans in attendance on a sunny afternoon at Lambeau Field and they saw Green Bay’s first two possessions end with interceptions. Going for a quick throw to TE Marv Fleming, Bart Starr’s first pass of the game was intercepted by SS Richie Petitbon. On the next series, LB Doug Buffone tipped a Starr pass into the air and pulled it in for another Chicago pickoff. However, the Bears were unable to take advantage of either turnover, giving the ball up once themselves with an interception, and the first quarter was scoreless.

In the second quarter, Green Bay came through with a big play when HB Donny Anderson, back to punt, instead took off on a 40-yard run to the Chicago 10. Two plays later, FB Jim Grabowski (pictured at left) plowed for two yards off tackle to score a touchdown. Don Chandler (pictured at top) converted to make it a 7-0 contest.

Late in the second quarter, the Packers put together another scoring drive, moving from their 30 to the Chicago 13 and being helped by a pass interference penalty on CB Curtis Gentry that enraged George Halas. However, Grabowski came up a yard short on a third down carry and Chandler kicked a 20-yard field goal.

A short kickoff gave the Bears possession at their 32 and QB Larry Rakestraw made a big gain with a 20-yard run to the Green Bay 42, taking advantage of the Packers dropping back into pass coverage on defense rather than mounting a rush. The first half ended with Mac Percival attempting a 49-yard field goal that fell short and the score remained 10-0 in favor of Green Bay.

The third quarter started off with another Petitbon interception of a Starr pass, and he returned it 35 yards to the Green Bay 16. Sayers ran for five yards, but FB Andy Livingston was held to no gain and Jack Concannon, replacing Rakestraw at quarterback, was sacked by LB Lee Roy Caffey for a four-yard loss. Chicago settled for a 22-yard field goal by Percival that cut the home team’s lead to 10-3.

Two more interceptions and a pair of fumbles stymied the Packers, but the defense continued to keep Chicago in check. Late in the third quarter, and with the ball at the Green Bay 31, the Bears tried to convert a fourth-and-one situation but Sayers was stopped short.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Packers were inside the Chicago ten and looking to take control of the game, but Grabowski fumbled the ball away at the five. Their inability to build on the lead came back to haunt them when Dick Butkus recovered another fumble, this time at the Green Bay 36. Following two nine-yard scrambles by Concannon, the Bears scored when Sayers ran around left end for a 13-yard touchdown. Percival added the extra point to tie the score with 3:30 remaining in the contest.

The climactic drive started for the Packers at their 39. A short pass from Starr to HB Elijah Pitts picked up 15 yards to get into Chicago territory and then Grabowski ran for nine yards. Kicking into the wind, Chandler’s 46-yard field goal attempt was successful with 1:03 left on the clock. Green Bay came away with a hard-earned 13-10 win.

Belying the closeness of the score, the Packers dominated Chicago in total yards (365 to 159) and first downs (24 to 6). A further contrast was that Green Bay rushed for 233 yards while the Bears netted just 19 yards through the air. The Packers never punted during the course of the game, with the fake by Anderson wiping out the only occasion in which they lined up to do so. However, Green Bay also turned the ball over a staggering eight times, to just one suffered by the visitors.

Bart Starr had another rough performance as he completed 10 of 19 passes for 113 yards and no touchdowns while being intercepted five times. Jim Grabowski ran for 111 yards on 32 carries that included a TD, and while the attempts set a then-club record and it was his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL (he had one other), he also fumbled three times. Thanks to the long run out of punt formation, Donny Anderson gained 68 yards on 7 attempts. WR Carroll Dale led the Green Bay receivers with four catches for 58 yards.

For the Bears, Gale Sayers rushed for 63 yards on 15 carries that included a TD and also was the team’s top receiver with just two receptions for 12 yards. Larry Rakestraw managed to complete three of his seven passes for 16 yards and had one intercepted. Jack Concannon, who finished the game in relief, went two-of-five for a mere seven yards but ran for 22 yards on five carries. Richie Petitbon (pictured at right) starred on defense with three interceptions that he returned for 41 yards.

