Tag Archives: Super Bowls

Super Bowl IV lives!

With the draft in the books and the Slow Season officially upon us, let’s have a little fun today and revisit one of the more underappreciated games in pro football history: Super Bowl IV — the last between those sworn enemies, the NFL and AFL, before they merged into the colossus that bestrides the sports world.

Happily, the Chiefs’ 23-7 win over the Vikings can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube. It’s the Canadian (CBC) telecast (as is clear from the commercials, one of which stars hockey legend Bobby Orr). Warning: There’s no telling how long the video will be available, so try to watch it before the Copyright Police springs into action. You won’t be disappointed.

We’ll get to The Game Itself in a few moments. But first, allow me to pay homage to the Chiefs defense, that group of Eleven Angry Men who backboned their run to the Super Bowl — and smothered the Vikes therein. When great defenses are discussed, you don’t always hear much about the ’69 Chiefs, and that’s a shame. After all, five members of the unit have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and a sixth, free safety Johnny Robinson, should probably be in Canton, too. (He was a finalist six straight years in the ’80s but, for reasons known only to the selection committee, wasn’t able to break through. Maybe he’ll make it someday as a veterans candidate.)

Anyway, the defense was never better than it was that year. In 17 games — 14 regular season, three postseason — it allowed just 18 touchdowns (eight rushing, 10 passing) and a mere 11.6 points a game. In the playoffs, the Kansas City ‘D’ was even more amazing, holding the Jets (quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Joe Namath), Raiders (QB’d by Daryle Lamonica, who led the AFL with 34 TD passes) and Vikings (QB’d by Pro Bowler Joe Kapp) to a total of 20 points (two TDs, two field goals).

Check out these numbers: Against the Chiefs, those three estimable quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of 21 (113 attempts, 48 completions, 42.5 percent completion rate, 0 touchdowns, 10 interceptions). Granted, it was a different game then, one in which the defense had more of a fighting chance, but the Kansas City ‘D’ was phenomenal by any standard.

Consider: Opposing passers had a postseason rating of 31 against the 2000 Ravens, arguably the best defense in the last 25 years (at least). For the ’85 Bears, the rating was 39.2. For the ’86 Giants, it was 48.5. That should give you some idea of how otherworldly the ’69 Chiefs were.

Then again, maybe I should just introduce you to these guys individually. That’ll give you an even better idea of how loaded the ’69 Chiefs were.

● LE Jerry Mays (6-4/252, 30 years old) — Seven Pro Bowls (or AFL All-Star Games, as the case may be). Played 10 seasons.

● LT Curley Culp (6-2/265, 23) — Hall of Famer. Six Pro Bowls. Former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ (read: knew leverage like nobody’s business). The Broncos drafted him in the second round in 1968, tried unsuccessfully to turn him into an offensive guard, then traded him to the Chiefs for a ’69 No. 4 (OG Mike Schnitker). How’s that for a deal? Played 14 seasons.

● RT Buck Buchanan (6-7/270, 29) — Hall of Famer. Eight Pro Bowls. An absolute monster. Played 13 seasons.

● RE Aaron Brown (6-5/255, 26) — Second team all-AFL by The Sporting News in 1969, first team all-AFC by The Associated Press in ’70 and ’71. Wonderfully athletic, disruptive pass rusher who would have had an even better career if it hadn’t been for injuries. Played eight seasons.

● LLB Bobby Bell (6-3/228, 29) — Hall of Famer. Nine Pro Bowls. Simply one of the best players in pro football in that period. Returned six of his 26 interceptions for touchdowns, tying him for most by any modern linebacker. Played 12 seasons.

● MLB Willie Lanier (6-1/245, 24) — Hall of Famer. Eight Pro Bowls. Was far from just a run-stopper, as his 27 picks (one more than Bell) attest. Played 11 seasons.

● RLB Jim Lynch (6-1/235, 24) — One Pro Bowl. Consensus second team all-AFL in 1968 and ’69. Played 11 seasons.

● LCB Jim Marsalis (5-11/194, 24) — Two Pro Bowls. Went to the AFL All-Star Game that year as a rookie and was all-pro in 1970. Played eight seasons.

