December 31, 2014

1988: Bengals Dominate First Half, Defeat Seahawks in AFC Divisional Playoff Game

The Cincinnati Bengals were the top-seeded team in the AFC as they hosted the Seattle Seahawks in a Divisional Playoff game on December 31, 1988. The Bengals were 4-11 in 1987 but climbed to the top of the AFC Central with a 12-4 record in ’88. Head Coach Sam Wyche’s team operated a high-powered offense that was the league’s most productive and was directed by QB Boomer Esiason, who received multiple MVP honors but struggled with a sore shoulder late in the season. The running game topped the NFL and featured veteran RB James Brooks plus unheralded rookie FB Ickey Woods (pictured above), who entertained fans with the “Ickey Shuffle” after each of his 15 touchdowns. The defense was less heralded, utilizing a 3-4 alignment anchored by All-Pro NT Tim Krumrie.

Seattle, coached by Chuck Knox, topped the AFC West with a 9-7 record, which reflected the team’s inconsistency. QB Dave Krieg missed time with a shoulder separation and 34-year-old WR Steve Largent had injury problems that limited his effectiveness. The Seahawks were better at running the ball with RB Curt Warner and FB John L. Williams, but the team was typically outgained by its opponents as the defense ranked 24th in the NFL.

It was a cold and cloudy late afternoon at Riverfront Stadium, where the Bengals had not lost all season, with 58,560 fans in attendance. Cincinnati had the game’s first possession and went 85 yards in 11 plays. Boomer Esiason completed passes to WR Cris Collinsworth for 30 yards and WR Eddie Brown for 23 and Ickey Woods ran effectively. FB Stanley Wilson ran gained the last three yards for a touchdown and Jim Breech added the extra point.

The teams traded punts before a long pass by Dave Krieg was intercepted by CB Eric Thomas. In a series that extended into the second quarter, the Bengals drove 75 yards in 10 plays. Esiason started off with a pass to TE Rodney Holman for 11 yards and James Brooks (pictured below) followed up with a 26-yard run to the Seattle 38. Woods and Brooks ran the ball to the 15, Esiason again connected with Holman for a gain of nine, and two plays later, Wilson ran for another three-yard TD. Breech converted to make the score 14-0.

A short series by the Seahawks that ended with a punt was followed by a five-play, 56-yard Cincinnati possession. Woods took off for 30 yards on the first play, Brooks had a 17-yard carry, and Wilson gained eight to reach the Seattle one. Two plays later, it was Woods reaching the end zone and Breech’s PAT had the Bengals up by a comfortable 21-0 score, and that remained the tally at halftime. Cincinnati had dominated on the ground, rolling up 165 rushing yards in the first thirty minutes, to none for Seattle.

The teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter. Seattle finally put together a promising drive as Krieg completed passes to WR Brian Blades for 13 yards and John L. Williams for 24. A sack by LB Reggie Williams had the Seahawks facing a third-and-21 situation at the Cincinnati 45, but a pass interference penalty erased the deficit and advanced the ball to the 21. Krieg passed the Seahawks to the three, but a fourth-and-two throw was broken up in the end zone by CB Rickey Dixon and the visitors came up empty.

The Bengals responded with a long drive of 95 yards with Woods and Brooks largely carrying the load. Esiason completed three passes, the first to Holman for 24 yards and the last to Brooks for nine yards to set up a fourth-and-two situation at the Seattle three. Woods came up short on the next play and the Seahawks had the ball back on downs, but at their own two with the period almost over.

Two plays into the fourth quarter, a Krieg pass was intercepted to give the Bengals the ball at their own 40, but two plays after that Esiason fumbled while being sacked and NT Joe Nash recovered for Seattle. Krieg threw to Blades for 17 yards and TE John Spagnola for seven to reach the Cincinnati seven, and three plays later the Seahawks finally got on the board on a seven-yard pass to Williams. Norm Johnson added the point after.

A three-and-out series by the Bengals resulted in a punt and the Seahawks drove 69 yards in nine plays. Krieg connected with WR Paul Skansi for 11 yards in a third-and-ten situation and a completion to WR Ray Butler for 32 yards advanced the ball to the Cincinnati 12. Three plays later, Krieg kept the ball himself for a one-yard TD, but, critically, Johnson missed the extra point and Seattle remained behind by eight points with just under six minutes to play.

Another short Cincinnati series resulted in a punt, but this time the Seahawks were unable to move the ball as Krieg threw three incomplete passes and the visitors punted as well. With the help of a 20-yard run by Woods, the Bengals reached the Seattle 44 on their next series before punting and pinning the Seahawks back at their two yard line with 2:40 remaining on the clock. Krieg was able to complete four passes, but not his last three as the drive – and Seattle’s season – ended at the Cincinnati 44. The Bengals won by a final score of 21-13.

Cincinnati had the lead in total yards (345 to 294), with 254 yards of that total coming on the ground as opposed to just 18 rushing yards for the Seahawks. The Bengals also had the edge in first downs (22 to 19) and time of possession (35:19 to 24:41). Seattle turned the ball over three times, to two suffered by Cincinnati.

Ickey Woods gained 126 yards on 23 rushing attempts that included a touchdown and James Brooks added 72 yards on 13 carries. Stanley Wilson contributed 45 yards on 7 rushes that included the two short TDs. Boomer Esiason completed just 7 of 19 passes for 108 yards and no TDs but also gave up no interceptions. Rodney Holman was the only Cincinnati receiver with more than one catch, pulling in three passes for 44 yards.

For the Seahawks, Dave Krieg was successful on 24 of 50 throws for 297 yards and a touchdown while being intercepted twice. John L. Williams (pictured at left), who gained just 10 rushing yards on 7 attempts, caught 11 passes for 137 yards and a TD. Brian Blades contributed 5 catches for 78 yards. Curt Warner was held to 11 yards on 8 carries.

“They (the Bengals) did a good job the first half, we didn’t, and that’s where we lost the game,” summed up Dave Krieg for the Seahawks.

The Bengals won again the next week as they defeated Buffalo for the AFC Championship, but then lost a closely-contested Super Bowl to the 49ers. Seattle dropped to 7-9 in 1989 and didn’t return to the postseason until 1999.

The loss to Cincinnati also was Chuck Knox’s last postseason coaching appearance. His teams (the Rams and Bills in addition to the Seahawks) reached the playoffs a total of eleven times, compiling a 7-11 record (3-4 with Seattle).   

December 30, 2014

1984: Bears Upset Redskins in NFC Divisional Playoff Game

The NFC Divisional playoff game on December 30, 1984 featured the Washington Redskins, a team known for offensive prowess that had won the NFC Championship the previous two years, and the NFL’s top-rated defensive team, the Chicago Bears.

