October 31, 2011

MVP Profile: Adrian Peterson, 2008

Running Back, Minnesota Vikings



Age: 23
2nd season in pro football & with Vikings
College: Oklahoma
Height: 6’1” Weight: 217

Prelude:
Taken by the Vikings in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, Peterson made an immediate impact as he rushed for 1341 yards as a rookie, including a single-game record 296 yards against San Diego. If there was any downside, it came in the knee injury that caused him to miss two games, his lesser numbers as defenses stacked the line to stop him when he returned, and his mediocre pass blocking. Still, with his combination of speed and power, he was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.

2008 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 363 [2]
Most attempts, game - 30 (for 192 yds.) vs. Green Bay 11/9
Yards – 1760 [1]
Most yards, game – 192 yards (on 30 carries) vs. Green Bay 11/9
Average gain – 4.8 [8]
TDs – 10 [8, tied with four others]
100-yard rushing games - 10

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 21
Most receptions, game – 4 (for 20 yds.) vs. Indianapolis 9/14, (for 21 yds.) at Tennessee 9/28
Yards – 125
Most yards, game - 33 (on 3 catches) vs. Green Bay 11/9
Average gain – 6.0
TDs – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 16
Average per return – 16.0
TDs – 0

All-Purpose Yards – 1901 [5]

Scoring
TDs – 10 [16, tied with eight others]
Points – 60

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff vs. Philadelphia)
Rushing attempts – 20
Rushing yards – 83
Average gain rushing – 4.2
Rushing TDs – 2

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 20
Average per return – 20.0
TDs – 0

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

Vikings went 10-6 to finish first in the NFC North and gained the third playoff seed in the conference. Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to Philadelphia Eagles (26-14).

Aftermath:
Peterson followed up in 2009 with 1383 rushing yards and a league-leading 18 TDs while also catching a career-high 43 passes as the Vikings went 12-4 and advanced to the NFC Championship game. While a tendency to fumble was still a concern (he lost the ball 9 times in 2008 and 7 in ’09), Peterson was again a consensus first-team All-Pro and was named to the Pro Bowl. Turmoil touched the team in 2010, which dropped to 6-10, but Peterson was a bulwark who ran for 1298 yards, scored 13 TDs, fumbled only once, and was selected to a fourth straight Pro Bowl.

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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 2/12/14]

October 30, 2011

1960: Bills Upset Oilers with Two Fourth Quarter Field Goals


Coming up on the midpoint of the inaugural American Football League season, the Houston Oilers (5-1) had established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Division while the Buffalo Bills (2-4) were struggling. They met for the first time on October 30, 1960 at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.

The Oilers, coached by Lou Rymkus, featured QB George Blanda, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons almost exclusively with the Bears, and rookie HB Billy Cannon, the Heisman Trophy winner out of LSU. Cannon was off to a slow start, but FB Dave Smith proved to be a good find and Blanda had outstanding receivers to throw to in flanker Charley Hennigan and split end Bill Groman.

Buffalo, under the direction of Head Coach Buster Ramsey, had a respectable defense that included DE LaVerne Torczon, DT Chuck McMurtry, MLB Archie Matsos, and FS Richie McCabe. However, offense was a problem, in particular quarterback. Ex-Brown Tom O’Connell started the year behind center and was a disappointment. Johnny Green played well in his first start of the season the week before, a convincing 38-9 win over the Raiders.

There were 23,001 fans in attendance and they saw the Oilers score first as Blanda connected with Hennigan on an eight-yard touchdown pass. The Bills responded when FB Wray Carlton went 70 yards for a touchdown with a screen pass from Green (the Green-to-Carlton combination on screen passes would prove effective throughout the game). However, the extra point attempt failed and Houston maintained a 7-6 lead.

Before the first quarter was over, Joe Hergert kicked a 36-yard field goal that put the Bills in front by 9-7. The Oilers retook the lead in the second quarter when Blanda threw to Cannon for a 21-yard touchdown.

Hergert suffered an injury and DB Billy Atkins (pictured at top), the team’s punter, took over the placekicking for Buffalo. His 18-yard field goal moved the Bills to two points behind the Oilers at 14-12 and then end Dick Brubaker caught a 10-yard pass from Green to make the score 19-14 at the half.

The Blanda-to-Cannon combination struck again in the third quarter, this time for a 53-yard touchdown and, with Blanda’s successful extra point, Houston moved back in front in the see-saw game at 21-19. The lead increased by three on a 50-yard Blanda field goal, still in the third period.

The Bills drove from their 26 into Houston territory early in the fourth quarter, ending with an Atkins field goal from 45 yards out. A shanked punt by Houston’s Ken Hall allowed Buffalo to take over at the Oilers’ 39 following a 20-yard return by Matsos. Another Green screen pass to Carlton got the ball down to the three. The Oilers defense held as Buffalo was only able to gain a yard on the next three plays. Although the crowd was yelling for the Bills to go for it, they took a delay-of-game penalty that set the ball back to the seven so that Atkins would have a better angle for his field goal attempt. It was successful from 15 yards with less than six minutes remaining to play and provided the final result, a 25-24 upset win for Buffalo.


Buffalo’s offense rose to the occasion as the Bills outgained the Oilers (352 yards to 287) and had more first downs (17 to 13). While they gained only 59 yards on the ground, the Bills netted 293 yards through the air (Green was sacked five times for 41 yards in losses). Blanda was sacked just once, but the Oilers turned the ball over five times, to three by Buffalo.

Johnny Green had a big performance, completing 18 of 49 passes for 334 yards with two touchdowns and one intercepted. Wray Carlton caught 6 passes for 177 yards and the one long TD while also rushing for 25 yards on six carries. Elbert Dubenion contributed 5 receptions for 76 yards. HB Wilmer Fowler was the team’s leading ground gainer with 36 yards on 10 attempts. Archie Matsos (pictured above) had a big day for the Bills, intercepting two passes and returning the short punt, thus setting up two touchdowns.

George Blanda had his worst passing game of the year, hitting on just 9 of 32 throws for 124 yards, and while three were good for TDs, four were intercepted. Dave Smith ran for 107 yards on 12 carries, and Billy Cannon also ran the ball 12 times, gaining 60 yards, and also caught three passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.


The upset win wasn’t a turning point for the Bills – they won just twice more and finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a 5-8-1 record. Houston recovered to win the division comfortably at 10-4 and defeated the Chargers for the first AFL Championship.

Johnny Green (pictured at left) failed to sustain his success against the Oilers, partly because of an injury to his throwing arm suffered during the game. He ended up completing just 89 of 228 passes (39.0 percent) for 1267 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions apiece. Wray Carlton led the team in rushing with 533 yards and caught 29 passes for 477 yards (16.4 avg.). Billy Atkins ended up handling most of the placekicking as well as the punting and was successful on 6 of 13 field goal attempts and 27 of 33 extra points.

October 29, 2011

1989: Webster Slaughter Has Big Day as Browns Beat Oilers


From 1985 to ’88, the Cleveland Browns had won 32 regular season games and been to the postseason for four straight years, but despite advancing to the AFC Championship game twice, they had fallen short of the Super Bowl. The result had been the forced resignation of Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer by owner Art Modell. Bud Carson, formerly defensive coordinator of the Jets, was hired for 1989 and the team was at 4-3 as it hosted the Houston Oilers on October 29 at Municipal Stadium.

QB Bernie Kosar, healthy after missing eight games due to injuries in 1988, was an able field general and fine passer despite his awkward-looking sidearm passing style. The running game missed FB Kevin Mack, who was inactive due to off-field drug issues, but had speed in rookie HB Eric Metcalf. And while TE Ozzie Newsome was on the downside of his outstanding career, the wide receivers consisted of quick-footed Webster Slaughter (pictured above), tall Reggie Langhorne, and slow-but-sure-handed Brian Brennan.

The AFC Central was a tough, competitive division, and the visiting Oilers were one of the teams that made it so. Under Head Coach Jerry Glanville, they were aggressive on defense and quick-striking on offense. Former CFL star QB Warren Moon was coming off his first Pro Bowl season in the NFL, despite missing five games with a shoulder injury, and was playing well in ’89. Still, for all the talent, the team tended to be inconsistent and also was 4-3 coming into the game in Cleveland.

The Oilers received the opening kickoff and drove 68 yards in 14 plays, including two third-down conversions, finishing up with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Moon to WR Haywood Jeffires. The score remained at 7-0 as the teams traded punts into the second quarter until a Kosar pass was intercepted by SS Bubba McDowell at the Cleveland 29. While McDowell ran to the end zone, the play was called back due to an illegal use of hands infraction on the return, but seven plays later Tony Zendejas kicked a 23-yard field goal to extend Houston’s lead to 10-0.

Kosar was intercepted again on the Browns’ next possession, this time by CB Steve Brown, but the Oilers were unable to capitalize and took the ten-point lead into halftime.

Houston had dominated the first half, but the Browns drove methodically down the field to start the third quarter. Metcalf carried the ball six times for 26 yards on the 13-play possession that covered 71 yards and ended up with Kosar, not known for his mobility, running for the last five and a touchdown.

The Oilers had to punt after a short possession ended at their 46, and on the first play the Browns went with a flea-flicker as Metcalf took the handoff and then pitched back to Kosar, who threw long to Slaughter for an 80-yard touchdown. With Matt Bahr’s successful extra point, the Browns had a 14-10 lead with 5:22 remaining in the third quarter.