“We’re having a hell of a time, apparently,” said Coach Lombardi after a second tough game. “But it’s more tribute that they can still come back.”

Green Bay recovered from the slow start to win eight of its next ten contests and topped the Central Division of the newly realigned NFL at 9-4-1. The Packers went on to win the NFL Championship and a second Super Bowl with a victory over the Oakland Raiders, champions of the AFL. The Bears continued to have trouble scoring points and were 2-5 before catching fire in the second half of the season and ending up second in the division with a 7-6-1 record, losing the rematch with the Packers in Chicago.

Bart Starr gave up nine interceptions in the first two games of the ’67 season and ended up throwing 17 in all, but while he had lesser statistics than in past seasons, in the end he was named Super Bowl MVP for the second consecutive year.

Jim Grabowski went down with a season-ending knee injury in the ninth week but still led the Packers in rushing with 466 yards. The player who was drafted to replace the great Jim Taylor returned to rush for 518 yards in 1968, but injuries ultimately shortened his career.

Don Chandler went on to tie his career best with 19 field goals out of 29 attempts (65.5 %) and added another four in the Super Bowl victory. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the only time in what was his last season.

September 23, 2014

1973: Raiders End Miami’s Winning Streak

The Miami Dolphins, who were coming off an undefeated NFL Championship season in 1972, had an 18-game winning streak on the line (playoff games included) as they met the Oakland Raiders on September 23, 1973. Head Coach Don Shula’s team had last been defeated by the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI following the ’71 season and, in terms of regular season play, had won their last game in 1971 in addition to all 14 in ‘72 and, with a 21-13 victory over the 49ers in Week 1, the first in ’73 for a total of 16. QB Bob Griese directed an efficient ball control offense with FB Larry Csonka the chief ground gainer and WR Paul Warfield the dangerous receiver who could stretch the field and keep opposing defenses honest. The so-called “No Name” defense was tough and effective.

Oakland, coached by John Madden, topped the AFC West in 1972 with a 10-3-1 record but had lost its ‘73 opening game at Minnesota the previous week. At age 32, QB Daryle Lamonica had his share of critics but was still a fine passer and there was quality and depth at the receiving and running back positions. The offensive line was excellent and the defense was a good veteran group.   

The game was played at Memorial Stadium at the Univ. of California due to a scheduling conflict for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with baseball’s Oakland Athletics, and there were 74,121 fans in attendance, which set a franchise record for a Raiders home game. The Dolphins had first possession and moved in typical fashion from their 16 yard line with Larry Csonka and HB Mercury Morris running the ball and Bob Griese completing three short passes. But after reaching the Oakland 45, Csonka fumbled and SS George Atkinson recovered for the Raiders.

Now it was Oakland’s turn to move methodically down the field, with an 11-yard carry by HB Charlie Smith followed by FB Marv Hubbard (pictured at left) running the ball four straight times, the last picking up 26 yards to the Miami four. The Dolphins held at that point and George Blanda (pictured at top), who had recently celebrated his 46th birthday and was playing in his 300th pro game, kicked a 12-yard field goal to give the Raiders the early 3-0 lead.

The Dolphins had to punt following their next series and, in a possession that stretched into the second quarter, Oakland kept the ball on the ground and moved effectively, the biggest carry being for 19 yards by Smith. Once again the Raiders went for a field goal, this time much longer from 46 yards, but the result was the same as Blanda’s kick was good.

Miami went three-and-out on its next possession, but got a break when SS Jake Scott intercepted a pass by Daryle Lamonica. Starting at the Oakland 41, Csonka and HB Jim Kiick ran the ball down to the 18. However, Griese threw three straight incomplete passes at that point and the Dolphins came up empty when Garo Yepremian’s 26-yard field goal attempt was wide to the right. Neither team was able to threaten again for the remainder of the half, which ended with the Raiders ahead by 6-0.

The teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter before the Raiders, taking advantage of a short 24-yard kick by Larry Seiple, gained possession at the Miami 46. Smith and Hubbard again ran to good effect and Lamonica completed a pass to Smith for seven yards. The drive stalled at the 12 and Blanda kicked his third field goal, this time from 19 yards.

RB Charlie Leigh returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to give the Dolphins good starting field position at the Oakland 45, but they were unable to put together a drive and Yepremian was short on a 45-yard field goal attempt that DT Art Thoms, stretching the full length of his 6’5”, got a hand on.

The teams again traded punts as the contest headed into the fourth quarter, with neither able to move well on offense. With 11 minutes remaining in the game, the Raiders began to advance as Lamonica completed passes to WR Fred Biletnikoff for nine and 22 yards. From the Miami 27, Smith and Hubbard again ground away at the Dolphin defense, and after driving 58 yards in 12 plays, Blanda was successful on a 10-yard field goal try, his fourth. With the clock down to 2:24, Oakland was up by 12-0.

The Dolphins came out throwing following the kickoff, with Griese completing passes to Kiick and Lee that totaled nine yards. Morris ran for six yards and a first down, and after an incompletion, he carried for seven yards. Griese threw to TE Jim Mandich for ten yards and the Dolphins picked up another 15 yards thanks to a personal foul. The seven-play, 75-yard series concluded with Griese passing to Mandich for a 28-yard touchdown. With Yepremian’s extra point, the Dolphins were down by five points and the clock showed just over a minute to go.

Miami tried for an onside kick but HB Pete Banaszak recovered for the Raiders. Three running plays were followed by a punt into the end zone and, with 42 seconds left and a winning streak on the line, the Dolphins took over at their 20. But all four of Griese’s passes fell incomplete and the Raiders held on to win by a final score of 12-7.

Oakland led in total yards (250 to 195) and first downs (12 to 10), reflecting the defensive nature of the contest. Neither team reached triple figures in net passing yards, with the Dolphins leading by 90 to 63. Miami turned the ball over twice, to one by the Raiders.

Daryle Lamonica went to the air just 10 times and had 7 completions for 63 yards with one intercepted. Marv Hubbard ran for 88 yards on 20 carries and Charlie Smith was right behind with 80 yards, also on 20 attempts. Fred Biletnikoff was Oakland’s leading receiver with three catches for 36 yards. The specialists did their part, with George Blanda kicking four field goals in as many attempts to account for all of the team’s points and Ray Guy averaging 49.0 yards on six punts. Otis Sistrunk, Art Thoms, and Phil Villapiano were most noteworthy in what was an outstanding group effort by the Oakland defense.

For the Dolphins, Bob Griese completed 12 of 25 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown with none intercepted. Mercury Morris gained 48 yards on 7 carries and Larry Csonka had 47 yards on 10 attempts. Charlie Leigh led the club with three catches, for 16 yards, while Jim Mandich (pictured at right) totaled 38 yards on his two receptions that included the game’s only TD.

“We wanted to play them last year and stop the streak but we didn’t get the chance,” said Oakland’s Coach Madden. “But now we’re the team that did it.”

The Dolphins shook off the loss and reeled off ten straight wins on the way to a 12-2 record and second Super Bowl victory. Oakland lost the following week, and with the offense having difficulty scoring points, Daryle Lamonica was replaced by Ken Stabler at quarterback. The Raiders again topped the AFC West at 9-4-1 and advanced to the AFC Championship game, where the Miami exacted its revenge.

The 24th-year veteran George Blanda went on to kick a career-high 23 field goals in 33 attempts (69.7 %) and, adding in 31 extra points, scored an even 100 points. Marv Hubbard led the Raiders in rushing with 903 yards and in touchdowns with six. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.