● RCB Emmitt Thomas (6-2/192, 26) — Hall of Famer. Five Pro Bowls. Led the AFL with nine interceptions in 1969 and added four more in the postseason — 13 in 17 games. Only two players have had more than four INTs in a single playoff year. (The Houston Oilers’ Vernon Perry in ’79 and the Raiders’ Lester Hayes in ’80 each had five.) Played 13 seasons.

● SS Jim Kearney (6-2/206, 26) — The only player on the unit who never made the Pro Bowl or the all-conference team. All Kearney ever did was run back four picks for touchdowns in 1972, tying the NFL record (which still stands). Played 12 seasons.

● FS Johnny Robinson (6-1/205, 31) — Eight Pro Bowls. Tied for the AFL lead in 1966 with 10 interceptions and led the NFL in ’70 with the same number. Was a nice offensive player his first two years, racking up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in ’60 (458 rushing, 611 receiving), then switched to defense and had 57 INTs over the next decade. Played 12 seasons. Again, I ask: Why isn’t this man in the Hall?

One more argument for Robinson: Only four defensive backs have had more than 57 interceptions in a 10-year period. Three are in Canton (Em Tunnell, 73; Paul Krause, 62; Night Train Lane, 58), and the other (Darren Sharper, 58) seemed like a semi-lock for Canton, too, until he was convicted of rape in March. Johnny also had 16 games in which he had two-or-more picks, as many as anybody since 1960. (Krause also had 16 multiple-pick games. No one else has had more than 12.)

To review: Five Hall of Famers (one more than the Steel Curtain Steelers, one less than the five-championships-in-seven-seasons Packers). Nine players who went to the Pro Bowl, another who was twice voted all-AFC and another who, though he didn’t earn any individual honors, has shared an NFL record for 43 years (and may well share it for another 43). And finally, tremendous longevity — careers of 10, 14, 13, 8, 12, 11, 11, 8, 13, 12 and 12 seasons (average: 11.3).

Imagine assembling a defense like that today. On second thought, don’t bother. Given the salary cap, the movement brought about by free agency and the general dilution of the product (six more franchises), it would be nigh impossible. That’s the defense the Chiefs threw at you.

Yeah, they haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since, while the Vikings played in three more in the next seven seasons (and suffered three more crushing losses). But I’ll always believe that, at that point in time, Kansas City was playing defense about as well as it has ever been played. I mean, there were no Gus Frerottes, no Jay Schroeders, no Dieter Brocks on their dance card. They were going against the iron — and shutting them down.

Something else to ponder: Eight of K.C.’s Magnificent Eleven were black (Mays, Lynch and Robinson being the exceptions). The Chiefs, from the beginning, were an equal-opportunity organization. All owner Lamar Hunt and coach Hank Stram cared about was winning. The Vikings defense, by contrast, had four blacks. Don’t get me wrong, the Minnesota ‘D’ — the vaunted Purple People Eaters — was outstanding. I’m just sayin’.

Remember, when the AFL came into being, the Redskins still had an all-white roster and some other NFL teams, notably the Lions, didn’t have the greatest track record in terms of integration. It’s one of the biggest impacts the AFL had on pro football. It brought more blacks into the game.

At any rate, from front to back — and from side to side, for that matter — the ’69 Chiefs defense was one of the all-time terrors. If Buchanan didn’t get you, Bell would . . . or some other member of this illustrious group. Make no mistake: Super Bowl IV was no upset. The Vikings offense was overmatched. And Kapp and Co., I’ll just remind you, were pretty potent. Minnesota put up 50-plus points three times that season. (Of course, the week before K.C. held them to seven points in the AFL title game, the Raiders had dropped 56 on the Houston Oilers. As I said, the Chiefs could strangle the best attacks.)

OK, on to the game — Super Bowl IV at New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. My thoughts:

● If you’re a pro football lover of a certain age, this final AFL-NFL championship game has a special place in your memory bank. The war between the established NFL and the try-anything AFL produced, for my money, the most entertaining decade in the game’s history. But rather than go off on a long tangent here, let me just say: To fully understand what I’m talking about, you had to be there. Pro football in that era was a weekly spectacular, and it emerged from those years as the No. 1 sport in the nation (to baseball’s continuing chagrin).