The Oilers weren’t done yet, however, and moved quickly down the field. Moon threw to WR Ernest Givins for 15 yards and, following an incompletion, RB Alonzo Highsmith ran 25 yards down the middle. A holding penalty momentarily slowed the advance, but then Moon connected with WR Curtis Duncan for a 55-yard gain to the Cleveland one yard line, and from there RB Mike Rozier ran in for a TD. The Oilers were back in the lead at 17-14.

On Cleveland’s first play, Kosar was sacked by DE Ray Childress for a seven-yard loss. However, he again went long for Slaughter and was successful for a 77-yard touchdown. The eventful third quarter ended with the Browns back in front at 21-17.

Cleveland had the ball to start the fourth quarter and, on the third play, Metcalf took a pitchout and tossed an option pass to Langhorne in the end zone for a 32-yard TD. It was the rookie running back’s first NFL pass, and with the extra point it put the Browns up by 11 points.

There was still plenty of time, and the Oilers were capable of striking quickly as well. However, they again were forced to punt from near midfield. Cleveland managed to hold onto the ball for the remaining 9:20 of the game, a total of 15 plays that stretched from the Browns’ 20 to the Houston 25, and came away with a 28-17 win.

Cleveland outgained the Oilers (383 yards to 299) and had more first downs (18 to 17). However, Houston didn’t turn the ball over at all while the Browns did so twice.


Webster Slaughter was the star for Cleveland, catching 4 passes for 184 yards and the two long touchdowns. Bernie Kosar went to the air 19 times and completed 14 for 262 yards with two touchdowns as well as two interceptions; most significantly, he completed all eight of his second half passes for 207 of those yards. Eric Metcalf (pictured at left) rushed for only 48 yards on 17 carries, but also had 6 pass receptions for 46 yards and threw a touchdown pass.

For the Oilers, Warren Moon was successful on 15 of 25 passes for 241 yards and a TD with none intercepted. WR Drew Hill caught three of those passes for 67 yards while Ernest Givins and Haywood Jeffires also snagged three, for 42 and 30 yards respectively, and Curtis Duncan contributed 61 yards on his two catches. Alonzo Highsmith ran for 58 yards on 12 carries to pace the club.

Cleveland was in the midst of a four-game winning streak, but following a tie lost three straight before winning the final two contests, including the finale over the Oilers in Houston. The season sweep of the Oilers was significant, for the Browns won the AFC Central with a 9-6-1 record while Houston and Pittsburgh both ended up at 9-7. Both the Oilers and Steelers qualified for the playoffs (the Oilers swept Pittsburgh in their two meetings and thus placed second in the standings) and, meeting in the first round, the Steelers won in overtime. The Browns won their Divisional playoff over Buffalo but lost the AFC Championship game to their title-game nemesis, the Denver Broncos.

Webster Slaughter earned selection to the Pro Bowl by catching 65 passes for 1236 yards (19.0 avg.) and six touchdowns. Eric Metcalf gained 1748 all-purpose yards (633 rushing on 187 carries, 397 receiving with 54 catches, 718 returning 31 kickoffs); it was a good rookie year for the son of an earlier all-purpose pro halfback, Terry Metcalf.

Bernie Kosar (pictured below) was the fourth-ranked passer in the AFC (80.3 rating) as he threw for 3533 yards with 18 TD passes. He was among the league leaders with a completion percentage of 59.1 and low interception percentage of 2.7. Warren Moon was ahead of Kosar among passers in the conference (88.9 rating), yards passing (3631), completion percentage (60.3), and scoring throws (23). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for a second straight year (of an eventual eight consecutive and nine overall).

October 28, 2011

MVP Profile: Marshall Faulk, 2000

Running Back, St. Louis Rams



Age: 27
7th season in pro football, 2nd with Rams
College: San Diego State
Height: 5’10” Weight: 211

Prelude:
Taken in the first round of the 1994 NFL draft (second overall) by the Indianapolis Colts, Faulk had a Rookie of the Year season with 1282 rushing yards and 52 catches for 522 more, establishing himself as an outstanding combination runner/receiver. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as well and was chosen again following a 1995 performance in which he rushed for 1078 yards and had 56 catches. Injuries, and a subpar offensive line, reduced his production significantly in 1996 and he ran for 1054 yards and caught 47 passes for a 3-13 team in ’97. Faulk returned to Pro Bowl form in 1998 as he rushed for 1319 yards and gained 908 yards on 86 pass receptions to lead the NFL with 2227 yards from scrimmage. He was traded to the Rams in the offseason for two draft picks and in 1999 became the key to a championship offense as he again led the league in yards from scrimmage (2429) with 1381 on the ground and 1048 through the air on 87 catches. Faulk thus became the second running back to gain a thousand yards both rushing and receiving in a season and, in addition to being chosen to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time, was a consensus first-team All-Pro.

2000 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 14 of 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 253 [19]
Most attempts, game - 32 (for 220 yds.) at New Orleans 12/24
Yards – 1359 [8]
Most yards, game – 220 yards (on 32 carries) at New Orleans 12/24
Average gain – 5.4 [3]
TDs – 18 [1]
200-yard rushing games – 2
100-yard rushing games – 4

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 81 [16, tied with Larry Centers]
Most receptions, game – 9 (for 85 yds.) at Seattle 9/10, (for 88 yds.) vs. Washington 11/20
Yards – 830
Most yards, game - 116 (on 6 catches) vs. San Diego 10/1
Average gain – 10.2
TDs – 8 [11, tied with six others]
100-yard receiving games – 2

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 18
Average per return – 18.0
TDs – 0

All-Purpose Yards – 2207 [4]

Scoring
TDs – 26 [1]
Points – 160 [1]

The 26 touchdowns set a then-NFL single-season record.

Postseason: 1 G (NFC Wild Card playoff at New Orleans)
Rushing attempts – 14
Rushing yards – 24
Average gain rushing – 1.7
Rushing TDs – 0

Pass receptions – 7
Pass receiving yards - 99
Average yards per reception – 14.1
Pass Receiving TDs - 1

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

Rams went 10-6 to finish second in the NFC West and qualify for the postseason as a wild card while leading the NFL in total yards (7075), passing yards (5232), points scored (540), and touchdowns (67). Lost NFC Wild Card playoff to New Orleans Saints (31-28).

Aftermath:
Faulk maintained his outstanding consistency for the Rams in 2001 as he rushed for a career-high 1382 yards (leading the league in yards-per-carry for the third straight year) and caught 83 passes for 765 yards while again leading the NFL with 21 TDs. He again received MVP recognition while also garnering first-team All-Pro honors for the third consecutive year and gaining another Pro Bowl selection. The Rams, still an offensive powerhouse, won the NFC Championship but were upset in the Super Bowl by the Patriots. Faulk had one last Pro Bowl season in ’02 (his 7th overall), but injuries and accumulated wear-and-tear were reducing his production. While he played until 2005, he never again gained over a thousand yards rushing or two thousand yards from scrimmage. For his career, he rushed for 12,279 yards and 100 touchdowns and caught 767 passes for 6875 yards and another 36 TDs. At the time, his 19,190 total yards ranked sixth all-time and 136 TDs placed fourth. Faulk was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2011.

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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 2/12/14]

October 27, 2011

1991: Redskins Rally from 13 Points Down to Beat Giants, Stay Undefeated


The NFC East showdown on October 27, 1991 at Giants Stadium featured the host New York Giants against the undefeated (7-0) Washington Redskins, who were coming off their bye week. Under Head Coach Joe Gibbs, the Redskins’ offense was led by previously-unheralded QB Mark Rypien behind an outstanding line. The running game, which featured veterans Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs and rookie Ricky Ervins, was solid and Rypien had good wide receivers to throw to in Art Monk, Gary Clark (pictured above), and Ricky Sanders.

Washington had lost six straight games to the Giants coming into the showdown in the Meadowlands, and New York had won the Super Bowl the previous year. However, Head Coach Bill Parcells departed in the offseason, and the team was struggling under his successor Ray Handley. Star QB Phil Simms had been lost to injury late in the ’90 season and backup Jeff Hostetler was behind center the rest of the way. There was competition between the two in the preseason, and Handley benched Simms in favor of Hostetler, who showed promise but had difficulty getting the ball in the end zone. The once-formidable defense led by LB Lawrence Taylor was beginning to show its age, and the Giants were at 4-3 as they hosted the Redskins.

It looked as though New York’s domination of the Redskins would continue as the Giants scored on three of their first four possessions, although they twice ended up going for three points in situations that could easily have produced touchdowns. First, they had to settle for a 23-yard Raul Allegre field goal when Hostetler overthrew RB Rodney Hampton, who was open at the Washington one yard line. The next drive ended in a TD on a Hampton run from a yard out. But in the second quarter, the Giants lost out on a first down inside the Washington five when FB Maurice Carthon was penalized for unnecessary roughness. Once again, the result was an Allegre field goal, this time from 36 yards, and New York led by 13-0 at halftime.

The Giants outgained the Redskins in the first half by 207 yards to 35. Washington ran only 15 plays, held the ball for just over eight minutes, and never penetrated into New York territory.

Washington finally got into Giants territory for the first time with 5:36 left in the third quarter, and from that point the Redskins dominated the remainder of the game. They scored their first touchdown after controlling the ball on an 84-yard drive consisting of 20 plays that consumed almost nine minutes. The Redskins finished off the possession with a seven-yard TD pass from Rypien to Gary Clark.