September 22, 2014

Highlighted Year: Jim Arnold, 1987

Punter, Detroit Lions

Age: 26
5th season in pro football, 2nd with Lions
College: Vanderbilt
Height: 6’3”   Weight: 211

Arnold was a four-time All-Southeastern Conference choice in college as well as consensus All-American as a senior in 1982. He was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the ‘83 NFL draft and led the league with a 44.9 average in 1984 and received second-team All-NFL honors from the Associated Press. A lesser performance in 1985 set the stage for his release prior to the ’86 season and he was picked up by Detroit for the last seven games, averaging 42.6 yards on 36 punts.

1987 Season Summary
Appeared in 11 of 15 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Punts – 46
Most punts, game – 6 vs. Green Bay 10/25, at Chicago 11/22
Yards – 2007 [20]
Average – 43.6 [2]
Best average, game – 52.7 (on 3 punts) vs. LA Rams 12/6
Punts blocked – 0
Longest punt – 60 yards

Awards & Honors:
1st team All-NFL: AP, PFWA, NEA, Pro Football Weekly, Sporting News
1st team All-NFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Lions went 4-11 to finish fifth in the NFC Central in the strike-affected season.

Arnold followed up with another Pro Bowl year in 1988 after punting a team-record 97 times for a 42.4-yard average, which topped the NFC. He ended up playing a total of eight years for the Lions and set a franchise career record with 536 punts, averaging 42.7 yards per kick. He played for the Miami Dolphins in 1994 before retiring. Overall, he punted 866 times over 12 seasons for a 42.3-yard average with five blocked. He was named to the Pro Bowl twice and received first- or second-team All-NFL honors on three occasions.


Highlighted Years features players who were first-team All-League* selections or league* or conference** leaders in the following statistical categories:

Rushing: Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Passing: Yards, Completion Pct., Yards per Attempt, TDs, Rating
Receiving: Catches, Yards, TDs (min. 10)
Scoring: TDs, Points, Field Goals (min. 5)
All-Purpose: Total Yards
Defense: Interceptions, Sacks
Kickoff Returns: Average
Punt Returns: Average
Punting: Average

*Leagues include NFL (1920 to date), AFL (1926), AFL (1936-37), AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974-75), USFL (1983-85)

**NFC/AFC since 1970

September 21, 2014

1970: Browns Defeat Jets in Monday Night Debut

Pro football on Monday nights was not unprecedented, but as a regularly-scheduled weekly television series, which it became in 1970, it was an innovation. The American Broadcasting Company promoted the concept vigorously and provided resources for covering the games that the other networks typically used only for playoff contests. An entertaining trio of announcers Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and ex-Cowboys QB Don Meredith added to the showcase.

The first week’s contest on September 21, 1970 pitted the Cleveland Browns, an established NFL team that had been shifted to the American Football Conference as part of the merger (thus being aligned with former American Football League teams), against the New York Jets, champions of the AFL two years earlier.

The Browns were coached by Blanton Collier for the eighth season and had advanced to the last two NFL Championship games. It was anticipated that, with recent success and grouped with three mediocre teams in the new Central Division of the AFC, that the Browns would contend. They had traded away star WR Paul Warfield to Miami in order to draft QB Mike Phipps out of Purdue, but veteran Bill Nelsen was still the starting quarterback. HB Leroy Kelly remained a major cog in the offense and they also had WR Gary Collins and TE Milt Morin. The team’s biggest questions pertained to the reshuffled defense.

New York, coached by Weeb Ewbank, had followed up the 1968 Super Bowl season with a division-topping 10-4 record in ’69. Now in the AFC East, they continued to rely on QB Joe Namath passing to a good group of receivers led by Don Maynard and George Sauer and the running game featured FB Matt Snell and HB Emerson Boozer. The defense was good up front but questionable in the secondary.

It was a clear night at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland with a stadium-record 85,703 fans in attendance and an estimated 35 million watching the telecast. The Jets punted following the first series of the game and Cleveland drove 55 yards in nine plays. Bill Nelsen had completions to Milt Morin for 13 yards and to FB Bo Scott for 21 and a third-down pass to Gary Collins was good for an eight-yard touchdown. Don Cockroft added the extra point.