Apart from the nostalgia, though, the Chiefs-Vikings collision was the last time the Super Bowl was truly an Us-vs.-Them affair. Thereafter, no matter how delicious the matchup, it was Us vs. Us, which, let’s face it, takes something away from the game. No Super Bowl team these days is fighting for the honor of its conference — not the way the Chiefs (twice), Raiders and Jets fought for the credibility of the AFL in the ’60s. And when the worm turned at the end of the decade, it was, for many fans, like finding out the earth wasn’t flat or the sun didn’t revolve around the earth. Jets 16, Colts 7 was that cataclysmic.

● The Chiefs were such a cutting-edge team — a modern team. Never mind their dozen black starters, they also did a lot of pre-snap shifting on offense, often played one of their defensive tackles over the nose of the center (to the detriment of the Vikings’ undersized Mick Tinglehoff), had a lethal soccer-style kicker in Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud (when soccer-stylers were still in the minority) and even formed their offensive huddle unconventionally (with two lines facing quarterback Len Dawson: larger creatures in back, smaller creatures up front).

Here’s Culp blowing by Tinglehoff (who’ll be enshrined in Canton in August) to stuff a running play:

Watching Kansas City play in those days was like visiting Tomorrowland. The Chiefs were nothing like the ultra-basic Packers clubs coached by Vince Lombardi earlier in the ’60s (who served as a model for the ’69 Vikings). For instance, the Chiefs might not have reached the Super Bowl if they hadn’t sprung star receiver Otis Taylor for big gains against the Jets and Raiders by using a funky formation — with Taylor in the slot between the guard and tackle. And they tricked the Vikes three times by running end-arounds with their other wideout, Frank Pitts (who they positioned, in each instance, as a tight end on the left side). The first went for 19 yards and set up a field goal:

Minnesota, on the other hand, just lined up and came at you. Unfortunately, it was hard to do that against a defense like Kansas City’s. Buchanan, Culp, Brown and Mays repeatedly collapsed the pocket, and it seemed like Kapp spent the entire afternoon throwing off his back foot.

● In the brief intro before kickoff, CBS analyst Pat Summerall said Vikings coach Bud Grant had told him during the week “that Kansas City is the type of team — a physical team, a hitting team — that Minnesota has had trouble with throughout the entire year.” The Chiefs’ aggressiveness was certainly evident in the Super Bowl. On consecutive plays in the Vikings’ second series, they absolutely crunched running backs Bill Brown and Dave Osborn when they swung out of the backfield to catch passes, holding them to a pair of 1-yard gains. How often do you see consecutive 1-yard completions in the middle of the field?

At the outset of the second quarter, Marsalis put the wood to receiver John Henderson, causing a fumble that Robinson recovered. K.C. kept right on knocking Minnesota’s socks off.

● It no doubt helped the Chiefs that they had Been There Before, even if their previous Super Bowl experience had been a humbling 35-10 loss to Green Bay. Sixteen Kansas City starters, including punter Jerrel Wilson, had played in SB I. For the Vikings, it was their first time on the Super Bowl stage. And frankly, it showed. From the very first snap, K.C. looked like the looser club.

Don’t forget, too, that while the NFL had been around far longer than the AFL, the Chiefs (born: 1960) were actually older than the Vikes (a 1961 expansion franchise). So this Super Bowl had a much different dynamic than its predecessors.

● Stenerud was a huge factor, booting three field goals — the first a 48-yarder, a Super Bowl record at the time — to stake Kansas City to a 9-0 lead. Fred Cox, Minnesota’s traditional kicker (read: he kicked with the front of his foot, the toes, rather than the instep), had only one attempt in the game, from 56 yards with the wind at his back, and came up eight yards short:

It’s one of the more fascinating subplots of Super Bowl IV: the old way of kicking vs. the new way. Stenerud, a former ski jumper from Norway who was undrafted out of Montana State, was more of a weapon than Cox because he had more range. And Fred was one of pro football’s best in ’69, booting 26 field goals and making 70.3 percent of his tries, both NFL highs. But he kicked only two field goals of 50 yards or longer in his 15-year career and had a success rate of just 36.5 percent from 40 to 49 yards. Stenerud booted 17 field goals of 50-plus yards and was successful 51.3 percent of the time from 40 to 49 yards.