After a short possession by the Giants, which ended with Hampton being tackled for a six-yard loss on a third-and-one play at the New York 29, the Redskins got the ball back. In a third-and-12 situation, Clark got behind CB Everson Walls to catch a Rypien pass for a 54-yard touchdown at just over two minutes into the fourth quarter.

Another punt by the Giants led to another time-consuming drive by Washington, with Ricky Ervins running the ball effectively. The 14-play, 62-yard possession culminated in Chip Lohmiller’s 35-yard field goal with 51 seconds left that clinched the 17-13 win for the Redskins.

Just as the Giants had dominated the first half, so Washington controlled the second. The Redskins converted nine straight third downs, six in the 20-play drive that led to the initial score, and accumulated 239 total yards. It was the Giants with just 18 plays and three first downs in the second half.

When the two halves were put together, the Giants had more total yards (271 to 254) while Washington had the edge in first downs (16 to 15). Neither team’s defense sacked the other’s quarterback and each suffered just one turnover. Even the penalties were even at five apiece.

Ricky Ervins carried the ball 20 times for 82 yards, all in the second half (the veteran Earnest Byner was held to 11 yards on 10 carries). Mark Rypien completed 12 of 25 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns and one intercepted. Gary Clark was the most prominent receiver with three catches for 70 yards and both Washington TDs.


For the Giants, Jeff Hostetler was successful on 14 of 21 throws for 137 yards with no touchdowns and one picked off. Rodney Hampton (pictured at right) gained 83 yards on 21 carries that included a TD and also caught 6 passes for 39 yards. WR Stephen Baker (“The Touchdown Maker”) gained 77 yards on three pass receptions.

It was the first time the Redskins were ever 8-0 in franchise history. They eventually ran the string to 11-0 before losing to Dallas and ended up atop the NFC East with a 14-2 record. The winning continued on to the Super Bowl, a 37-24 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills. Meanwhile, the defending-champion Giants failed to qualify for the postseason. They ended up with a disappointing 8-8 record to place fourth in the division.

Mark Rypien had a career year, passing for 3564 yards with 28 touchdowns as opposed to 11 interceptions and earning selection to the Pro Bowl. Ricky Ervins (pictured below) saw increasingly more action as the year progressed and ran for 680 yards on 145 carries (4.7 avg.). Gary Clark caught 70 passes for 1340 yards (19.1 avg.) and 10 touchdowns, also earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Until knocked out of action with a back injury twelve games into the season, Jeff Hostetler completed 62.8 % of his passes for 2032 yards and only four interceptions, but with just five TDs. Rodney Hampton was a bright spot on the offense with 1059 yards rushing and 43 catches out of the backfield.

October 26, 2011

1980: Third Quarter Surge Keys Dallas Win Over Chargers


The Dallas Cowboys were 5-2 and a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East (a team they had lost a closely-fought contest to the week before) as they took on the San Diego Chargers (also 5-2) at Texas Stadium on October 26, 1980.

The Cowboys, in their 21st season under Head Coach Tom Landry, were a club that had regularly contended since the mid-60s. Star QB Roger Staubach retired following the 1979 season, however, and 28-year-old Danny White (pictured at right), who had been the backup for the previous four years after coming to Dallas from the World Football League, was now the starting quarterback. He was also still the team’s punter, which would be a factor in the game against San Diego.

The Chargers, coached by Don Coryell, featured an explosive offense directed by QB Dan Fouts and included wide receivers John Jefferson and Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow. RB Chuck Muncie had been obtained from the Saints in September to bolster the suspect running game. The underrated defense featured an outstanding pass rush.

There were 60,639 fans in attendance as Muncie returned the opening kickoff to the San Diego 41. Fouts threw two completions to Jefferson, of 9 and 17 yards, and Rolf Benirschke kicked a 45-yard field goal to give the Chargers the early 3-0 lead. The Cowboys responded by advancing to the San Diego 23, with White connecting with WR Butch Johnson for a 19-yard gain along the way. However, Rafael Septien was wide to the left on a 45-yard field goal attempt.

Late in the first quarter, Fouts was intercepted by CB Steve Wilson, who returned it 35 yards. The Cowboys went the remaining 35 yards in four plays, with White throwing to TE Billy Joe DuPree for a 15-yard gain and RB Ron Springs, in place of the injured Tony Dorsett, running in for a four-yard touchdown.

In the second quarter, Jefferson scored on an odd play when a pass from Fouts intended for Joiner bounced off the receiver’s hands, hit the defender Wilson in the helmet, and was caught on the carom by Jefferson at the Dallas 47. Jefferson continued on untouched to complete the 58-yard scoring play and San Diego regained the lead at 10-7.

Shortly thereafter, White lobbed a pass toward RB James Jones that was intercepted by San Diego LB Woodrow Lowe, who returned it 15 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers were up by ten points at 17-7. The Cowboys responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a White scoring pass covering 17 yards to Johnson with just under three minutes left in the half.

San Diego came right back with a five-play possession that included a Fouts pass to Joiner for 33 yards to the Dallas nine and a TD pass to Winslow. The Chargers got one last scoring opportunity before halftime when SS Pete Shaw recovered a fumble by DuPree at the Dallas 40. But on the last play of the half, Benirschke missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. San Diego held a 24-14 lead at the intermission.

The Cowboys came back decisively, scoring three touchdowns in an 8:15 span of the third quarter. Jones returned the second half kickoff 38 yards and Springs had two ten-yard runs and a 12-yard pass reception. White’s 13-yard pass to TE Jay Saldi got the ball to the ten, and rookie FB Tim Newsome finished off the drive with a one-yard scoring plunge.

Dallas regained the ball and White, who had run for a first down on a fake punt during the first half, did so again following a high snap to gain 12 yards and keep another drive going – with a further 15 yards tacked on for good measure thanks to a penalty on the Chargers for a late hit. White proceeded to throw to WR Tony Hill for a 24-yard gain and the revived possession ended once again with a one-yard run by Newsome. Dallas now had the lead at 28-24.

The third touchdown of the period for Dallas came on a 12-yard pass play from White to Saldi, and the Cowboys were up by a 35-24 margin going into the final quarter.

Any comeback hopes for San Diego were ruined by sloppy play as Fouts was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter and also fumbled the ball away. The Chargers scored just one touchdown in the second half, and it was inconsequential with 1:41 to play as Fouts threw to Winslow from three yards out. Dallas had already scored once again, on a nine-yard touchdown pass from White to DuPree, and the Cowboys won handily, 42-31.

The Chargers outgained Dallas by 449 yards to 425, most of that coming on passes while the Cowboys, even without Dorsett, ran for 198 yards. Dallas also led in first downs, 29 to 21. But San Diego was undone by seven turnovers, to just two given up by the Cowboys. Dallas also had a huge advantage in time of possession (41:52 to 18:08), effectively keeping the ball away from San Diego’s high-powered offense.

Danny White, in addition to completing 22 of 34 passes for 260 yards with three touchdowns against one interception, also twice ran for first downs from punt formation, with a 19-yard gain in the first half and the 12-yard carry in the third quarter that led to the go-ahead TD. He ended up running for 39 yards on six attempts. Billy Joe DuPree (pictured below) caught 5 passes for 45 yards and a TD, although White’s passes were well distributed to nine different receivers. Ron Springs gained 61 yards on 13 carries that included a score.


For the Chargers, Dan Fouts went to the air 44 times and completed 21 of those passes for 371 yards with three TDs but also four interceptions. John Jefferson caught 8 of those throws for 160 yards and a touchdown and Kellen Winslow added 110 yards on 5 receptions with two TDs. Chuck Muncie ran for 71 yards on 11 carries but also fumbled the ball away twice.

“Danny White is just super,” said San Diego’s Coach Coryell. “His scrambling and his making the big plays were the difference. Then on those two runs he made off the punts, well, they were great plays.”

“Neither of White's running plays on punting downs was called,” explained Tom Landry. “Whenever he runs with it, it is his own doing.”

“The runs from punt formation are never planned,” said White. “I did it the first time because their contain men turned their backs. The second time the snap was a little high. I thought it might be blocked and took a few steps to punt, then saw an opening. I know that had to be discouraging to their defense.”

The win allowed the Cowboys to keep pace with Philadelphia in the division race and they finished with the same record as the Eagles at 12-4, but placed second due to the net points tiebreaker. Dallas defeated the Rams handily in the Wild Card playoff and then came from behind to beat Atlanta in the Divisional round, but lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. San Diego went 6-2 the rest of the way to win the AFC West with an 11-5 record, beating Buffalo in the Divisional playoff but losing to Oakland in the AFC title game.

Danny White threw for 3287 yards and ranked fifth in the league with 28 touchdown passes, although he also tied for third (with Green Bay’s Lynn Dickey) with 25 interceptions.

Dan Fouts led the NFL in pass attempts (589), completions (348), and yards (4715). He was one behind the leader in touchdown passes with 30, as opposed to 24 interceptions, and was also second with 8.0 yards per attempt. John Jefferson and Kellen Winslow placed first and second in pass receiving yards, with 1340 and 1290, respectively (Charlie Joiner was fourth with 1132 yards on 71 catches). Winslow led the league with 89 receptions while Jefferson caught 82. All three receivers were consensus first-team All-NFL selections and were named to the Pro Bowl, along with Fouts.