The Jets reached midfield on their next possession but again had to punt. Starting at their 16, the Browns drove to another score, going 84 yards in 11 plays. Leroy Kelly ran effectively and a pass interference call on a third-and-eight play kept the drive alive. In New York territory, Nelsen threw to Morin for 18 yards and to Scott for 15 and it was Scott running around end for the last two yards and a TD. Cockroft added the extra point and Cleveland carried a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.

The Jets, relying primarily on runs by Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell, put together an eight-play, 61-yard series that resulted in Boozer plowing into the center of the line for a two-yard touchdown. Jim Turner converted and Cleveland’s lead was cut to 14-7.

Nelsen completed a pass to Morin for 25 yards on the next series but the Browns ended up having to punt. The Jets also moved well, with Namath completing back-to-back passes to George Sauer (pictured at left) for 17 and 40 yards, but after reaching the Cleveland 17 Namath again looked to Sauer but was picked off by CB Walt Sumner, who returned it 34 yards. Following another Cleveland punt, another New York drive into Browns territory ended with Namath being intercepted once more, and the score remained unchanged at the half.

The Browns started off the third quarter with WR Homer Jones taking the second half kickoff and returning it 94 yards for a touchdown and, with Cockroft’s PAT, a 21-7 lead. In response, Namath came out throwing and immediately connected with Don Maynard for 20 yards and Sauer for 16 to reach the Cleveland 44. Another pass to Sauer picked up 13 yards and then Snell and Boozer accumulated another 13 yards between them on the ground. Namath found Sauer once again for an additional 13 yards and, two plays later, Boozer raced 10 yards through the middle for a TD to complete the 10-play, 80-yard drive. Turner converted and it was once more a seven-point contest.

The Browns started their next series with favorable field position at their own 47 after a good kickoff return with a penalty tacked on. They advanced 47 yards in six plays and Cockroft kicked a 27-yard field goal. In their next series, the running of Snell and Boozer moved the Jets back into Cleveland territory, and Namath also completed two short passes. However, the drive stalled at the 42 and Turner’s 50-yard field goal attempt fell short.

The Browns punted on the final play of the third quarter and New York again threatened to score. Snell ran for 19 yards on the first play of the series and, after five more running plays, a pass interference call on CB Erich Barnes put the ball on the Cleveland seven. But on the next play, Snell fumbled and DE Jack Gregory recovered to end the threat. The Browns responded with a long six-minute drive. Nelsen completed three passes, the longest to Morin for 22 yards, and Scott had a 17-yard run. But Cockroft missed to the right on an 18-yard field goal try.

The Jets took over from their 20 with 5:40 remaining on the clock and, with Namath throwing on every down, they quickly moved 80 yards in four plays. Completions to Boozer, WR Rich Caster, and Sauer picked up 14, 19, and 14 yards, respectively, and a throw to Sauer was good for a 33-yard touchdown. Turner’s conversion put the visitors just three points behind at 24-21.

The time was running down to two minutes as the Browns went three-and-out on their next possession, but Cockroft’s 65-yard punt had to be chased by DB Mike Battle, who failed to catch the ball at the 30 and downed it at the New York four. Four plays later, Namath’s pass was intercepted by LB Bill Andrews, who returned it 25 yards for a clinching touchdown. Cockroft again converted and Cleveland came away the winner by a final score of 31-21.

The Jets dominated in total yards (454 to 221) and first downs (31 to 20). However, they also turned the ball over four times, to none suffered by Cleveland, and were penalized 13 times at a cost of 161 yards, to 8 flags thrown on the Browns.

Bill Nelsen completed 12 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown with none intercepted. Milt Morin (pictured at right) had 5 catches for 90 yards and Leroy Kelly rushed for 62 yards on 20 carries.