Little wonder that by the end of the ’70s, the vast majority of NFL teams had soccer-stylers.

● Another comment Summerall made: “Kansas City is basically a man-to-man defense in the secondary. Minnesota is primarily a zone defensive team.” This goes back to the Chiefs’ aggressiveness. Their ‘D’ attacked you at every level. Thanks to Thomas’ close coverage, Gene Washington, the Vikings’ Pro Bowl receiver, had only one catch for nine yards — and it didn’t come until the last eight minutes, by which time K.C. was ahead 23-7.

● People always joked about Kapp’s not-so-tight spirals. Indeed, Summerall mentioned that Joe “does throw a ball that wobbles quite a bit.” But the Vikes’ QB really aired it out on a couple of occasions. On an incompletion to Washington late in the first half, the pass traveled 65 yards in the air. It might be the longest throw in Super Bowl history:

● Just before that bomb, Dawson drew Minnesota offside by shifting into the shotgun, which wasn’t seen much back then. He took the snap nine yards behind the line. Play-by-play man Jack Buck (correctly) said it “used to be called the Short Punt [formation].” Yet another example of the Chiefs’ against-the-grain mentality (not to mention a sound strategy against the Vikings’ fierce pass rush):

● Penalties could be so much more punitive in the ’60s. At the start of the second half, Kansas City had moved to its 41 when tackle Dave Hill was caught grabbing Carl Eller, Minnesota’s Pro Bowl defensive end, on a third-and-seven play. In those days, though, the walk-off for holding wasn’t 10 yards, it was 15 — from the spot of the foul, which in this case was seven yards deep in the backfield. So it ended up costing the Chiefs 22 yards and left them with a third-and-29. Ouch.

(Referee John McDonough didn’t announce who the penalty was on, however, because refs weren’t equipped with microphones yet. It was left to Summerall to divine who the guilty party was. Sometimes, Pat just had to make an educated guess. After the Vikings were flagged for a personal foul in the third quarter, he said it “might” have been on linebacker Wally Hilgenberg for giving Kansas City back Mike Garrett “a little shot as he tried to get by him” on a pass route.)

● It was a better balanced game in 1969 — better balanced between the run and the pass, better balanced between the offense and the defense. The run/pass split that season was fairly even — 51.6 percent rushing plays (for the two leagues combined), 48.4 percent passing plays. Last year, with Drew Brees and friends firing the ball all over the lot, it was 43.4/56.6. Maybe you’re OK with that. To me, it’s out of whack (not that we’ll ever go back in the other direction).

The rule changes in 1978 that legalized the use of hands in pass blocking and eliminated bump-and-run coverage — along with other tinkering by the Competition Committee — have turned pro football, increasingly, into a throwing contest. Of course, almost from the outset, the NFL has tried to distinguish itself from college football by giving the offense “a slight edge,” as longtime league president Joe Carr put it. “We are primarily interested in developing a spectacular scoring game,” he said in the ’30s. “We haven’t the pageantry that goes with the college games, hence as a substitute we must offer wide-open play, with frequent scoring.

Over the years, though, that “slight edge” has widened. And when you watch a game like Super Bowl IV, you’re reminded how much. There was simply more uncertainty when Dawson and Kapp went to the air, a larger margin of error. Sure, the defenses had something to do with that — both were terrific — but the rules were also fairer. It was nice, for a few hours, to see the game regain its equilibrium. As much fun as passing is, running the ball is elemental (and, I might add, keeps pro football in touch with its roots).

● On second and 18 from the Minnesota 27 near the end of the first half, the Chiefs ran a draw to Wendell Hayes, who picked up 13 yards. Summerall’s remark: “Excellent call by Dawson.” Oh, right. Quarterbacks were still calling their own plays. How quaint.