October 25, 2011

1992: “One-Yard War” Allows Eagles to Hold Off Cards in 7-3 Win


The Philadelphia Eagles were 4-2 as they hosted the lowly Phoenix Cardinals at Veterans Stadium on October 25, 1992. Much was expected of the Eagles under second-year Head Coach Rich Kotite. The star-studded defense that was anchored by future Hall of Fame DE Reggie White had been superb in 1991, and was equally adept against both the run and pass. However, star QB Randall Cunningham had been lost to a season-ending knee injury in the first week of the ’91 season, and the offense struggled. The team barely missed the playoffs, and with Cunningham back and joined by free agent RB Herschel Walker, the Eagles were considered to be Super Bowl contenders. The death of star DT Jerome Brown in an offseason car accident had been the one key loss on the defensive unit that had originally been built by Kotite’s predecessor, Buddy Ryan, and was now ably directed by defensive coordinator Bud Carson.

Philadelphia started strong in ’92 with four straight wins, including one by a 31-14 margin at Phoenix, but had lost the previous two games coming into the contest against the Cards. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had endured seven straight losing seasons, appeared well on the way to an eighth, and were frustrating the fans in Arizona, where the franchise had relocated in 1988. Coached by Joe Bugel for the third year, they had a decent passing game operated by QB Chris Chandler, but a mediocre running attack. The defense ranked near the bottom of the league.

There were 64,676 fans in attendance at The Vet on a typical partly-cloudy autumn afternoon in Philadelphia. The Cardinals had first possession and punted, and the Eagles drove to the Phoenix 29 with the key play being a Cunningham pass to WR Vai Sikahema for 19 yards in a third-and-four situation. However, Roger Ruzek’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide and the game was still scoreless after a quarter.

Philadelphia had the ball heading into the second quarter and again drove into Phoenix territory as Cunningham completed a pass to WR Fred Barnett for 16 yards and two to WR Calvin Williams that gained 25. The Eagles failed to convert a fourth-and-one at the Cards’ 24, but they got the ball back on the next play when Chandler threw to FB Larry Centers, who gained 11 yards but fumbled. LB Seth Joyner recovered at the 50, and Philadelphia scored four plays later when Cunningham completed a pass to Williams for a 40-yard touchdown.

The Cardinals responded by driving into Eagles territory, with Chandler throwing to RB Johnny Bailey for a 34-yard gain to the Philadelphia 41 yard line. Getting down to the 27, Chandler passed to WR Randal Hill in a third-and-eight situation, and while Hill gained 13 yards, he fumbled when hit by CB Otis Smith and SS Rich Miano recovered at the one yard line.

It looked like trouble for the Eagles two plays later, however, when a long Cunningham pass was intercepted by CB Aeneas Williams, who returned it 23 yards. The Cardinals had a first down at the Philadelphia three with 3:33 left in the first half, and the visitors were well-positioned to possibly tie the score.

Coach Bugel had been a longtime offensive line coach and his inclination up close to the goal line was to run at the defense – even one as strong as Philadelphia’s, which had not allowed a rushing touchdown thus far in the season. On first down, Bailey gained two yards down to the one. With second-and-goal, Chandler tried a quarterback sneak but was pushed backward and, when he attempted to reach the ball over the goal line, it was slapped out of his hand and recovered by DT Mike Pitts. However, the celebration was cut short when LB Britt Hager was penalized for jumping offside, nullifying the play.

The Cards had dodged a bullet and not only still had a second down but were a half-yard closer to the end zone. They went back to Bailey, who gained nothing as DT Mike Golic and MLB Byron Evans knocked him backward for the loss of a half yard. On third-and-one, Bailey was again stopped – and again, Hager was flagged for being offside. The ball was advanced a half-yard and with another third down play, Chandler again tried to sneak it in. He gained nothing, but the Eagles were penalized once more for being offside – this time, the offender was the other outside linebacker, William Thomas.

While officially there was no gain for Phoenix, the ball was moved half the distance, which meant that the Cardinals still had a third down play, this time from a quarter-of-a-yard. With the home fans in a frenzy and the Eagles defense fired up, Phoenix again sent Bailey toward the line, who dove and was hit hard and repelled by Evans.

There were no flags this time, and it was now fourth-and-goal, with the ball moved back to the one. Coach Bugel called a timeout, but there was no question that the Cardinals would go for it – and that it would be a running play into the line. With the stadium rocking, Bailey took the handoff and headed toward right tackle, directly at Reggie White, who pushed the lead blocker backward and, along with Hager, stopped the play for no gain. Seven plays, six of them from the one yard line or closer, had come up empty. The Eagles, having won what came to be referred to as “The One-Yard War”, ran out the clock and went into halftime with a 7-0 lead.

The rest of the game was anticlimactic. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Cardinals got to the Philadelphia six, but Greg Davis missed a 24-yard field goal attempt. Midway through the period, Ruzek missed for a second time for the Eagles, this time from 42 yards.

Timm Rosenbach replaced Chandler at quarterback for Phoenix, and in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Davis got the Cards on the board with a 34-yard field goal, but that was it. The Eagles recovered a fumble at the Cards’ 26, but any chance to add to the lead ended when Cunningham was sacked for a 15-yard loss on a third-and-20 play that put them out of field goal range. Phoenix responded with a 14-play drive that got to the Philadelphia 22 but came up empty when Rosenbach threw two straight incomplete passes to turn the ball over on downs. The Eagles came away with a hard-fought 7-3 win.


The Cardinals actually outgained Philadelphia (253 yards to 247) and had the edge in first downs (13 to 11). They hurt themselves by turning the ball over four times – and not being able to take advantage of scoring opportunities. As for the Eagles, Cunningham was sacked five times and they had just 84 net passing yards as the offense slumped badly. Philadelphia was also penalized 13 times, as opposed to four flags thrown on the Cards.

Randall Cunningham was successful on just 9 of 20 passes for 121 yards with the lone touchdown and one interception; he also ran for 20 yards on five carries. Herschel Walker had a good day on the ground as he gained 112 yards on 20 attempts. Calvin Williams and Vai Sikahema both caught three passes, with Williams gaining 65 yards and scoring a TD (Sikahema, better known for his abilities as a kick returner, gained 31 yards).

For the Cardinals, Chris Chandler completed 8 of 16 throws for 118 yards with an interception while Timm Rosenbach went 6 of 13 for 45 yards. Johnny Bailey, who had such difficulty in the goal-line stand, was the top ground gainer with 55 yards on 14 carries and also caught three passes for 53 yards. Randal Hill had 5 receptions for 76 yards.

The Eagles remained an inconsistent club through the middle of the season, but won their last four games to finish in second place in the NFC East with an 11-5 record; they qualified for a wild card berth in the postseason and beat the Saints in the first round before losing to division-rival Dallas at the Divisional level. Phoenix won its next two games but only one more thereafter to end up at the bottom of the division with a 4-12 tally.

The Philadelphia defense, missing Jerome Brown and suffering some injuries during the year, didn’t rank as high as in 1991, but was still formidable (fifth vs. the run, 12th against the pass, sixth overall). It would begin to fall apart in the offseason, most notably with the departure of Reggie White through free agency, and over the next few years other key players would follow.

October 24, 2011

1964: Bills Surge from Behind in Fourth Quarter to Beat Jets


The Buffalo Bills were undefeated at 6-0 as they hosted the New York Jets in an American Football League game on October 24, 1964. In their third season under Head Coach Lou Saban, Buffalo had a ball-control offense featuring the running of FB Cookie Gilchrist and the passing of QB Jack Kemp, who was frequently relieved by second-year backup Daryle Lamonica (pictured above) if the offense was bogging down or needed a change of pace. Another weapon, rookie Pete Gogolak, added to the team’s scoring potential with his then-unique soccer-style placekicking. The defense was the league’s best across the board.

The Jets were in their second season under the guidance of Head Coach Weeb Ewbank. The refurbished club was benefiting at the gate, having moved into the new Shea Stadium at Flushing Meadows. Rookie FB Matt Snell was Gilchrist’s rival for the AFL rushing title and there were outstanding receivers for strong-armed but immobile QB Dick Wood to throw to in flanker Don Maynard and split end Bake Turner. New York had played one less game than the Bills thus far and brought a 3-1-1 record into the game.

There were 39,621 fans present at War Memorial Stadium for the Saturday night contest. They saw the visitors score first as Wood threw to Turner for a seven-yard touchdown. Gogolak cut that to 7-3 in the second quarter with a 12-yard field goal, but New York responded with another TD, again on a pass by Wood - this time to Maynard from 12 yards out. The Bills cut New York’s lead with less than two minutes remaining in the half as Kemp connected with fleet flanker Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion on a 44-yard touchdown play. The score was 14-10 in favor of the Jets at halftime.

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, the Jets extended their margin when Wood threw to Maynard for a 15-yard TD. Six minutes later, Jim Turner added another three points with a nine-yard field goal, and it seemed as though an upset was in the making with New York ahead by a 24-10 score.

Lamonica came on in relief of Kemp and led the Bills on an 80-yard drive in six plays. On the final play of the third quarter, rookie HB Bobby Smith finished off the possession when he ran off tackle for a 13-yard touchdown. With the successful extra point, the tally stood at 24-17 entering the fourth quarter.

It was all Buffalo in the final period. The Bills defense completely shut down New York’s attack. Lamonica threw to Dubenion for a 44-yard TD that, with Gogolak’s successful conversion, evened the score at 24-24 with 7:44 to go. The Bills went ahead to stay less than four minutes later as Lamonica dove into the end zone to finish off a three-yard run. Gogolak concluded the scoring with a 31-yard field goal and the Bills came away with a 34-24 win to keep their record perfect for another week.