The Bears had not won a playoff game since 1963 and had only two appearances in the interim, the last in 1979. Mike Ditka, who had been a player on that title-winning ‘63 team, was the third-year head coach and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan the architect of an aggressive unit that set a record with 72 sacks in ’84. The defense was especially strong on the line that was anchored by DT Dan Hampton and DE Richard Dent, the conference leader in sacks with 17.5, and at linebacker, where MLB Mike Singletary was a consensus first-team All-Pro.  

The key to the offense, as he had been for virtually all of his ten years with the Bears, was RB Walter Payton (pictured above), who surpassed Jim Brown as the career rushing leader during the season but, at age 31, was still formidable (1684 rushing yards, 2052 yards from scrimmage). QB Jim McMahon had been sidelined by a variety of injuries and a lacerated kidney finished him for the year ten weeks into the season. Bob Avellini, Rusty Lisch, and Greg Landry, in addition to Steve Fuller, who was starting against Washington despite a shoulder separation, had all seen action behind center for the Bears. Chicago won the NFC Central with a 10-6 record.

Washington, coached by Joe Gibbs, topped the NFC East at 11-5 and, while not as potent as the record-setting 1983 team that was upset by the Raiders in the Super Bowl, was still strong. The Redskins had an outstanding offensive line, dubbed “the Hogs”, and 35-year-old RB John Riggins rushed for 1239 yards and 14 TDs behind it. QB Joe Theismann passed for 3391 yards and 24 touchdowns while WR Art Monk set a NFL record with 106 catches. The Redskins could play defense effectively, too, and had ranked second to the Bears with 66 sacks.

There were 55,431 fans in attendance at RFK Stadium, where the Redskins were 7-0 in the postseason, and they started the contest with a 56-yard drive that resulted in Mark Moseley kicking a 25-yard field goal. In the second quarter, the Bears benefited from a turnover when a hard-charging SS Todd Bell caused RB Joe Washington to fumble. That led to a 34-yard field goal by Bob Thomas to tie the score.

Later in the period, the Bears finally put together a sustained drive, moving from their 30 to the Washington 19 and helped along by a roughing-the-passer penalty on DE Charles Mann after Steve Fuller completed a pass to FB Calvin Thomas for 13 yards. At that point, the Bears pulled a trick play as Walter Payton took a pitchout and faked a handoff on an apparent reverse to WR Dennis McKinnon coming around toward him. But Payton kept the ball and, taking advantage of the opposing safeties playing up close to defend against the run, threw an option pass to a wide-open TE Pat Dunsmore in the end zone for a touchdown. Bob Thomas added the extra point and the Bears were ahead by 10-3 at halftime.

On the second play of the third quarter, Fuller (pictured at left) threw a short pass to WR Willie Gault that the fleet-footed receiver turned into a 75-yard TD. Thomas missed the extra point, but the Bears now were up by 16-3.

The Redskins scored a touchdown on a one-yard carry by RB John Riggins to narrow the margin to 16-10. Chicago responded with a series that was kept alive by a roughing-the-kicker penalty on a punt, called on Washington DB Ken Coffey. Fuller completed back-to-back passes to McKinnon, the second for a 16-yard TD, and Thomas added the PAT to again make it a 13-point game. Just before the end of the period, Riggins scored another touchdown and, with Moseley again adding the extra point, the Bears entered the fourth quarter with a six-point lead of 23-17.

The defensive nature of the contest intensified in the final period. Three times the Redskins took possession in Chicago territory and came up empty, starting at the 36, 40, and 45 yard lines. Twice they were pushed back by the Bears and forced to punt and the last series ended with Moseley missing a 41-yard field goal attempt. The Bears took an intentional safety when punter Dave Finzer ran out of the end zone because Coach Ditka didn’t want to take a chance on kicking out of his own end zone with just over eight minutes remaining, which provided the only points of the final period. Chicago thus prevailed by a score of 23-19.

The Redskins held the edge in total yards (336 to 310) and first downs (22 to 13) while Chicago was slightly in front in time of possession (30:24 to 29:36). Each team turned the ball over one time, but both teams blitzed heavily on defense and the Bears recorded seven sacks, to five by Washington, with most coming in the fourth quarter.

Walter Payton rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries and threw a touchdown pass. Steve Fuller only went to the air 15 times, with 9 completions, but they were good for 211 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions. Dennis McKinnon had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown and Willie Gault gained 75 yards and scored on his lone reception. On defense, DE Richard Dent (pictured at right) had three sacks and DT Dan Hampton was right behind with two.

For the Redskins, Joe Theismann was successful on 22 of 42 throws while facing relentless pressure, for 292 yards and no touchdowns and was picked off once. He also ran the ball five times for 38 yards due to being flushed out of the pocket. Art Monk caught 10 passes for 122 yards, TE Clint Didier added 85 yards on his four receptions, and WR Calvin Muhammad contributed 5 catches for 62 yards. John Riggins was held to 50 yards on 21 rushing attempts that included the two short TDs. On defense, LB Rich Milot was credited with 3.5 sacks.

“This is one heck of a football team we shut down today,” said Coach Ditka of the Bears. “We played relentless football and when you play that relentless some good things have to happen to you.”

“It was kind of like being on the freeway at rush hour…without a car,” summed up Joe Theismann.

The Bears were shut down 23-0 by the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, but the stage was set to achieve greater things in 1985, a season that would culminate in a Super Bowl triumph. Washington dipped to 10-6 in ’85, missing the playoffs, but returned to the postseason in 1986.

December 29, 2014

Highlighted Year: Jon Arnett, 1957

Halfback, Los Angeles Rams

Age: 22
1st season in pro football
College: Southern California
Height: 5’11” Weight: 194

“Jaguar Jon” received All-American recognition from the AP, NEA, and Football Writers Assoc. of America in 1955 and was recipient of the Voit Trophy as top college football player on the Pacific Coast in 1954 and ’55. His senior year was limited to five games due to NCAA sanctions that were leveled against USC. Arnett was a natural choice for the Rams in the first round of the ’57 NFL draft (second overall). His speed, agility, and outstanding running instincts made him a fit both at halfback and as a kick returner.

1957 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 86
Most attempts, game - 20 (for 42 yds.) vs. Baltimore 12/15
Yards – 347
Most yards, game – 149 yards (on 17 carries) at Green Bay 11/17
Average gain – 4.0 [15]
TDs – 2
100-yard rushing games - 1

Pass Receiving
Receptions – 18
Most receptions, game - 4 (for 65 yds.) at San Francisco 10/6
Yards – 322
Most yards, game – 137 (on 4 catches) at Chi. Bears 10/20
Average gain – 17.9
TDs – 3

Kickoff Returns
Returns – 18 [5]
Yards – 504 [5]
Average per return – 28.0 [1]
TDs – 1 [1, tied with Billy Wells]
Longest return – 98 yards

Punt Returns
Returns – 14 [13, tied with Bert Zagers]
Yards – 85 [10]
Average per return – 6.1 [5]
TDs – 0
Longest return – 22 yards

All-Purpose yards – 1258 [3]

TDs – 6 [9, tied with ten others]
Points – 36 [19, tied with ten others]

Awards & Honors:
Pro Bowl

Rams went 6-6 to finish fourth in the NFL Western Conference while leading league in total yards (4143), rushing yards (2142), and scoring (307 points).