It was just another way the game was more balanced: Things weren’t totally dominated, as they are today, by micromanaging coaches. That’s why the TV cameras weren’t constantly focused on Stram and Grant — neither of whom, by the way, wore a headset (a fashion accessory that wasn’t yet in vogue). To a large extent, the players ran the show.

● But not always. The famed 65 Toss Power Trap, which Garrett scored on from the 5-yard line to make it 16-0, was sent in by Stram (via receiver Gloster Richardson). It was a gutsy call, inasmuch as it was third and goal, and was perfectly executed. Guard Mo Moorman came over from the right side to trap Alan Page, the Vikings’ Hall of Fame defensive tackle, and Garrett had a huge hole to run through:

What’s just as notable about the play, though, is that Garrett leaped into Taylor’s arms afterward. Self-celebration wasn’t that common in the ’60s, but you could tell from Garrett’s reaction that that touchdown was, to him, the clincher. Given the way the Kansas City ‘D’ was playing, the Vikings weren’t going to rally from 16 points down:

Needless to say, the Chiefs cheerleaders were excited:

● Every now and then, Page would flash, just to remind everybody he was the baddest defensive player on the planet. Once, Dawson had barely completed a handoff to Hayes before Page broke through and drilled him. The guy had linebacker-type quickness (which figures, I guess, since he was 6-4, 245 pounds):

Earlier, Page had dropped Robert Holmes for a 5-yard loss on a draw and, a short time later, tackled Garrett a yard behind the line. That said, Kansas City guard Ed Budde — with help from his linemates — kept Alan from going totally bonkers, and the Chiefs did everything they could to use his quickness against him by running a bunch of traps, draws and screens.

Page now sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court, so it was amusing to see him lose his temper — not once, but twice. The first time, after drawing an offside penalty, he began jawing at the officials. The aforementioned hit on Dawson soon followed. (Moral: Don’t get Alan mad.)

In the closing minutes, Page got riled again. You couldn’t blame him. The Vikings, 13-point favorites, were going down in flames, and Grant — this shocked me — wasn’t using any of his timeouts to stop the clock. The Chiefs weren’t inclined to Just Get It Over With, though, and, on the first play after the two-minute warning, a third-and-11, Dawson rolled right to pass.

Eller sacked him for a four-yard loss, but Page wasn’t satisfied with that. He dove into Lenny, well after the whistle, as the quarterback lay on the ground, resulting in a personal-foul penalty that enabled K.C. to keep possession:

It was fitting end to the last Us vs. Them Super Bowl, one final bit of animosity before the two leagues clasped hands. Both benches emptied, but not much happened aside from some generic jostling. Then the game resumed, the Chiefs killed the remaining time, Stram was hoisted on his players’ shoulders . . . and pro football was never the same.

● Postscript: Did you notice, near the end, Buck’s plug for The Ed Sullivan Show (which aired that night on CBS)? Among the guests, he said, were Tiny Tim and his new bride, Miss Vicky. (If the names aren’t familiar, Google them. It’ll give you a better feel for where we were as a country when the curtain came down on the AFL.)

In fact, why don’t we have Tim sing us off?

I have just one more thing to add: The Kansas City defense was no “tiptoe through the tulips.”

(And yes, that’s Goldie Hawn who hands him a bouquet of flowers before escorting him offstage.)

The infamous Duane Thomas interview

We’ll never know what kind of NFL career Duane Thomas might have had because, while great at eluding tacklers, he couldn’t get out of his own way. For a brief period in the early ’70s, though, he was a premier running back, arguably the best in the league when suitably inspired.

He was definitely up for Super Bowl VI, when his Cowboys crunched the Dolphins, 24-3. He rushed for a game-high 95 yards, ran for the second Dallas touchdown, caught three passes — and did it against a dynasty-in-the-making that would win the next two NFL titles.

But Thomas wasn’t exactly a big talker. And after getting in a contract dispute that season — a strange episode that saw him traded to the Patriots, then returned to the Cowboys when he proved utterly uncooperative — he shut himself off from the media and didn’t communicate much with coaches and teammates, either.