Buffalo outgained the Jets (527 yards to 245) and had more first downs (20 to 15). However, the Bills also turned the ball over three times, to none by New York. The Jets averaged just 2.3 yards per carry on the ground (66 yards on 29 attempts) while Buffalo gained 180 on 37 rushes (4.9 avg.). In the anticipated showdown between the AFL’s top two rushers, neither Cookie Gilchrist (15 carries for 27 yards) nor Matt Snell (28 yards on 12 attempts) was a factor.

Bobby Smith was the rushing star for Buffalo, gaining 98 yards on 12 carries with a TD, and was especially effective during the second-half comeback. Elbert Dubenion (pictured below) had a huge performance with 5 catches for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Jack Kemp completed 8 of 16 passes for 220 yards with a touchdown and an interception while Daryle Lamonica was successful on 4 of 11 throws for 127 yards, also with a TD and one picked off, in his fourth successful relief effort of the year.


For the Jets, Dick Wood went to the air 40 times and completed 16 for 183 yards with three touchdowns and none intercepted. While Matt Snell didn’t accomplish much running the ball, he caught a team-leading 6 passes, for 48 yards. Bake Turner gained 74 yards on his 5 pass receptions and Don Maynard added four for 53 yards and two scores. HB Bill Mathis topped the running game, such as it was, with 34 yards on 12 attempts.

The Bills ran their record to 9-0 before being beaten by the Patriots; as it was, they finished first in the Eastern Division with a 12-2 tally and defeated San Diego for the AFL Championship. The Jets, after the promising start, won the next week against the Patriots but then lost six of their last seven games (including the rematch with Buffalo at Shea Stadium) as injuries accrued (especially in the defensive backfield) to end up at 5-8-1 and third in the division.

The quarterback combination continued to be productive for the Bills. Jack Kemp led the AFL in yards per attempt (8.5) and yards per completion (19.2 – a full three yards better than runner-up Cotton Davidson of the Raiders). The savvy 29-year-old veteran threw for 2285 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as 26 interceptions, and was named to the league’s All-Star Game. Daryle Lamonica completed 55 of 128 throws (43.0 %) for 1137 yards with six TDs against eight interceptions. He also ran for 289 yards and six touchdowns (Kemp, also mobile, gained 124 yards and scored five times).

Elbert Dubenion caught 42 passes for 1139 yards (a gaudy 27.1 average) and 10 touchdowns. Like Kemp, he was named an AFL All-Star. While Cookie Gilchrist was the league’s leading rusher (981 yards), Bobby Smith, as he showed against the Jets, was an able change-of-pace runner and averaged 4.9 yards-per-carry (306 yards on 62 attempts). Pete Gogolak paved the way for more soccer-style kickers as he booted 19 field goals in 29 attempts and placed second in scoring with 102 points.

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(NOTE TO READERS: Today's post marks the second anniversary of the launch of Today in Pro Football History. For regular readers, thank you, as always I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to do so. For newcomers, I encourage you to take a look at the archived material. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome - there is an email link on my profile page.)

October 23, 2011

MVP Profile: John Elway, 1987

Quarterback, Denver Broncos


Age: 27
5th season in pro football & with Broncos
College: Stanford
Height: 6’3” Weight: 210

Prelude:
The top-rated quarterback prospect among a strong crop, Elway was the first overall choice in the 1983 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. Balking at playing under the head coach of the Colts, Frank Kush, his rights were traded to the Broncos. An immensely talented athlete, Elway had an outstanding passing arm and mobility, but struggled during a rookie season in which he was put in the starting lineup too quickly. Improvement came steadily and he threw for 3891 yards with a league-leading 605 pass attempts in 1985 (although he also tossed a career-high 23 interceptions). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time following the 1986 season, as he led the Broncos to an AFC Championship, although they lost the Super Bowl convincingly to the Giants.

1987 Season Summary
Appeared and started in 12 of 15 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Passing
Attempts – 410 [6]
Most attempts, game – 48 at Green Bay 9/20
Completions – 224 [9]
Most completions, game – 30 at Green Bay 9/20
Yards – 3198 [4]
Most yards, game – 347 at San Diego 11/29
Completion percentage – 54.6
Yards per attempt – 7.8 [3]
TD passes – 19 [8, tied with Jim Kelly]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Seattle 9/13
Interceptions – 12 [13, tied with Neil Lomax & Randall Cunningham]
Most interceptions, game – 3 at Green Bay 9/20
Passer rating – 83.4 [13]
300-yard passing games – 4
200-yard passing games – 10

Rushing
Attempts – 66
Most attempts, game - 11 (for 20 yds.) vs. Kansas City 12/19
Yards – 304
Most yards, game – 42 yards (on 4 carries) vs. Detroit 11/1
Yards per attempt – 4.6
TDs – 4

Punting
Punts – 1
Yards – 31
Average – 31.0
Punts blocked – 0

Scoring
TDs – 4
Points - 24

Postseason: 3 G
Pass attempts – 89
Most attempts, game - 38 vs. Washington, Super Bowl
Pass completions – 42
Most completions, game - 14 vs. Houston, AFC Divisional playoff, vs. Cleveland, AFC Championship, vs. Washington, Super Bowl
Passing yardage – 797
Most yards, game - 281 vs. Cleveland, AFC Championship
TD passes – 6
Most TD passes, game - 3 vs. Cleveland, AFC Championship
Interceptions – 5
Most interceptions, game - 3 vs. Washington, Super Bowl

Rushing attempts – 18
Most rushing attempts, game - 11 vs. Cleveland, AFC Championship
Rushing yards – 76
Most rushing yards, game - 36 vs. Cleveland, AFC Championship
Average gain rushing – 4.2
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP
1st team All-NFL: NEA, Sporting News
2nd team All-NFL: AP
1st team All-AFC: UPI, Pro Football Weekly
Pro Bowl

Broncos went 10-4-1 to finish first in the AFC West and as the top playoff seed in the conference while also leading the AFC in total yardage (5624) and passing yards (3654) in the strike-shortened season. Won AFC Divisional playoff over Houston Oilers (34-10) and AFC Championship over Cleveland Browns (38-33). Lost Super Bowl to Washington Redskins (42-10).

Aftermath:
The Broncos made a third trip to the Super Bowl in 1989, and Elway again was selected for the Pro Bowl, but it ended in another defeat. He and the Broncos finally achieved back-to-back NFL Championships in 1997 and ’98, his last two seasons. Along the way, he was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times (including each of his last three years). His most impressive statistical season was in 1993, as he led the NFL in pass attempts (551), completions (348), and yards (4030) – the last two were career highs – and had a passer rating of 92.8 (his best until a 93.0 achieved in his final year). Upon his retirement, Elway ranked second in career completions (4123) and yards (51,475) and third in TD passes (300). He also rushed for 3407 yards. His #7 was retired by the Broncos and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2004.

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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 2/13/14]

October 22, 2011

1939: Dodgers Defeat Eagles in First Televised NFL Game


Today, pro football on television is big business and a very big draw. Bringing the game to the viewing public had a huge effect on its growth, especially from the 1960s on. It got its start at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York on October 22, 1939 in a game between the host Brooklyn Dodgers and visiting Philadelphia Eagles. While there were 13,051 fans in attendance at the stadium, there were also two cameras and a crew of eight for the first televised pro football game (as opposed to a minimum of six cameras and a crew of some 200 for a telecast today).

Station W2XBS, forerunner of the NBC network, televised the contest with Allen “Skip” Walz handling the broadcasting. The production was largely an experiment and followed up the first college football telecast, between Fordham and Waynesburg, three weeks earlier. There were only about 1000 television sets in New York City (the telecast could also be seen on monitors at the RCA Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair) and the resolution of the small black-and-white picture was grainy. When clouds rolled in and decreased the available light, the quality suffered accordingly – to the point that the crew had to revert to a radio broadcast when it became too dark.

The matchup of teams was nothing special. The Dodgers, under Head Coach George “Potsy” Clark, were 2-2-1, including 0-2-1 in their last three games (there was a scoreless tie at Philadelphia). The Eagles, with owner Bert Bell also acting as head coach, had yet to win a contest and were 0-3-1.

In the first quarter, HB Ralph Kercheval intercepted a pass and returned it to the Philadelphia 30 yard line. The Dodgers gained two first downs thanks to the running of FB Pug Manders and tailback Ace Parker. Parker threw to end Perry Schwartz, who reached the eight. Two plays later, Manders bulled in for a touchdown.

The Eagles came back to tie the score thanks to a 44-yard drive in the second quarter. Diminutive rookie tailback Davey O’Brien (5’7”, 150), newly inserted into the lineup following the opening period, threw three completions and was helped by two penalties on the Dodgers. Rookie HB Fran Murray ran around end for a one-yard touchdown and Hank Reese converted.

In the third quarter, Kercheval put the Dodgers back in front with a 44-yard field goal. Shortly thereafter, Parker connected with Schwartz again for a 47-yard touchdown. Kercheval kicked two more field goals in short order in the fourth quarter, from 38 and 44 yards.


O’Brien provided some excitement in the final period as he threw to end Bill Hewitt (pictured at left) for a 22-yard TD to close out the scoring, but the result was a 23-14 win for Brooklyn.