Arnett was chosen to the Pro Bowl following each of his first five seasons and was a consensus first-team All-NFL selection in 1958 when he had career highs in rushing yards (683), pass receiving yards (494, on 35 catches), yards from scrimmage (1177), and all-purpose yards (1731) and he led the league in punt return yards (223) and average (12.4). He was used more as a spot player over the years, lining up at both halfback and flanker while continuing to return kicks. In 1961 Arnett received second-team All-NFL honors from the NEA, UPI, and New York Daily News in a year in which he ran the ball 158 times, his highest total, for 609 yards, gained 1531 all-purpose yards, and returned a kickoff 105 yards. Injuries became a factor in 1962 and ’63, and he was traded to the Chicago Bears prior to the 1964 season, having gained 8076 all-purpose yards in seven years with the Rams (2892 rushing, 1911 receiving, 683 on punt returns, and 2590 returning kickoffs). Arnett led the Bears with 400 rushing yards in ’64 but the arrival of rookie HB Gale Sayers in 1965 relegated him to a backup role in his last two seasons. Overall, Arnett rushed for 3833 yards on 964 carries (4.0 avg.), caught 222 passes for 2290 yards, averaged 8.2 yards on 120 punt returns and 24.7 yards on 126 kickoff returns. He scored a total of 39 touchdowns and was named to five Pro Bowls. Arnett was chosen to the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.


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 Percentage, 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

[Updated 2/21/17]

December 28, 2014

1975: Raiders Defeat Late-Rallying Bengals in AFC Divisional Playoff Game

The AFC Divisional playoff game on December 28, 1975 featured the Oakland Raiders, champions of the AFC Western Division, against the Cincinnati Bengals, second place finishers in the AFC Central who secured a Wild Card spot. Both teams completed the regular season with 11-3 records.

The Raiders, coached by John Madden, were a highly talented team that had won the division for the third consecutive year. QB Ken “The Snake” Stabler (pictured above) had played with a knee injury all season and was not as successful as he had been in 1974, but still passed for 2296 yards and 16 touchdown, although with 24 interceptions. 32-year-old WR Fred Biletnikoff was showing signs of wear, but deep threat WR Cliff Branch was outstanding, while the running game featured a group of solid, if unspectacular, backs playing behind perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL. On defense, LB Ted Hendricks played out his option and joined the Raiders from Green Bay at the cost of a first draft choice and had been utilized as a reserve for much of the year, but was in the starting lineup against the Bengals, who had beaten Oakland during the regular season.

Cincinnati was coached by the legendary Paul Brown and had an outstanding passing offense directed by QB Ken Anderson, the NFL’s top-rated passer for the second straight year. The receiving corps, led by Pro Bowl WR Isaac Curtis, was a good one while the running game was far less impressive. The defense missed the presence of DT Mike Reid, who retired to pursue a music career, and MLB Bill Bergey, who was traded to Philadelphia, but the secondary had capable performers in CB Ken Riley and SS Tommy Casanova.

It was a clear day at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with 53,039 fans in attendance. The Raiders took the opening kickoff and drove into Cincinnati territory. Ken Stabler completed passes to WR Mike Siani for 15 yards and TE Bob Moore (pictured at left) for 11, but when the series stalled at the Cincinnati 24, George Blanda’s 41-yard field goal attempt was short.

The Bengals reached the Oakland 44 on their first possession and had to punt, and the Raiders, taking over at their 20, advanced quickly down the field as Stabler completed a pass to Cliff Branch for 36 yards and HB Clarence Davis ran around end for 18 yards to the Cincinnati 26. After getting inside the 20, Oakland’s drive stalled and Blanda kicked a 27-yard field goal.

The Bengals went three-and-out and punted, and in a series that extended into the second quarter, the Raiders, taking over at midfield, drove 50 yards in eight plays. In a third-and-five situation at the Cincinnati 34, Stabler connected with Davis for 10 yards and a personal foul on the Bengals moved the ball to the 12. A three-yard carry by FB Jess Phillips was followed by Siani catching a Stabler pass for a nine-yard touchdown. Blanda added the extra point and Oakland’s lead was extended to 10-0.

Once again the Bengals had to punt following a short possession, and Dave Green’s kick was partially blocked by Ted Hendricks and traveled only 21 yards. The Raiders had excellent starting field position at the Cincinnati 39, and after a loss on a running play, Stabler threw to Siani for 11 yards and Branch for 21 yards to reach the eight yard line. However, an end run by Davis resulted in a loss of six yards and Stabler’s next two passes were incomplete, setting up a 31-yard field goal attempt by Blanda that was blocked by DE Sherman White.

Having avoided another Oakland score, the Bengals came alive on offense and drove 65 yards in eight plays. It did not look promising when HB Essex Johnson lost six yards on first down, but Ken Anderson threw to WR Charlie Joiner for 28 yards and, after three running plays and a third down penalty on the Raiders gained 16 yards, Anderson passed to FB Boobie Clark for 26 yards to the Oakland one. Two plays later, HB Stan Fritts gained the last yard and a TD and, with Green’s conversion, the visitors had narrowed the score to 10-7.

Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Oakland 46 and the Raiders came back with a nine-play, 54-yard drive. Stabler completed two passes to Moore for seven and eight yards, and HB Pete Banaszak had an 18-yard run to the Cincinnati 11. The series concluded with Stabler throwing to Moore once again, this time for an eight-yard touchdown. Blanda’s PAT gave the home team a ten-point lead once more, and the score remained 17-7 at the half.

The Bengals went three-and-out with the first possession of the third quarter, and the resulting punt was returned 20 yards to the Cincinnati 35 by CB Neal Colzie. It took the Raiders just four plays to score as FB Marv Hubbard gained 13 yards on two running plays, with a 16-yard carry by Davis in between. Banaszak finished off the series with a six-yard scoring run, Blanda kicked the point after, and Oakland’s lead was up to 24-7.

Cincinnati responded with an 11-play, 91-yard series that was helped along by three penalties on the Raiders, including a pass interference call on FS Jack Tatum that resulted in a 24-yard pickup. HB Lenvil Elliott and Boobie Clark ran effectively and Anderson completed two nine-yard passes. Facing fourth-and-one at the Oakland six, Elliott ran up the middle for a touchdown. Green’s conversion again made it a ten-point game at 24-14.

As the period wound down, the Raiders were advancing. Facing a third-and-12 situation at their own 43, Stabler once again threw to Moore, this time for a gain of 17 yards to keep the series going. A pass to Branch picked up 14 yards and, with Davis running for seven yards, the Raiders were at the Cincinnati 24 heading into the fourth quarter. Runs by Banaszak and Davis moved the ball to the two, and from there Stabler tossed a pass to backup TE Dave Casper for a TD. Blanda’s extra point widened Oakland’s lead to 31-14.