For the Jets, Joe Namath was successful on 18 of 31 throws for 298 yards and a TD, but gave up three interceptions, including the last one that led directly to the game-clinching score. George Sauer caught 10 of those passes for 172 yards and a touchdown and Don Maynard gained 69 yards on his four receptions. Matt Snell topped the ground game as he rushed for 108 yards on 16 attempts and Emerson Boozer contributed 58 yards on 15 carries that included two TDs.

Following the exciting opening contest, neither team ended up meeting expectations over the course of the season. The Browns reached 4-2 before losing five of their last eight contests and ending up at 7-7 and in second place behind the third-year Cincinnati Bengals. Leroy Kelly’s performance dropped off due to an ankle injury and Homer Jones failed to fill the shoes of the departed Warfield (his kickoff return TD against the Jets was the highlight of his season). The Jets won their second game but proceeded to lose six straight on the way to a 4-10 record. Injuries were the key to New York’s collapse, with Joe Namath suffering a broken wrist and Matt Snell a torn Achilles tendon that sidelined them for most of the season.

Pro football on Monday nights did not disappoint, however, and the program maintained consistently strong ratings in its first year and well beyond. 

September 20, 2014

1976: Raiders Hold Off Rally by Chiefs for Monday Night Win

Two fierce rivals, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, were featured in a Monday night NFL game on September 20, 1976. The visiting Raiders had won their opener over Pittsburgh the previous week while Kansas City lost to the Chargers, but beyond that, the two clubs were in very different places as they met for the 35th time.

Oakland, coached by John Madden for the eighth season and coming off an 11-3 record in ‘75, had topped the AFC West in five of the previous six seasons. QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler (pictured above) was an able, if immobile, passer and had fine wide receivers available in Cliff Branch and the aging Fred Biletnikoff, plus up-and-coming TE Dave Casper. There was also a good, if unspectacular, group of running backs operating behind an excellent line. The defense was tough and aggressive.

The Chiefs had not done so well in recent years. They finished at 5-9 in each of the previous two seasons, including their first under Head Coach Paul Wiggin, successor to the esteemed Hank Stram, in ’75. QB Len Dawson had finally retired after an outstanding career and longtime backup Mike Livingston was taking over the reins, but there were still too many aging players on the roster.

It was a clear Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium with 60,884 fans in attendance. The teams traded punts before the Raiders drove 67 yards in 12 plays. Ken Stabler completed six passes, including two that converted third downs and the last for a 15-yard touchdown to Dave Casper. Fred Steinfort added the extra point.

Following another short possession leading to a punt by the Chiefs, Oakland put together another 12-play scoring drive that extended into the second quarter, advancing 72 yards. FB Mark van Eeghen (pictured below) and HB Pete Banaszak ran effectively and Stabler connected twice on passes to Cliff Branch, the first for 13 yards to convert a third down and the second for a 10-yard TD. Steinfort again converted and the Raiders were ahead by 14-0 and clearly the dominant team.

The teams exchanged punts until the Raiders got the ball back at their 14 with three minutes to play in the half. HB Clarence Davis ran for the necessary 14 yards in a third-and-14 situation and Banaszak followed up with a 15-yard carry. Completions to Branch, Casper, and Fred Biletnikoff advanced the ball to the Kansas City 20 and, with the clock down to 27 seconds Steinfort kicked a 37-yard field goal to stake Oakland to a 17-0 halftime lead. Kansas City had managed just 37 yards of offense thus far.

The Chiefs had the first possession of the third quarter and, with Mike Livingston completing passes to TE Walter White for 25 yards and WR Henry Marshall for 21, reached the Oakland 23. However, they came up empty when Jan Stenerud was wide on a 41-yard field goal attempt.

CB Tim Collier intercepted a Stabler pass on the next series, but the Chiefs fumbled the ball right back. Oakland went three-and-out and had to punt, and Kansas City put together another good drive of 54 yards in nine plays, and this time didn’t fail to put points on the board. HB Woody Green ran the ball four times for 35 yards and FB MacArthur Lane carried for the last yard and a touchdown. Stenerud added the extra point and it was a 17-7 game after three quarters.