Duane Thomas SI coverNaturally, this didn’t make him very popular. In his book, Duane Thomas and the Fall of America’s Team, Paul Zimmerman wrote that Thomas was “the writers’ overwhelming choice” for Super Bowl MVP — and the car that went with it — but Sport magazine, which handed out the award, opted for Dallas’ Roger Staubach, who’d thrown for a modest 119 yards (and two TDs). The reason was obvious: The publication was afraid of what Thomas might say or do when he was presented with the car in New York (that is, assuming he showed up).

Simply put, Thomas’ demeanor made people uncomfortable — even a hard-nosed former NFL defensive back like Tom Brookshier. After the game, Brookshier was doing interviews in the winners’ locker room for CBS when he got one of the surprises of his life: Thomas was suddenly standing behind him on the TV platform, accompanied by football legend Jim Brown, his friend and advisor.

What followed were three of the more memorable minutes in the history of sports television. You had Brookshier struggling to get any kind of conversation going — and coming across like a summer intern in the process — and you had Thomas, ever the Sphinx, keeping his answers painfully short. (Except for his immortal “Evidently” line. That was humorously short.) As for Brown, then a Hollywood star, he almost sounded like Duane’s Svengali at times.

See for yourself. Here’s a clip of the interview that I happily came across yesterday — and that might get taken down at any moment if the Copyright Infringement Police decides to make an issue of it (which is why I’m posting it now, completely out of the blue).

“I still have nightmares about that interview,” Brookshier once said. “I think of it and break into a cold sweat. I keep a blown-up photo of it next to my desk — so I’ll never forget.”

This past season, of course, we had another closed-mouthed running back at the Super Bowl: the Seahawks’ Marshawn “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” Lynch. I don’t know about you, but I thought Thomas was much more entertaining.

Sources: YouTube, pro-football-reference.com

Brady vs. Montana vs. Bradshaw vs. . . .

Tom Brady’s fourth Super Bowl win with the Patriots puts him pretty close to the top of the heap, championship-wise. After all, only four other quarterbacks have won four or more NFL titles — Hall of Famers Bart Starr (5), Joe MontanaTerry Bradshaw and Sid Luckman.

Here’s how Brady’s championship-game numbers compare to theirs. I included Otto Graham because he just seems to belong in this group. Graham played in the title game in all six of his NFL seasons (1950-55), and he might have played in more if he hadn’t spent his first four years in the rival All-America Conference.

BRADY VS. THE GREATS (CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES ONLY)

Span  Quarterback, Team W-L Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating High Low
1981-89  Montana, 49ers 4-0 122   83 68.0 1142 11   0 127.8 147.6 100.0
1974-79  Bradshaw, Steelers 4-0   84   49 58.3   932   9   4 112.8 122.5 101.9
2001-14  Brady, Patriots 4-2 247 164 66.4 1605 13   4   95.3 110.2   82.5
1960-67  Starr, Packers 5-1 137   79 57.7 1026   8   2   94.7 130.9   54.7
1940-46  Luckman, Bears 4-1   76   41 53.9   680   7   4   93.1 135.6*     9.7
1950-55  Graham, Browns 3-3 160   86 53.8 1161 10 12   66.7 122.2     0.0

(Note: “Span” is the span of seasons they played in title games, not the span of their careers. “High” and “Low” are their best and worst passer ratings in those games.)

In Starr’s case, the first four games were NFL championship games and the last two were Super Bowls against the teams that won the AFL title. Interestingly, if you exclude the two Super Bowls — against a lesser league — and count the 1966 and ’67 NFL championship games against the Cowboys instead, his rating actually goes up. This is what his revised line would look like:

Span  Quarterback, Team W-L Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating High Low
1960-67  Starr, Packers 5-1 142 83 58.5 1069 11 1 105.0 143.5 54.7

A 105 rating, of course, would move him ahead of Brady and not far behind Montana and Bradshaw. Starr was a gamer, all right.

As you can see in the chart, Montana and Bradshaw never posted a rating below 100 in a Super Bowl. Amazing. Brady hasn’t been able to match that, but he has topped 100 three times. The other three QBs all had at least one game where they stunk it up (or played well below their standards). Check out this game by Graham (a rating of 0.0!) and this one by Luckman (9.7). Yikes.