The Bengals again had to punt after a short possession and the Raiders appeared poised to finish the visitors off as they took over at their 49. But a Stabler pass was intercepted by Ken Riley, who returned it 34 yards to the Oakland 34, and two plays later Anderson (pictured at right) connected with Joiner for a 25-yard touchdown. Green converted to once more make it a ten-point contest with ten minutes left to play.

Now it was the Raiders going three-and-out as Stabler was sacked by DT Bob Brown for a 14-yard loss on third down, forcing Oakland’s first punt of the game. Starting at the Raiders’ 49, the Bengals moved themselves back with penalties, but on a second-and-20 play, Anderson threw to WR Chip Myers for 37 yards. Five plays later, Anderson completed a pass to Isaac Curtis for a 14-yard TD. Green kicked the PAT and the visitors were now behind by only three points with 5:44 remaining on the clock.

Stabler threw to Branch for 12 yards on Oakland’s first play following the kickoff, but two plays after that Banaszak fumbled and DT Ron Carpenter recovered at the Raiders’ 37. However, in a crucial defensive stand, Hendricks promptly sacked Anderson for a six-yard loss and, while a throw to TE Bruce Coslet regained five yards, the next two passes fell incomplete to return the ball to the Raiders.

Trying to run out the clock, Stabler converted a third-and-six play with a pass to Moore for the necessary yardage and the Raiders were able to maintain possession until there was under a minute remaining before lining up to punt. LB Chris Devlin of the Bengals was penalized for running into the kicker and that clinched the 31-28 win for Oakland.   

The Raiders topped Cincinnati in total yards (358 to 258) and first downs (27 to 17), with 173 yards of their total coming on the ground. Oakland also recorded five sacks, to one by the Bengals, but it was the two turnovers, to none by Cincinnati, that nearly proved fatal.

Ken Stabler completed 17 of 23 passes for three touchdowns while giving up one interception. Bob Moore, who had only 19 catches all season, had 6 for 57 yards and a TD and Cliff Branch gained 89 yards on five receptions. Clarence Davis led the Raiders with 63 rushing yards on 16 carries and Pete Banaszak was right behind with 62 yards on 17 attempts that included a score. On defense, Ted Hendricks (pictured at left) unofficially accounted for four sacks.

For the Bengals, Ken Anderson was successful on 17 of 27 throws for 201 yards and two TDs while not being intercepted. Chip Myers topped the club with 67 yards on three catches, followed closely by Charlie Joiner with his three receptions for 60 yards that included a touchdown. Boobie Clark rushed for 46 yards on 8 attempts and caught four passes for 38 yards.

The Raiders advanced to the AFC Championship game, where they lost a close contest to the Steelers. They would go on to a Super Bowl-winning season in 1976. Cincinnati’s playoff loss turned out to be the last game coached by Paul Brown. He announced his retirement a few days later, although he remained active in the front office. The Bengals were 10-4 under Brown’s successor, Bill Johnson, in 1976 but missed the postseason and wouldn’t return until 1981.

December 27, 2014

1953: Lions Rally to Edge Browns and Repeat as NFL Champs

The NFL Championship game on December 27, 1953 featured a rematch of the previous year’s participants, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. The Lions won that contest and were looking to repeat as champions against the Cleveland team that was now appearing in its eighth straight title game (four in the All-America Football Conference, four in the NFL).

Detroit, coached by Buddy Parker, still featured fiery QB Bobby Layne (pictured above) surrounded by a capable group on offense and a rugged defense, and had added outstanding rookies that included tackles Charlie Ane and Ollie Spencer plus G Harley Sewell on offense and LB Joe Schmidt on defense. The Lions went 10-2 in winning the Western Conference, including victories in their last six contests.

The Browns, under the guidance of the innovative Paul Brown, had new ownership but continued to win with an almost machine-like consistency. QB Otto Graham remained the key to the offense, and while star end Mac Speedie defected to Canada, end Dante Lavelli was still available and two second-year players, end Pete Brewster and HB Ray Renfro, picked up the slack. FB Harry "Chick" Jagade was the successor to the fading Marion Motley and the defense gave up the fewest points in the league (162). Star MG Bill Willis was back in action, having missed the previous month due to injury. Cleveland topped the Eastern Conference with an 11-1 record, not losing until the season finale when they had already wrapped up first place. Despite losing to the Lions the previous year, the Browns were the favorites coming into the rematch.

There were 54,577 fans in attendance at Briggs Stadium, where the field was slippery in some spots. In the first play from scrimmage, the Browns were penalized back to their 19 yard line. Following a carry by Chick Jagade, LB LaVern Torgeson forced Otto Graham to fumble and MG Les Bingaman recovered for the Lions at the Cleveland 12. Detroit kept the ball on the ground, with Bobby Layne converting a fourth-and-one situation via a quarterback sneak and, after HB Bob “Hunchy” Hoernschemeyer gained nothing, HB Doak Walker dove for a touchdown from one yard out and then kicked the extra point.

With the help of a penalty, the Browns had good field position near midfield to start their next series. However, Graham overthrew an open receiver on a third down play and Cleveland had to punt. The Lions lost star end Leon Hart with a knee injury and Jim Doran (pictured below), who normally played on defense and had caught only six passes all year, took his place. Doran made his presence known by making a catch for a gain of 27 yards, but after reaching the Cleveland 46, Detroit had to punt, as did Cleveland again in turn.

The Browns got a break on defense late in the opening period when DE Len Ford recovered a fumble by Hoernschemeyer at the Detroit six. The Lions didn’t let down on defense, but in the first play of the second quarter, the Browns came close to a TD when Dante Lavelli dropped a pass in the end zone. Lou Groza kicked a 13-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.

The Lions punted again following their next series but got the ball back when HB Dub Jones fumbled and DE Sherwin Gandee recovered at the Cleveland 25. Detroit couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, as Layne was sacked for a loss of 12 yards on third down and Walker was wide to the left on a 45-yard field goal attempt.

The teams exchanged punts and then interceptions. DHB Jim David picked off a Graham pass and returned it to the Cleveland 20, which set up the next Detroit score. The Lions came close to a touchdown on a trick play when Layne threw a lateral to Walker, who ran to his right, drawing the defense, and then passed it back to Layne for an apparent TD. However, the play was nullified by a 15-yard penalty and Walker ended up kicking a field goal from 23 yards.

With 1:15 left in the first half, QB George Ratterman came in for Graham after Jagade returned the kickoff 29 yards to the Cleveland 49. Ratterman was sacked for a 13-yard loss but also completed a screen pass to Jagade for 19 yards to the Detroit 44. As the seconds ticked away, Groza attempted a 51-yard field goal, but it missed and the score remained 10-3 in favor of the Lions at halftime.