The Raiders responded by driving 72 yards in eight plays. A 16-yard Stabler completion to Biletnikoff had an unnecessary roughness penalty on FS Gary Barbaro tacked onto it to advance Oakland to the KC 14, and from there Stabler connected with WR Mike Siani for a TD. Steinfort’s PAT again made it a 17-point margin favoring the visitors, although “The Snake” was injured from a hit by DE Wilbur Young on the scoring play.

The Chiefs had to punt following their next series and the Raiders, now with Mike Rae at quarterback for Stabler, punted the ball back in turn. With 3:41 left on the clock, Kansas City took over and drove 87 yards in 12 plays. Livingston completed three passes but it was the running of Green and Lane that fueled KC’s advance. Livingston ran the ball himself for a one-yard touchdown and, with Stenerud again adding the extra point, Oakland’s lead was narrowed to 24-14.

That still appeared formidable as the Raiders took possession, but Banaszak ran the ball three straight times, fumbled on the last carry after gaining first down yardage, and LB Billy Andrews recovered for the Chiefs at the Oakland 25. On the next play, Livingston threw to TE Billy Masters in the middle of the end zone for a TD, Stenerud converted, and the home team was only behind by a touchdown.

That was as far as Kansas City’s surge would carry, however. The ensuing try for an onside kick failed and, with the Chiefs out of timeouts, the Raiders were able to run out the clock as van Eeghen carried four times for 27 yards and two first downs. Oakland held on to win by a final score of 24-21.

The Raiders dominated in total yards (446 to 280), with 211 of that total coming on the ground, and also had the edge in first downs (25 to 18). Oakland also recorded the only three sacks of the game, but also turned the ball over twice (to one by KC) and was penalized 11 times at a cost of 104 yards, to 8 flags thrown on the Chiefs.

Ken Stabler was highly efficient as he completed 22 of 28 passes, including 11 of his first 12, for 224 yards and three touchdowns while giving up one interception, until a strained right knee forced him from the contest. Mark van Eeghen ran for 84 yards on 19 carries, Pete Banaszak contributed 61 yards on 11 attempts, and Clarence Davis gained 59 yards on his 12 runs. Cliff Branch had 5 catches for 62 yards and a TD and Dave Casper was right behind at 5 receptions and 57 yards with a score.

For the Chiefs, Mike Livingston was successful on 12 of 21 throws for 190 yards and a TD with none intercepted. Woody Green ran for 75 yards on 14 attempts and caught three passes for 28 more yards while MacArthur Lane (pictured below) gained 34 yards on 9 carries that included a touchdown and had a team-leading four pass receptions for 69 yards.

“I can’t account for the first half,” said Kansas City’s Coach Wiggin. “I wish I could. It was just a solid indication we were playing a superior football team.”

The Raiders lost only once all season, again topping the AFC West at 13-1 and advancing to a win over the Vikings in the Super Bowl. Kansas City compiled a third straight 5-9 record to place fourth in the division.

Ken Stabler missed the following week due to his injury but came back to lead the NFL in passing (103.4 rating) in addition to completion percentage (66.7), yards per attempt (9.4), and TD passes (27). He was chosen to the Pro Bowl and received the Bert Bell award as NFL Player of the Year. Cliff Branch (46 catches, 1111 yards, 24.2 avg., 12 TDs) and Dave Casper (53 catches, 691 yards, 10 TDs) were both consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selections. Mark van Eeghen ran for 1012 yards on 233 carries (4.3 avg.), his first of three straight thousand yard ground-gaining seasons.

Woody Green’s career ended four weeks later due to a knee injury that required surgery while 34-year-old MacArthur Lane led the Chiefs in rushing with 542 yards and topped the NFL with 66 catches, for 686 yards.