Keep in mind: We’re looking only at passing proficiency here. We’re not taking into account weather conditions, other abilities the quarterbacks might have (e.g. Graham’s running), the quality of the defenses they went up against or the rules they played under. All that would make for a much longer — if not endless — discussion. You have to admit, though, Brady measures up well against the legends, and he might not be done collecting rings.

*Luckman had a 156.3 rating in the 73-0 obliteration of the Redskins in 1940, but he attempted only four passes. So I went with his 135.6 rating against Washington in ′43, when he threw 26 times.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Patriots' Tom Brady is fantabulous, but Joe Montana put up better numbers in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots’ Tom Brady is fantabulous, but Joe Montana put up better numbers in the Super Bowl.

Payback for all those 1-yard TD passes

There were 66 1-yard touchdown passes in the NFL this season. I know this because I just researched it at pro-football-reference.com. Sixty-six 1-yard TD passes is enough of an abomination in this he-man sport, but this next statistic is even worse: Until Malcolm Butler saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots by picking off Russell Wilson’s throw in the final minute, the defense hadn’t intercepted a single pass in that situation.

As we all know, pro football is out of whack. The offense-defense balance has been lost, probably forever, thanks to a succession of quarterback-friendly rule changes. And few things represent this out-of-whackness better than the 66 1-yard touchdown passes QBs tossed this season. Heck, it’s practically taunting when a team dials up a 1-yard TD pass, especially when the receiver is somebody like J.J. Watt (two caught two of them this year).

Think about it: Against a spread offense, with pick plays and push-offs virtually legal now, how exactly are you supposed to defend a pass from the 1-yard line? Somehow, though, Butler did. If that isn’t reason to celebrate — the defense won for a change! — I don’t know what is.

Once upon a time, the NFL scoffed at throwing such an itty-bitty pass. In 1942, when the Packers’ Cecil Isbell lobbed a 4-incher to Hall of Famer Don Hutson for a touchdown, the league thought it was so hilarious that it added it to the record book. Now, keep in mind: Nowhere in the book could you find the shortest TD run or shortest field goal or shortest anything else. But the shortest TD pass — I’m surprised it wasn’t labeled Biggest Wimpout — was right there on Page 21:

1943 Rule Book shortest TD pass

Here’s how Stoney McGlynn of the Milwaukee Sentinel described this not-so-great moment in NFL history:

10-19-42 Sentinel description

Even better, the Milwaukee Journal ran a photo of the play — a terrific one. What are the odds of that? Check it out:

Journal photo of TD catch

As you can see, Isbell, after taking the shotgun snap in the Packers’ single wing, released the ball from the Cleveland 9. (I’m guessing he faked a handoff before throwing.) I particularly like the X-marks-the-spot in the left corner of the end zone, which is where Hutson made the grab.

{Miscellaneous note: Dante Magnani, the Rams defensive back who “let Hutson get a step behind him,” had had a whale of a game, scoring on a 52-yard run and a 67-yard reception. But in those days, of course, you had to play defense, too.)

Anyway, Hutson’s “mark” stood for 18 years. Then Cowboys tight end Dick Bielski broke it by hauling in a 2-inch touchdown heave from Eddie LeBaron in a 1960 game against the Redskins.

The Associated Press’ account read thusly:

AP on Bielski TD

(Miscellaneous note No. 2: This happened in the third game in Cowboys history. They went 0-11-1 that first season, so Bielski’s TD must have been one of the high points of the year.)

Naturally, Dick’s feat was included in the record book, too, and the revised entry looked like this:

1970 Record Book including Bielski

It wasn’t until 1971 that the NFL stopped listing the “Shortest Pass Reception for Touchdown” among its records. (Bielski and Hutson were still 1-2.) Maybe the league was just starting to lose its sense of humor. Then, too, by the early ’70s the short TD pass was no longer such a novelty. You have to remember: Until the ’30s, an incompletion in the end zone was ruled a touchback. The offense actually lost possession of the ball. That, as much as raging testosterone, is why teams didn’t throw much when they were close to the goal line. They didn’t want to risk a turnover. As it became more of a passing game, though, and as the rules loosened up, most of the risk went out of such a play.