On Cleveland’s first possession of the third quarter following an interception by safety Ken Gorgal, the Browns advanced 51 yards in eight plays. Jagade ran nine yards off tackle for a TD and Groza’s conversion tied the score at 10-10.

Such remained the situation until, in a series that extended into the fourth quarter, the Browns moved the ball effectively and Groza booted another field goal, this time from 15 yards, to put the visitors in front by 13-10.

Detroit followed up with a 14-play possession that reached the Cleveland 26. Layne completed passes to ends Dorne Dibble and Cloyce Box and ran the ball three times himself, but the Lions came up empty when Walker missed a field goal try from 33 yards. With Jagade running well, the Browns advanced from their 20 to the Detroit 33. Groza kicked a 43-yard field goal and the visitors were further ahead by 16-10.

The situation was looking dire for the Lions as they got the ball with four minutes remaining to play and down by six points. But Layne directed the home team on an 80-yard drive in which he completed three passes to Doran. The first came on the initial play of the series and picked up 17 yards, the second converted a third-and-10 situation with an 18-yard gain, and the last was on a perfect pass from Layne after the receiver had sprinted past DHB Warren Lahr into the end zone, making the catch for a 33-yard touchdown. Walker (pictured below) added the all-important extra point to put Detroit in the lead with the clock now down to 2:08. On the ensuing series, rookie DB Carl Karilivacz intercepted a hurried Graham toss to seal the 17-16 win for the Lions. Several fights broke out in the remaining time and Detroit’s Dibble was ejected.

The Lions led in total yards (293 to 191), almost completely grounding Cleveland’s vaunted passing attack (nine net yards), and had the edge in first downs also (18 to 11). Each team turned the ball over four times.

Bobby Layne completed 12 of 25 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while being intercepted twice. He also rushed for 44 yards on 9 carries. Jim Doran had an outstanding performance as he caught four passes for 95 yards and scored the game-deciding TD (he had none during the regular season). Cloyce Box also had four catches, for 54 yards. Bob Hoernschemeyer rushed for 51 yards on 17 carries.

Otto Graham had an uncharacteristically dreadful performance in which he was successful on just two of 15 throws for 20 yards with no TDs while giving up two interceptions. George Ratterman completed his only pass for 18 yards. Chick Jagade gained 102 yards on 15 rushing attempts that included a score and also had one pass reception for 18 yards, which made him Cleveland’s most productive receiver as well as top rusher. Lou Groza was successful on three of four field goal attempts, tying the then-NFL championship game record.

Detroit’s Coach Parker praised the “terrific team effort” and singled out Jim Doran, saying “Sure, we had to have the touchdown. But that pass he leaped for and got on Cleveland’s 45 made it all possible. It was third down and gave us enough yardage for a first down to keep the ball.”

“Nobody will lose a tougher one,” said Paul Brown in the quiet Cleveland locker room. “We worked five months and lost it all in two minutes.”

As strong as the Browns were, the once-invincible team had now become the first in NFL history to lose three consecutive title games. The clubs met for a third time in the 1954 Championship game, and this time Cleveland thrashed the Lions, gaining a measure of revenge and ending Detroit’s hopes of topping the NFL for a third straight year.

December 26, 2014

Highlighted Year: Gary Anderson, 1983

Placekicker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age:  24
2nd season in pro football & with Steelers
College: Syracuse
Height: 5’11” Weight: 156

Born in South Africa, Anderson’s family moved to the US when he was a teenager. Having played rugby while growing up, he quickly showed that he could kick an American football and received a scholarship to Syracuse University. In college, he played two seasons of soccer and, in football, he set school season records for field goals (18) and field goal percentage (94.7) in 1981. Anderson was chosen in the seventh round of the 1982 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, who cut him prior to the season. Picked up by the Steelers, he was successful on 10 of 12 field goal attempts as well as all 22 tries for extra points during the strike-shortened ’82 season.

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

Field goals – 27 [4]
Most field goals, game – 4 at Houston 9/18, vs. San Diego 11/6
Field goal attempts – 31 [6]
Most field goal attempts, game – 4 at Houston 9/18, vs. San Diego 11/6
Field goal percentage – 87.1 [2]
PATs – 38 [13, tied with Ed Murray & Matt Bahr]
PAT attempts – 39 [14]
Longest field goal – 49 yards at Houston 9/18, vs. San Diego 11/6

Field Goals – 27
PATs – 38
Points – 119 [7, 1st in AFC]

Postseason: 1 G (AFC Divisional playoff at LA Raiders)
Field goals – 1
Field goal attempts – 1
PATs – 1
PAT attempts – 1
Longest field goal – 17 yards

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

Steelers went 10-6 to finish first in the AFC Central. Lost AFC Divisional playoff to Los Angeles Raiders (38-10).  

Wearing his characteristic single-bar facemask, Anderson went on to kick for 13 seasons with the Steelers. His topping the AFC in scoring in 1983 was the first of three consecutive seasons in which he did so, and he led the AFC in field goals in ’84 (24) and the entire NFL with 33 in 1985 (his high with Pittsburgh). Anderson received at least some All-NFL recognition in 1985 and ’93 and was named to the Pro Bowl three times as a Steeler. He left Pittsburgh following the 1994 season as the franchise leader in field goals (309) and scoring (1343 points) and spent two years with Philadelphia and one with the 49ers in ’97. Moving on to Minnesota in 1998, Anderson connected on all 35 of his field goal attempts, scored 164 points, and was a consensus first-team All-NFL as well as Pro Bowl selection. However, some luster was lost when he finally missed a field goal attempt in the NFC Championship game, allowing Atlanta to tie the score and win in overtime. He followed up with a career-low 63.3 field goal percentage in 1999 but bounced back to connect on 95.7 percent in 2000 (22 of 23) and lasted with the Vikings through 2002. Anderson finished his career with two seasons in Tennessee in 2003 and ’04, by which time he was 45 years old. Overall, over the course of 23 seasons, Anderson kicked 538 field goals in 672 attempts, both career NFL records at the time, for an 80.1 percentage and 2434 points, also the league career high (his contemporary, Morten Andersen, ultimately surpassed him in all three NFL-record categories). He also kicked 820 extra points, which were second-highest in league history at the time. Anderson added another 32 field goals, in 40 attempts (80.0 %) and 57 extra points in 22 postseason games, with a high of four field goals against the Oilers in 1989.


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

December 25, 2014

1971: Cowboys Defeat Turnover-Prone Vikings in NFC Divisional Playoff Game

The Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, champions of their respective divisions with identical 11-3 records, met in a Christmas Day NFC Divisional Playoff game on December 25, 1971.

The Cowboys had gotten off to a slow start and were 4-3 at midseason, but Head Coach Tom Landry’s team won seven straight games to close out the regular season and top the NFC East once the ongoing quarterback controversy between Roger Staubach (pictured at right) and Craig Morton was resolved in Staubach’s favor. RB Duane Thomas led a good group of backs and WR Lance Alworth, obtained from the Chargers, proved to be a valuable addition to the passing game across from WR Bob Hayes. The defense was outstanding from front to back and contained Pro Bowlers in DT Bob Lilly, LB Chuck Howley, CB Mel Renfro, and SS Cornell Green.