Three players (Parker, end Waddy Young, and tackle Bruiser Kinard) played a full 60 minutes for the Dodgers. Brooklyn outgained the Eagles, 268 yards to 170, while each team had 10 first downs. Ralph Kercheval kicked three field goals in five attempts and added two extra points for Brooklyn. Pug Manders, moving from blocking back to fullback for the Dodgers, ran for 113 yards on 29 carries. Ace Parker was successful on 8 of his 19 throws for 116 yards and a touchdown. For the Eagles, Davey O’Brien completed 11 of 25 passes for 140 yards with a TD and one intercepted.

All of this occurred with broadcaster Walz adding his commentary (and often correctly forecasting Coach Clark’s calls) while sitting in a mezzanine seat along the railing with an iconoscope camera over his shoulder (the other camera, placed at field-level at the 50 didn’t work well and was little-used in the telecast).

“I did my own spotting, and when the play moved up and down the field on punts and kickoffs, I’d point to tell the cameraman what I’d be talking about,” said Walz later. “We also used hand signals for communication. Producer Burke Crotty was in the mobile unit truck, and he’d tell me over the headphones which camera he was using.”

For the most part, the players were unaware that they were being televised (Brooklyn FB Sam Francis said he noticed “a big trailer thing” parked outside the stadium), and the newspaper accounts didn’t mention it at all. The significance would come in retrospect, once television became a far more important medium and its role in the development of the sport more apparent.

Brooklyn went on to finish third in the Eastern Division with a 4-6-1 record. The Eagles ended up tied with Pittsburgh at the bottom at 1-9-1. And from the modest beginning broadcasting in obscurity to some 1000 people, pro football on television was watched by nearly 208 million viewers in 2010, with an average of almost 18 million per game and some 162.9 million for Super Bowl XLV.

October 21, 2011

1979: 49ers Beat Falcons for First Win Under Bill Walsh


In his first season as head coach/general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh had suffered through seven losses without winning a game as they prepared to face the Atlanta Falcons on October 21, 1979 at Candlestick Park. To be sure, not much had been expected, for he had inherited a club that was a mess. From a team that had played for the NFC Championship in 1970 and ’71, the 49ers had dropped to a league- and franchise-worst 2-14 record in 1978. New owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. had hired Joe Thomas as general manager in ’77, and after two seasons of wheeling-and-dealing, and going through three head coaches (one interim), Thomas had been sent packing. In that period, QB Jim Plunkett had been let go (to resurface with the Raiders), as well as popular veteran WR Gene Washington, and productive players such as RB Delvin Williams, DE Tommy Hart, and G Woody Peoples were traded away for little return. Meanwhile, over-the-hill RB O.J. Simpson came to the 49ers from Buffalo at a big price – well beyond what he was now capable of producing as his career slid downward.

The 47-year-old Walsh had most recently been head coach at Stanford University and was known for having an innovative approach to the passing game. As an assistant with Oakland in the mid-60s and then, more prominently, under Paul Brown with the Cincinnati Bengals, he had begun to develop what came to be known as the West Coast offense, which featured a short-to-medium passing game, characterized by low-risk throws spread around to several receivers. He developed QB Ken Anderson into a precision passer and, as an assistant with the Chargers for a year before accepting the position at Stanford, played a significant role in the growth of QB Dan Fouts.


San Francisco had drafted QB Joe Montana out of Notre Dame in the third round of the 1979 NFL draft, but for the first year it would be Steve DeBerg (pictured at right) behind center, a second-year pro who threw 22 interceptions in ’78. The team was in early rebuilding mode – and played like it.

The 49ers were the last still-winless team in the NFL as they hosted the Falcons (3-4). They started things off in exciting fashion in the first quarter as WR Freddie Solomon scored a 56-yard touchdown on a reverse, thanks to a block by G John Ayres.

In the second quarter, and following a fumble recovery by LB Robert Pennywell, Tim Mazzetti kicked a 23-yard field goal to put the Falcons on the board. Atlanta took advantage of another San Francisco turnover, this time an interception by CB Rolland Lawrence, and WR Alfred Jenkins scored on a seven-yard pass from QB Steve Bartkowski. The extra point attempt was missed, but the Falcons took a 9-7 lead into halftime.

The 49ers got back in front late in the third quarter. HB Paul Hofer scored on a two-yard run with 2:36 remaining in the period and San Francisco held a 14-9 lead. But a lapse on special teams worked to Atlanta’s benefit. Lawrence ran 41 yards with a punt blocked by DB Frank Reed to score for the Falcons in the fourth quarter, putting them back in front. Mazzetti had his second extra point attempt of the game blocked, leaving the tally at 15-14.

Following the Atlanta touchdown, the 49ers drove 70 yards for the winning score in the fourth quarter. DeBerg completed all six of his passes along the way and Hofer capped the drive with his second TD, this time from three yards out, with 5:30 to go. The extra point was no good (it was not a great day for the kicking game on either side), but the Niners nevertheless held a five-point lead.

The Falcons still had a chance, but CB Gerard Williams batted down a Bartkowski pass at the San Francisco 25 that would have given the Falcons a first down and followed that up with an interception to seal the 20-15 win.

The 49ers led in total yards with 397, to Atlanta’s 214, and also had the lead in first downs, 22 to 13. Both teams turned the ball over twice, and there were just three penalties called (two on San Francisco, one on the Falcons).

Paul Hofer (pictured below) was a hero of the game for the Niners. Even though he ran for just 33 yards on 10 carries, two were touchdowns, and he caught 7 passes for 84 yards, several coming in key situations. Steve DeBerg completed 24 of 37 throws for 245 yards with no TDs and one intercepted. Freddie Solomon, with the long scoring run on the reverse, led the club in rushing with 68 yards on two attempts. FB Wilbur Jackson gained 29 yards on 13 carries and O.J. Simpson added 10 rushes for 21 yards.


Steve Bartkowski was successful on just 13 of 27 passes for the Falcons, for 126 yards and a touchdown as well as an interception. RB Lynn Cain gained 58 yards on 11 attempts. FB William Andrews was the top receiver with 6 catches for 41 yards while rushing for 36 yards on 12 carries. WR Wallace Francis gained 71 yards on his 5 receptions.

“We’ve been working too hard and losing too many close ones to let this one get away,” said Steve DeBerg afterward.

“I'm trying to be casual about this,” a smiling Walsh said when it was all over, “but it was great to win. I knew sooner or later this would happen. I hope it’s the start of a solid finish. No question, this was our best performance of the year.”

San Francisco returned to its losing ways with a one-point loss the next week to the Bears. In fact, the Niners lost six straight before winning another game and finishing again at 2-14 and at the bottom of the NFC West. The Falcons went 6-10 to place third in the division.

While it was another poor finish for the 49ers, things would improve in 1980, at which point Montana supplanted DeBerg, and in ’81 the pieces were in place for a championship. Walsh would direct the team to three Super Bowl victories before stepping aside, and his West Coast offense would quickly become popular throughout the NFL.

As a footnote, Steve DeBerg prospered in ’79 as he set league records with 578 pass attempts and 347 completions. He ranked third with a 60.0 completion percentage and threw for 3652 yards with 17 touchdowns. While he still tossed 21 interceptions, it was one less than he threw in ’78 on 276 fewer pass attempts. His future would not be in San Francisco, but he went on to play 17 years in the NFL with six different teams.

October 20, 2011

1957: Lions Overcome 24-Point Halftime Deficit to Beat Colts


The undefeated Baltimore Colts (3-0) were a team on the rise as they took on the Detroit Lions (2-1) on October 20, 1957 at Briggs Stadium. The Colts had beaten the Lions at home by a comfortable 34-14 score in the season-opening game. Coached by Weeb Ewbank, they had been meticulously built into a winning club. The crowning touch had been the addition of unheralded QB Johnny Unitas, who took over for an injured George Shaw in 1956 and was excelling in his first full season starting behind center – already, he had thrown eight scoring passes.

The Lions had regularly contended throughout the decade and won back-to-back league titles in 1952 and ’53. However, the head coach who had built the club into a winner, Buddy Parker, abruptly quit on the eve of the ’57 preseason and was replaced by George Wilson. The team still had the quarterback who had led them to championships, Bobby Layne (pictured above), but they also had acquired QB Tobin Rote from the Packers as insurance (Layne had experienced injury problems in the previous two years) and Wilson had them sharing the starting job. They also were still a strong defensive club with an all-star backfield of safeties Jack Christiansen and Yale Lary and halfbacks Jim David and Terry Barr and a great middle linebacker in Joe Schmidt.

There were 55,764 fans at Briggs Stadium and they suffered through a difficult first half for the home team. The Colts dominated, with Detroit’s offense not advancing beyond the Baltimore 20 until the third quarter. Unitas put the Colts ahead with a 15-yard touchdown pass to end Jim Mutscheller in the opening period. In the second quarter, Jim Martin kicked a 47-yard field goal to get the Lions on the board. But two long Unitas pass plays, of 72 yards to HB Lenny Moore and 66 yards to Mutscheller, had Baltimore comfortably in front at halftime by a score of 21-3.

In the third quarter, the margin increased when Unitas threw a fourth scoring pass to Moore that covered four yards. While the extra point was missed, it hardly seemed to matter as the Colts were ahead by a 24-point margin at 27-3. The Lions finally got on the board again when Rote threw to end Steve Junker for a 14-yard touchdown. Still, with the tally at 27-10 entering the final period, some fans began making their way to the exits.


Layne directed the Lions on a 49-yard drive that started with a pass to HB Howard “Hopalong” Cassady (pictured at left) for nine yards and another, to end Steve Junker, for 14 more. Layne finished the possession off by connecting again with Cassady for a 26-yard touchdown that narrowed Baltimore’s margin to ten points.