Minnesota, coached by Bud Grant, had a superb defense, starting with the line anchored by DE Carl Eller and DT Alan Page. The stodgy offense was another story. QB Gary Cuozzo did not provide the necessary spark, Norm Snead, obtained from the Eagles the previous offseason, did little, and now it was Bob Lee, also the punter, behind center. WR Bob Grim was selected to the Pro Bowl, and the running backs were dependable but unspectacular. The Vikings had easily topped the NFC Central Division.

There were 49,100 fans in attendance at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota on a 30-degree day with a light rain falling. The Cowboys started out conservatively while Minnesota came out throwing on offense. Early in the first quarter, Dallas got the first break when DE Larry Cole forced HB Dave Osborn to lose the ball at his own 36 and DT Jethro Pugh recovered for the Cowboys. After reaching the Minnesota 19, with the key play a third down pass from Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes for 18 yards after a penalty had backed Dallas up, and following an Alan Page sack of Staubach for a five-yard loss, Mike Clark kicked a 26-yard field goal.

A promising series for the Vikings that started at the Dallas 48 ended with a 27-yard Fred Cox field goal after a third-down pass to RB Jim Lindsey, in which the receiver nearly made a shoestring catch that would have been good for a first down inside the ten, was ruled incomplete.

In the second quarter, the Vikings came through with a big play when Lee threw to Bob Grim (pictured at left) for a 49-yard gain in a third down situation to the Dallas 29. However, Chuck Howley intercepted another Lee pass, returning it to the Minnesota 37 to set up a 44-yard Clark field goal that barely made it over the crossbar.

HB Clint Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards, nearly going the distance but being stopped by Mel Renfro. The Vikings came up empty when three incomplete passes were followed by a Cox field goal attempt from 42 yards that was unsuccessful. The score remained 6-3 in favor of Dallas at the half.

The Cowboys took control in the third quarter. On the third play, an interception by FS Cliff Harris (pictured below) at the Minnesota 43 was returned 30 yards to the 13 and that set up a touchdown carry on the next play by Duane Thomas. Clark added the extra point to put the visitors ahead by ten points.

CB Charlie West returned the next kickoff 51 yards to give the Vikings good starting field position at the Dallas 42, with Renfro once again making the stop. However, Minnesota was unable to gain much ground and a field goal attempt by Cox from 46 yards hit the right upright and was no good.

Later in the period, the Cowboys put together a 52-yard series following a 24-yard punt return by DB Charlie Waters. Staubach threw to Lance Alworth for 30 yards on a third-and-15 play and then, scrambling to avoid the strong pass rush, he connected with Hayes for a nine-yard TD and, with Clark again converting, the Cowboys led by an insurmountable 20-3 margin.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings scored when Page sacked Staubach in the end zone for a safety. At that point Gary Cuozzo replaced Lee at quarterback, and on the next series he completed passes to WR Gene Washington and TE Stu Voigt to get the Vikings to the Dallas 19. But a throw to Grim passed through the receiver’s hands and MLB Lee Roy Jordan intercepted to blunt the threat.

Late in the game, the Vikings mounted a drive that concluded with Cuozzo throwing to Voigt for a six-yard touchdown, but there were barely more than two minutes remaining to play and the outcome had long since been decided. The Cowboys came away winners by a final score of 20-12.

The Vikings significantly outgained Dallas (311 yards to 183) and had more first downs (17 to 10). However, Minnesota also turned the ball over five times, to none by the Cowboys, and that was the difference in the outcome.

Roger Staubach was efficient as he completed 10 of 14 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Duane Thomas rushed for 66 yards on 21 carries that included a TD. Bob Hayes (pictured at left) had three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown and Lance Alworth gained 33 yards on his two receptions.

For the Vikings, Bob Lee was successful on only 7 of 16 throws for 86 yards and no TDs while giving up two interceptions. Gary Cuozzo went 12-of-22 for 124 yards and a touchdown but also was picked off twice. Gene Washington caught 5 passes for 70 yards and Bob Grim gained 74 yards on his four receptions while Stu Voigt contributed four catches for 46 yards and the team’s only TD. Clint Jones gained 52 yards on 15 rushing attempts.

“We haven’t been making mistakes the last eight games,” said Coach Landry regarding the Cowboys. “This was our best defensive performance of the year.”

“There were a lot of big plays,” added Cliff Harris. “We broke their drives. Every time they seemed to get momentum, we had a turnaround.”

Dallas went on to defeat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game and then Miami in Super Bowl VI. The Vikings, who sought to resolve their quarterback issue by swinging a deal with the Giants to bring Fran Tarkenton back to the team that he began his pro career with, dropped to 7-7 and placed third in the NFC Central. They rebounded in 1973 to beat the Cowboys for the NFC Championship, losing the Super Bowl to the Dolphins.

December 24, 2014

1972: Dolphins Overcome Browns in AFC Divisional Playoff Game

The Miami Dolphins had put together a 14-0 regular season record and were starting off the postseason with an AFC Divisional playoff game against the Cleveland Browns on December 24, 1972. Coached by Don Shula, the Dolphins had an outstanding ball-control offense fueled by the running of FB Larry Csonka and halfbacks Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick (pictured above). When QB Bob Griese went down with a broken ankle, the team kept winning with 17-year veteran QB Earl Morrall at the helm, and if teams concentrated too heavily on stopping the ground attack, WR Paul Warfield provided a potent deep receiving threat. The defense was less-heralded but was tough and effective, giving up fewer points and yards than any other NFL team.

Cleveland placed second in the AFC Central with a 10-4 record to grab the conference’s Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Under the direction of Head Coach Nick Skorich for the second year, the Browns had a young quarterback in Mike Phipps, who replaced Bill Nelsen as the starter early in the year with some success. HB Leroy Kelly, fading at age 30, and FB Bo Scott were the leading ground gainers. The defense was suspect against the run, although better at rushing opposing passers.

There were over 80,000 fans in attendance at the Orange Bowl, vigorously waving handkerchiefs on a clear afternoon. The Dolphins had the game’s first possession, went three-and-out and punted, but immediately got the ball back when LB Doug Swift intercepted a deflected pass by Mike Phipps at the Cleveland 40. Miami still couldn’t move on offense, however, and Garo Yepremian was wide on a 46-yard field goal attempt.

The Browns were having no better luck on offense, also going three-and-out, but Don Cockroft’s punt was blocked by DB Charlie Babb, who recovered the ball at the five and ran in for a touchdown. Yepremian added the extra point and the Dolphins were ahead by 7-0.

Another short series for the Browns ended with a punt and Miami drove from its 16 to the Cleveland 33. Paul Warfield ran for 21 yards on a reverse and Earl Morrall completed a pass to WR Howard Twilley for 11 yards to highlight the possession that was capped by Yepremian kicking a 40-yard field goal to open up a ten-point lead.