The ball changed hands three more times before Baltimore FB Alan Ameche fumbled at midfield and Jim David recovered to give the Lions possession at the Colts’ 46. The Lions scored in six plays as, down to two minutes to play, Layne threw to Cassady for eight yards and FB John Henry Johnson ran for seven. Cassady made a leaping catch at the one yard line and Johnson followed up with a touchdown that cut the margin to 27-24.

Detroit decided not to try an onside kick and the gamble paid off when Moore fumbled the ball back to the Lions on an end run at his own 29. Layne again threw to Cassady, who leaped between two defenders and pulled the ball down in the end zone for 29 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Detroit held on to win by a final score of 31-27.

The Lions outgained Baltimore (369 yards to 322) and had more first downs (20 to 15). They also sacked Unitas four times, while neither Detroit quarterback was thrown for a loss. Most damaging for the Colts, they suffered six turnovers, to four by the Lions.

Howard Cassady led both teams in rushing (71 yards) and pass receiving yards (113, on 6 catches). Bobby Layne completed 8 of 21 passes for 139 yards with two TDs and two interceptions, and as usual was at his best in the clutch.

Johnny Unitas was successful on 16 of 21 throws for 239 yards with four touchdown passes for the Colts, giving him 12 in four games. He was intercepted once. Lenny Moore caught 6 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Jim Mutscheller (pictured below) gained 107 yards on his 5 catches that also included two for scores.


“It was the greatest finish I've seen in pro ball,” said Coach George Wilson. “We just didn't let down.”

“It was Hoppy’s game,” added Wilson, referring to Cassady. “I think he’s finally finding himself. Right now he’s the most improved receiver we have.”

Cassady, a Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State, hadn’t scored at all as a rookie, running for 413 yards and catching nine passes and returning kicks. He had been considered a bit of a disappointment and was a backup to less-heralded HB Gene Gedman.

The Lions and Colts dueled for the Western Conference title throughout the season. The Lions lost their next two games but won five of the last six to end up in a tie with the 49ers at 8-4. It was very nearly not enough, for Baltimore, after losing its next two games, won four straight and headed for the West Coast and last two contests with a 7-3 record. They suffered two tough losses to the 49ers and Rams (a win at Los Angeles could have created a three-way deadlock) and finished in third place at 7-5.

By the end, Bobby Layne was out with a broken leg, but Tobin Rote led the Lions to the come-from-behind playoff win over San Francisco and a 59-14 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns to win the NFL Championship. Between them (and in an arrangement that neither liked), Layne and Rote passed for 2239 yards with 17 touchdowns. Layne, no longer the running quarterback he had once been, contributed 99 yards on the ground while Rote, the league’s premier rushing QB, gained 366 yards on 70 carries.

Johnny Unitas served notice of coming greatness as he led the NFL in passing yards (2550), TD passes (24), and yards per attempt (8.5). His 301 pass attempts also ranked first, while his 172 completions placed second, as did his 57.1 completion percentage – and 17 interceptions.

“Hopalong” Cassady rushed for fewer yards than as a rookie, with 250 on 73 carries, but was much more productive as a receiver, catching 25 passes for 325 yards (13.0 avg.) and three touchdowns. It set the tone for the remainder of his eight-year career in which he was used less as a running halfback and more as a receiver.

October 19, 2011

MVP Profile: Tommy Reamon, 1974

Running Back, Florida Blazers



Age: 22
1st season in pro football
College: Missouri
Height: 5’9” Weight: 191

Prelude:
Chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 9th round of the 1974 NFL draft, Reamon instead signed with the WFL’s Virginia Ambassadors, who became the Florida Blazers by the time the season started. The youngest player on the team, he nevertheless became the feature back.

1974 Season Summary
Appeared in all 20 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Rushing
Attempts – 386 [1]
Most attempts, game - 35 (for 189 yds.) at Charlotte 10/23
Yards – 1576 [1]
Most yards, game – 189 yards (on 35 carries) at Charlotte 10/23
Average gain – 4.1 [13]
TDs – 11 [3, tied with J.J. Jennings & Bubba Wyche]

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 38
Yards – 336
Average gain – 8.8
TDs – 3

Passing
Pass attempts – 4
Pass completions – 3
Passing yards – 152
TD passes – 2
Interceptions – 0

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 6
Yards – 168
Average per return – 28.0
TDs – 0
Longest return – 42 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 1
Yards – 0
Average per return – 0.0
TDs – 0

Scoring
TDs – 14 [5]
Action Points – 3 [9, tied with twelve others]
Points – 101 [5]
(Note: Touchdowns counted for 7 points in the WFL)

Postseason: 3 G
Rushing attempts – 55
Most rushing attempts, game - 25 at Memphis, Second Round playoff
Rushing yards – 238
Most rushing yards, game - 125 at Memphis, Second Round playoff
Average gain rushing – 4.3
Rushing TDs – 1

Pass receptions – 2
Most pass receptions, game - 1 vs. Philadelphia, First Round playoff, at Birmingham, World Bowl
Pass receiving yards - 52
Most pass receiving yards, game - 39 at Birmingham, World Bowl
Average yards per reception – 26.0
Pass Receiving TDs - 1

Awards & Honors:
WFL MVP: League (co-winner)
1st team All-WFL: League, Sporting News

Blazers went 14-6 to finish first in the WFL Eastern Division, despite deep financial problems that led to the players often not receiving paychecks. Won First Round playoff over Philadelphia Bell (18-3) and Second Round playoff over Memphis Southmen (18-15). Lost World Bowl to Birmingham Americans (22-21).

Aftermath:
The Blazers disbanded following the ’74 season and Reamon played for the WFL’s Jacksonville Express in 1975 but was injured by the time the league folded in October – he ended up with just 278 yards rushing and 16 pass receptions. Reamon signed with the Steelers in ’76 and played in the preseason, but was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs and gained 314 yards rushing and caught 10 passes while also returning kickoffs. After failing to make the Chicago Bears in ’77, where he had been reunited with ex-Blazers Head Coach Jack Pardee, Reamon moved on to the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. He failed to catch on with the NFL Redskins in 1978 and his pro football career ended. Afterward, he appeared in the movie “North Dallas Forty” and did some television acting before moving into high school and college football coaching.

--

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 2/13/14]

October 18, 2011

1993: Raiders Overcome Elway Heroics to Beat Broncos on Long FG


The Monday Night Football matchup on October 18, 1993 featured two NFC West rivals, the host Denver Broncos and visiting Los Angeles Raiders. Both teams were at 3-2 coming into the key contest.

Not much had been expected of the Raiders, under Head Coach Art Shell, coming into the ’93 season - they had been a mediocre 7-9 in 1992. The signing of free agent QB Jeff Hostetler (pictured at right) made a difference (one of the losses came in a game he missed due to injury), and he had dependable WR Tim Brown to throw to, as well as the speedy trio of James Jett, Alexander Wright, and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. However, the running game and defense were suspect.

Denver had a new head coach in Wade Phillips, who had replaced Dan Reeves, the team’s mentor for 12 years. While Reeves had led the club to six playoff appearances in that time, including three AFC Championships, the Broncos had dropped to 8-8 in 1992. Reeves moved on to the Giants while Phillips was elevated from defensive coordinator. To be sure, John Elway (pictured below) remained at quarterback, and his importance to the team had been evidenced by the 0-4 record when he was out with an injury in ‘92. Jim Fassel, his college quarterback coach, was hired as offensive coordinator. TE Shannon Sharpe had emerged as Elway’s go-to receiver but, like the Raiders, the running game had been questionable thus far.


There were 75,712 fans in attendance at Mile High Stadium as the Broncos took the opening kickoff and drove from their 20 to the LA 11 yard line, but an Elway pass was intercepted by SS Derrick Hoskins in the end zone and returned 14 yards. The Raiders made the most of it, although initially the resulting possession appeared to have run out of gas at the LA 36. However, Denver was offside on a punt, allowing Los Angeles to maintain the drive, and then Hostetler threw to Brown for a 45-yard gain to the Broncos’ 19. Three plays later, Hostetler threw to Wright for an 11-yard touchdown.

Following a three-and-out possession by Denver, Brown returned the resulting punt 32 yards and, five plays afterward, Jeff Jaeger kicked a 32-yard field goal. The Raiders led by 10-0 after one quarter of play.

Los Angeles scored again early in the second quarter on a 49-yard Jaeger field goal. The teams traded punts for the remainder of the half, although an aborted kick by Denver’s Tom Rouen led to the Raiders getting the ball with good field position at the Broncos’ 38 with 1:15 remaining on the clock. However, another 49-yard three-point attempt by Jaeger was nullified by a holding penalty and LA was forced to punt. The Raiders went into halftime with a 13-0 lead.

Denver got a break in the third quarter when, after a sack that knocked Hostetler briefly out of the game, LA’s backup QB Vince Evans was intercepted by SS Dennis Smith, giving the Broncos the ball at the Raiders’ 39. With RB Rod Bernstine carrying the ball five times and Elway throwing to Sharpe for a 12-yard gain, Denver got to the LA six, but a delay of game penalty and 14-yard loss on a sack created a fourth-and-25 situation. Jason Elam’s 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked by DE Howie Long, but once again a penalty on a special teams play hurt the Raiders as CB James Trapp was called for running into the kicker. With a second chance, Elam was successful from 40 yards to put Denver on the board.