In a series that extended into the second quarter, the Browns finally showed life on offense. Bo Scott (pictured at left) had runs of 17 and 15 yards and Phipps scrambled for 14 yards to the Miami 25. But a third down pass was intercepted by CB Curtis Johnson to snuff out the threat.

The Dolphins advanced just past midfield on their next series, with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris running effectively, but a 53-yard field goal try by Yepremian was short and wide. The teams exchanged punts before the Browns, again forced to kick from their own territory, suffered another miscue. Cockroft couldn’t handle a high snap and fell on the ball to give Miami possession at the Cleveland 39. But a holding penalty moved the Dolphins back 15 yards, Morrall was sacked by DT Walter Johnson for the loss of another nine yards, Morris was tackled for the loss of another 12 yards, and they had to punt.

Phipps threw another interception, with FS Dick Anderson picking off the long throw at the Miami 29, and in the last two minutes the Dolphins again drove into Cleveland territory. Warfield gained 20 yards to midfield on another end-around, Morrall completed two short passes, and Morris had runs of 12 and 14 yards. But a 17-yard Yepremian field goal attempt with four seconds remaining in the first half was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty and the teams went into the locker room at halftime with Miami holding a 10-0 lead. It could have been far worse for the Browns, who had given up three interceptions and two fumbles thus far.

The teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter before the Browns put together a five-play scoring drive, spurred by a 37-yard punt return to the Miami 44 by SS Thom Darden. Phipps completed passes to TE Milt Morin for 21 yards and WR Fair Hooker for six, Scott ran twice for 10 yards, and Phipps, rolling out to his right, kept the ball himself on a five-yard touchdown carry. Cockroft added the point after and the Miami lead was cut to 10-7.

Jim Kiick carried four times for 26 yards on the next Dolphins’ series, and Morrall threw to Twilley for a gain of 17 yards, but Kiick’s fifth rushing attempt resulted in a fumble and LB Charlie Hall recovered at the Cleveland 33. The Browns went three-and-out and punted, and the Dolphins went right back to Kiick, who carried for 12 yards on two attempts before, following an incomplete pass, Morris put together back-to-back 12-yard carries to finish out the period. Three plays into the fourth quarter, and after Morris was stopped for no gain in a third-and-one situation, Yepremian kicked a 46-yard field goal and Miami was up by six points at 13-7.

A clipping penalty on the ensuing kickoff had the Browns starting from their ten yard line. Phipps started the series off with a 14-yard scramble and a pass to Hooker (pictured at right) picked up 18 yards. After reaching the Miami 38, Anderson intercepted a pass but fumbled on the return and Hooker recovered for Cleveland at the 30. Two plays later, it was Hooker catching a Phipps pass for a 27-yard touchdown and, with Cockroft adding the extra point, the Browns were in front by 14-13.

The Dolphins, with their perfect season suddenly in peril, responded with an 80-yard drive in six plays. Morrall completed passes to Warfield for 15 and 35 yards, interspersed with carries by Morris that picked up 12 yards. Another throw intended for Warfield resulted in a pass interference penalty on LB Bill Andrews, giving Miami first-and-goal at the Cleveland eight, and from there Kiick ran for a TD. Yepremian converted and the Dolphins were back in the lead by six points with 4:49 to play.

The Browns couldn’t get beyond their 39 on the next series and punted, and Miami punted in turn. Cleveland regained possession at its 49 and, with the clock now down to 1:40, Phipps ran for eight yards, passed to Scott for another eight, but following a short running play, a pass intended for Hooker was intercepted by Swift to seal the 20-14 win for the Dolphins.     

Playing from behind most of the way, the Browns led in total yards (283 to 272) while Miami had a slight edge in first downs (17 to 15). Both teams accumulated most of their yardage on the ground, with the Dolphins gaining 198 yards to Cleveland’s 165. The Browns registered four sacks, to two by Miami. However, Cleveland turned the ball over five times, to two turnovers by the Dolphins.

Earl Morrall threw just 13 passes and completed 6 of them for 88 yards, with no touchdowns but also no interceptions. While Larry Csonka was held to 32 yards on 12 carries, Mercury Morris (pictured at left) gained 72 yards on 15 attempts and Jim Kiick contributed 50 yards on 14 carries that included a TD. Paul Warfield had two catches for 50 yards in addition to 41 yards on the two end-around plays and Howard Twilley caught three passes for 33 yards. On defense, Dick Anderson and Doug Swift each had two interceptions.

For the Browns, Mike Phipps was successful on just 9 of 23 throws for 131 yards and a TD, and was intercepted five times. He also ran for 47 yards on 8 carries that included a touchdown. Bo Scott had 94 yards on 16 rushing attempts and added 30 yards on a team-leading four pass receptions. Fair Hooker gained 53 yards on three catches and scored once.

“The best thing for us (the Dolphins) was to get behind,” said Larry Csonka. “It got very quiet and somebody said ‘If we’re gonna get anything done, now’s the time to do it’. It got done.”

The Dolphins kept getting things done with wins in the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, completing an unblemished season from beginning to end. Cleveland, a perennial contender that had been in the postseason in six of the preceding eight years, dropped to 7-5-2 and third place in the AFC Central in 1973 and didn’t return to the playoffs until 1980. 

December 23, 2014

1951: Long TD Pass Propels Rams Over Browns for NFL Championship

The Cleveland Browns had yet to fail to win a league championship in five years of existence and were looking to make it six straight as they faced the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL title on December 23, 1951. Head Coach Paul Brown’s team dominated the All-America Football Conference for four years before joining the NFL in 1950 and winning there as well.  While FB Marion Motley was showing signs of wear, QB Otto Graham was still an outstanding and mobile passer and had productive targets in ends Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli. After losing to ex-AAFC rival San Francisco in the opening game, the Browns didn’t lose again, finishing atop the American Conference with an 11-1 record.

One of those wins was over Los Angeles, the same team that the Browns had faced for the NFL Championship the previous year. LA had the league’s most explosive offense, with the quarterback combination of Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin (pictured above), fullbacks “Deacon Dan” Towler and Dick Hoerner, and ends Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch contributing to a NFL-record 5506 total yards. The defense was less formidable, but benefited from the arrival of rookie DE Andy Robustelli, who joined a line that included All-Pro DE Larry Brink and MG Stan West. Head Coach Joe Stydahar’s team put together an 8-4 tally in winning the highly-competitive National Conference.  