Following a short possession by the Raiders, the Broncos drove into scoring position again on a series highlighted by a pass from Elway to WR Derek Russell that gained 33 yards. But Denver came up empty when Elam was wide on a 42-yard field goal attempt, and the score remained 13-3 entering the fourth quarter.

The Broncos started off the final period with a 55-yard drive in seven plays that ended with Elway throwing to WR Arthur Marshall for a 27-yard touchdown that, with the successful extra point, brought them within a field goal of the Raiders. They scored again in short order when, on the first play of LA’s ensuing possession, Hostetler fumbled and NT Greg Kragen recovered for Denver at the Raiders’ five. Two plays later, Elway hit TE Reggie Johnson with a two-yard scoring pass and the Broncos had a 17-13 lead. It appeared that the star quarterback was once again working his come-from-behind magic.

The Raiders wasted no time regaining the lead, however. Hostetler threw to Jett for a 74-yard touchdown on the first play after the kickoff and once again Los Angeles held a three-point lead at 20-17. Denver got the ball with 10:25 to play and put together an 11-play, 62-yard drive highlighted by a 43-yard gain on a pass from Elway to Russell to the Raiders’ 46. Another pass to Russell, for 11 yards, allowed the Broncos to convert a third-and-eight situation and the possession ended with Elam kicking a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20.

The teams traded punts, and with 2:37 on the clock, the Raiders took over at their 39. Hostetler threw to Brown for 20 yards on a third-and-six play and LA was able to run the clock down to 21 seconds, at which point Jaeger booted a 53-yard field goal that just made it successfully. Time ran out on the Broncos at their 18 yard line, and the Raiders came away with a 23-20 win.

Los Angeles outgained the Broncos with 308 total yards to 253, although Denver had 18 first downs to LA’s 12. The Raiders ran the ball poorly, gaining just 53 yards on 23 attempts, but had 308 net passing yards – Denver, by comparison, rushed for 132 yards and had 253 through the air. Elway was sacked seven times by the Raiders (three by DE Greg Townsend) who, characteristically, were also penalized 13 times.


Jeff Hostetler, who was sacked just twice, connected on 15 of his 24 passes for 264 yards with two touchdowns and none intercepted. Tim Brown (pictured at right) led the receivers with 6 catches for 116 yards; John Jett’s 74-yard scoring catch was his lone reception of the game, and the combination of Jett, Alexander Wright, and Raghib Ismail contributed 7 receptions for 136 yards and two scores. RB Greg Robinson led what there was of a running game with 27 yards on nine carries.

For the Broncos, John Elway, who performed so well in the fourth quarter, was successful on 16 of 30 throws for 188 yards with two TDs against one interception. Derek Russell (pictured below) caught 5 of those passes for 111 yards. Rod Bernstine rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries.

“It was an ugly kick,” said Jeff Jaeger of his game-winning field goal. “It was so low. But it went through, and that's all that counts. Let it be as ugly as can be if it goes through the uprights.”


The Raiders defeated Denver again at home in the season finale and ended up second in the AFC West with a 10-6 record, good enough for a wild card spot and fourth seed in the playoffs. The Broncos were right behind at 9-7 and also made the postseason as a wild card. The two teams met for a third time in the first round and the Raiders won their most convincing victory of the three encounters by a 42-24 score. LA lost to Buffalo at the Divisional level.

Elway had a Pro Bowl year as he led the league in pass attempts (551), completions (348), and yards (4030), ranked second in touchdown passes (25), and third in completion percentage (63.2) and passing (92.8 rating).

Jeff Hostetler threw for 3242 yards and placed fourth in yards per attempt (7.7) and second in yards per completion (13.7). Tim Brown continued to be his leading target as he caught 80 passes for 1180 yards and seven TDs and placed fifth in the league in all-purpose yards with 1652.

October 17, 2011

1976: Seahawks Defeat Bucs in Battle of Expansion Teams


The NFL game on October 17, 1976 at Tampa Stadium was derisively referred to as “Expansion Bowl I”. Both the host Buccaneers and visiting Seattle Seahawks were first-year expansion teams and their records were each equally imperfect at 0-5.

Tampa Bay was coached by John McKay, who had been highly successful in the college ranks at Southern California. A veteran quarterback, ex-49er Steve Spurrier, had been obtained but was operating behind a substandard line and supported by a nondescript group of running backs. Brothers Lee Roy and Dewey Selmon, the top two draft choices, would both pay future dividends at defensive end and linebacker, respectively, but were battling injuries as rookies. As a result, the defense was poor, especially against the pass. The Bucs had been shut out three times already, and only reached double figures in points scored in one of the five games (they lost to the Colts by a score of 42-17).

The Seahawks, under Head Coach Jack Patera, were dealing with expansion-team woes but seemed the more promising of the clubs. Three unheralded rookies - QB Jim Zorn, WR Steve Largent, and RB Sherman Smith - had emerged as capable starting players on offense. However, the defense gave up far too many points – in fact, more than Tampa Bay at that point (153 points vs. 120), but two of their losses, to the Cardinals and Packers, had been by seven points or less.

There were 43,812 fans present for the showdown between the NFL’s newcomers. Eleven penalties were called in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game. Dave Green kicked a 38-yard field goal, and the Buccaneers were in front by 3-0 after a period of play.

In the second quarter, the Seahawks drove 86 yards in eight plays in a drive kept alive by a fake punt by Rick Engles, who ran 13 yards for a first down in a fourth-and-four situation at his own 48. The possession culminated in a Zorn pass to WR Sam McCullum for a 15-yard touchdown after an apparent scoring pass to Largent was nullified by a penalty.

Later, it appeared that Seattle had a second touchdown when Smith ran into the end zone from two yards out, but it was called back due to yet another penalty and the Seahawks had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by John Leypoldt. Leypoldt kicked another field goal from 39 yards before the first half was over. Meanwhile, Green’s 35-yard field goal attempt for Tampa Bay was blocked by Seattle safety Lyle Blackwood and the Seahawks took a 13-3 lead into halftime.

Late in the third quarter, the Buccaneers put together a scoring drive after LB Richard Wood recovered a fumble at the Tampa Bay 46. Penalties, plus runs of 12 and 9 yards by HB Essex Johnson, led to a first-and-goal at the Seattle one. After two plunges into the line failed to penetrate into the end zone, HB Lewis Carter took the handoff on third down, was pushed back, and flipped the ball to an unsuspecting WR Morris Owens, who caught it and scored. With the successful extra point, it was a three-point game after three quarters – and would remain so.

In the final minutes, Tampa Bay drove to the Seattle 18 but 33-year-old LB Mike Curtis broke through the line to block a 36-yard field goal attempt by Green with 40 seconds left to preserve the 13-10 win for the Seahawks.

A total of 35 penalties were called (20 on the Bucs, 15 on Seattle), adding up to 310 yards, in the sloppily-played game that took some 3 ½ hours (there were actually four more flags thrown, but two of the penalties were declined and two offset). Even Coach McKay drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for comments made to the officials from the sideline (when asked afterward what he said, his only reply was “you can’t print it in a family newspaper.”). It was the most penalties in a NFL game since 1951.

The Buccaneers outgained the Seahawks (285 yards to 253) and had more first downs (18 to 14). But while John Leypoldt missed on one of his three field goal attempts, the two blocked three-point attempts by Dave Green proved to be crucial.

Jim Zorn completed just 11 of 27 passes for 167 yards with a TD and an interception. Sam McCullum was the receiving star as he caught 5 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown while Steve Largent contributed three receptions for 49 yards. Sherman Smith gained 45 yards on 10 carries to pace what there was of a ground game.


For Tampa Bay, Steve Spurrier was successful on 18 of his 30 passes for 170 yards with no scores but also none intercepted. Louis Carter (pictured at left), in addition to his improvised scoring pass, rushed for 66 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 28 more. Ex-Bengal Essex Johnson had 12 rushes for 54 yards, caught a pass for nine, and ran a kickoff back for 32 yards. Morris Owens had 5 receptions for 24 yards and a TD while FB Ed Williams was the pass receiving yardage leader with 42 yards on his four catches.

“Nobody touched me,” said Mike Curtis, the ex-Baltimore Colts star, about the fourth quarter blocked field goal attempt. “They broke down on their blocking assignment on the final field-goal attempt. The up-back blocked out, trying to get defensive back Lyle Blackwood, and I got through and hit the ball shoulder high.”

“It was perfect,” said the grim-faced Dave Green of the ill-fated attempt. “It was a fast play. Nobody touched the guy. I can't block them myself.”

Said Jack Patera afterward, “I don't know if he'll win any this year, but I think John McKay is a fine coach. In fact I'd say he's done a heck of a job because I compare his team to ours.”

The normally quote-worthy McKay was unusually low-key after the game, perhaps realizing that his team’s best chance of winning a game in ’76 had passed. The Buccaneers came within three points of upsetting Miami the next week, but that was as close as they came to being victorious in a contest as they finished up at 0-14 and on the bottom of the AFC West (they moved to the NFC Central the following year). They would lose a record 26 straight before winning their last two games of the 1977 season, but would be the first of the two expansion teams to make it to the postseason (in 1979, when Tampa Bay advanced to the NFC Championship game).

Seattle won once more to end its inaugural season with a 2-12 record for last place in the NFC West (like the Buccaneers, the Seahawks were transferred to a different division in ’77, the AFC West, where they remained until returning to the NFC as a result of the 2002 league realignment).