There were 57,522 fans in attendance at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. The Browns moved well on their opening possession, despite LA’s seven-man defensive front, but Lou Groza missed a 23-yard field goal attempt. Following a scoreless first quarter, the Rams put together a 55-yard drive in 12 plays that ended with Dick Hoerner plowing over for the last yard and a touchdown. Bob Waterfield added the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

The Browns got on the board when Groza made up for the short miss with a 52-yard field goal, setting a new NFL Championship game record as he broke the previous mark by a full ten yards. Before the half was over, Cleveland drove to another score as Otto Graham completed three straight passes, to Mac Speedie for 14 yards, Marion Motley down the middle for 23, and the last to HB Dub Jones for a 17-yard TD. Groza kicked the point after and the defending champs took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

Graham faced heavy pressure from Larry Brink and Andy Robustelli throughout the contest, and in the third quarter the two combined on a big defensive play for the Rams. With the ball at the Cleveland 35, Brink hit Graham hard and forced a fumble. Robustelli recovered and ran to the one. From there, Dan Towler hit the line twice without success before finally breaking through for a touchdown. Waterfield’s conversion put the home team ahead by 14-10.

In the fourth quarter, the Rams drove to the Cleveland one but came up empty when they had to give the ball up on downs. They again drove inside the ten, but while the tough Browns defense again held, the Rams didn’t fail to score this time as Waterfield kicked a 17-yard field goal to increase LA’s lead to 17-10. The Browns fought back, advancing 70 yards in 10 plays as Graham had a 34-yard run and HB Ken Carpenter scored a two-yard TD. Groza converted to tie the score at 17-17.    

At this point Norm Van Brocklin relieved Waterfield at quarterback and he promptly threw deep for end Tom Fears, who gathered the ball in between two defenders and sprinted to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown. It was the biggest play of the game, and Waterfield again added the PAT to put the Rams back in front by seven points.

Cleveland responded by advancing into Los Angeles territory, but facing fourth-and-two at the 42, Jones caught a short pass from Graham and was hit hard by hard-charging safety Norb Hecker for a two-yard loss, forcing the Browns to give up the ball. Late in the game, the Rams had a chance to add to their lead, but Waterfield missed on a field goal attempt. It had no effect as Los Angeles held on to win by a final score of 24-17.

The statistics bore out the closely-fought nature of the game. The Rams had the edge in total yards (334 to 325) while Cleveland accumulated more first downs (22 to 20). The Browns turned the ball over four times, to three turnovers suffered by LA, and the Rams, reflecting the outstanding play of their defensive ends, recorded all five of the game’s sacks.

Bob Waterfield completed 9 of 24 passes for 125 yards, giving up two interceptions, while Norm Van Brocklin was four-of-six for 128 yards with the long touchdown. Tom Fears (pictured at left) had four catches for 146 yards and a TD and “Crazylegs” Hirsch contributed four receptions for 66 yards. Dan Towler topped LA’s rushers with 36 yards on 16 carries that included a touchdown.

For the Browns, Otto Graham was successful on 19 of 40 throws for 280 yards and a TD, but gave up three interceptions. He also ran for a team-leading 43 yards on five attempts. Mac Speedie caught 7 passes for 81 yards and Dante Lavelli added four receptions for 65 yards. Dub Jones, in addition to a modest rushing total of 12 yards on 9 carries, had four catches for 62 yards that included a score.

Of the long game-winning touchdown pass, Tom Fears said that it was “the best thrown pass I’ve ever caught. He laid it right in there full stride.”

The Rams tied for first with Detroit in 1952, lost a playoff to determine the National Conference champion, and next appeared in the postseason in 1955. While often fielding contending teams over the years, the NFL Championship in 1951 was the only one the franchise achieved while based in Los Angeles (they won a NFC title in 1979, but lost the ensuing Super Bowl. Other NFL titles were while the team was in Cleveland in 1945 and St. Louis in 1999). The loss for the Browns, while putting a chink in the armor of their title-game invincibility, did not signal a decline. Cleveland continued to top its conference in each of the next four seasons, losing the next two Championship games before winning again in 1954 and ’55.

December 22, 2014

Highlighted Year: David Akers, 2001

Placekicker, Philadelphia Eagles

Age:  27 (Dec. 9)
4th season in pro football, 3rd with Eagles
College: Louisville
Height: 5’10” Weight: 200

Akers signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 1997 but was cut in the preseason. He also failed in a preseason trial with Atlanta in ’98, but was added to Washington’s practice squad and activated for one game in which he kicked his first two NFL extra points but missed both of his field goal attempts and was released. Signed by the Eagles after the season, Akers played for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe in the Spring of 1999 and for Philadelphia in the Fall, used for kickoffs and long-distance field goals while Norm Johnson handled the regular placekicking duties. He connected on three of six field goal tries, with a long of 53 yards at Miami. Akers took over as full-time placekicker in 2000 and was successful on 29 of 33 field goal attempts and set a team record with 121 points.

2001 Season Summary
Appeared in all 16 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Field goals – 26 [8, tied with Paul Edinger & Brett Conway]
Most field goals, game – 5 at Dallas 11/18
Field goal attempts – 31 [10, tied with four others]
Most field goal attempts, game – 5 at Dallas 11/18
Field goal percentage – 83.9 [6, tied with Paul Edinger]
PATs – 37 [8]
PAT attempts – 38 [8]
Longest field goal – 50 yards vs. St. Louis 9/9, at Washington 12/16

Field Goals – 26
PATs – 37
Points – 115 [6, tied with Jay Feely & Matt Stover]

Postseason: 3 G
Field goals – 6
Most field goals, game – 4 at Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff
Field goal attempts – 6
Most field goal attempts, game – 4 at Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff
PATs – 10
Most PATs, game – 4 vs. Tampa Bay, NFC Wild Card playoff
PAT attempts – 10
Longest field goal – 46 yards at Chicago, NFC Divisional playoff; at St. Louis, NFC Championship

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

Eagles went 11-5 to finish first in NFC East. Won NFC Wild Card playoff over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31-9) and NFC Divisional playoff over Chicago Bears (33-19). Lost NFC Championship to St. Louis Rams (29-24).  

Akers remained with the Eagles for another nine years. During that stretch, he led the NFC in scoring four times and the entire NFL once, topped the NFC in field goals twice, and was named to the Pro Bowl five times. With a strong left leg, he was known for his long kickoffs as well as field goal kicking. He missed four games with a severe hamstring injury in 2005 and his field goal accuracy dipped under 80 percent for the first of three straight years. However, Akers bounced back to kick a club-record 33 field goals in 2008 and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his last two years in Philadelphia. By the end of the 2010 season, his last with the Eagles, he owned most of the major franchise career placekicking records, including field goals (294) and scoring (1323 points). He signed with the 49ers in 2011 and set NFL records with 44 field goals in 52 attempts and a total of 166 points, the most in league history with no touchdowns included. However, Akers connected on only 69 percent of his field goal attempts in 2012, although one of them tied the then-league record of 63 yards. Released by the 49ers, he last kicked for Detroit in 2013. Overall, Akers was successful on 386 field goals in 477 attempts (80.9 %) and added 563 extra points for a total of 1721 points. In the postseason, he added another 39 field goals in 47 tries (83 %) and twice appeared in the Super Bowl.


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