But in Super Bowl 49, glorious Super Bowl 49, we had the proverbial Once in a Blue Moon. On second and goal from the New England 1, Wilson fired to Ricardo Lockette on a quick slant and, lo and behold, Butler broke for the ball and all but plucked it out of Lockette’s hands. Game over (except for some pushing, shoving and punching). Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.

Come to think of it, that would make a great title for the Super Bowl highlight film: Blue Moon Over Arizona.

I’ll close with this from the Aug. 13, 1962, Milwaukee Journal:Kuechle letter from reader 8-13-62 Journal

The myth of Super Bowl distractions?

Tom Brady wasn’t in a very good place when he began his Super Bowl preparations. Deflategate — and its attendant tempest — blindsided him worse than any Terrell Suggs sack. Some people thought the Patriots cheated in their 45-7 AFC title game win over the Colts. Some of those same people thought Brady, as the quarterback, must have had something to do with it. The NFL, meanwhile, was conducting an investigation at its usual glacial pace. Oh, it was a mess.

A mess, of course, that’s still to be resolved — which may or may not have made it worse for Brady. This much we do know: He took it, “very, very personal” (as Sonny Corleone said to Michael in The Godfather). Or as Tom put it on a Boston radio show:

I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me and my feelings got hurt, and then I moved past it because it’s not serving me.

I think what’s serving me is to try to prepare for the game ahead, and I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that, and honestly I’m not interested in trying to find out right now because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.

Well, how to you like the way Brady “moved past it”? Against a Seahawks defense that’s the best in the league and possibly the finest since the 2000 Ravens (if not the 1985 Bears), he had the greatest of his six Super Bowls on Sunday night. Not only did he complete 37 of 50 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns, each to a different receiver, he drove the Patriots to two fourth-quarter TDs, the second of which capped a rally from a 10-point deficit and won the game, 28-24.

In other words, after taking Deflategate “very, very personal,” he did to the defending champions at University of Phoenix Stadium what Michael did to Sollozzo and the police captain at Louis Restaurant. Not to get too graphic about it.

That’s how you win a record-tying four Super Bowls — by being able to compartmentalize; by taking the latest scandal, zipping it up in a bag with the rest of the semi-inflated balls and going about your business. What a talent to have, apart from the passing and vision and decision-making and all the other things that go into quarterbacking. It might be what puts Brady a little higher on the podium than other QBs, past and present.

You know what’s really strange? There have been a handful of Super Bowl quarterbacks in 49 years who have been caught in a storm, so to speak, and every one has ended up playing well in the game. Brady is just the latest — and probably the greatest. But look at some of these other guys:

● Len Dawson, Chiefs, Super Bowl 4 — Early in the week, Dawson’s name was linked to nationwide gambling probe involving a “casual acquaintance,” a Detroit restaurateur who had already been arrested. He admitted being “shocked” by the development, and the pressure on him going into the game was heavier than Buck Buchanan.

“If we lose Sunday and he throws some bad passes, you know what they’ll say don’t you?” Chiefs defensive end Jerry Mays said. “Winning or losing usually is going to fall back on 40 players, but this one would fall back on Lenny.”

The upshot: Dawson responded with an MVP performance, hitting 12 of 17 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in a 23-7 upset of the NFL’s Vikings.

● Doug Williams, Redskins, Super Bowl 22 – Williams had to deal with a different kind of stress: He was the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl. (You can imagine what that was like.) He was asked question after question about it in the days leading up to the game, and answered each time with great equanimity.

The upshot: Another MVP performance, one highlighted by a Super Bowl record four TD passes in the second quarter. Final score: Redskins 42, Broncos 10.

● Joe Namath, Jets, Super Bowl 3 — The loquacious Namath brought the controversy on himself by saying he would “guarantee” a victory over the NFL’s Colts. To stir things up even more more, he nearly got in a fight with Baltimore’s Lou Michaels in a Miami cocktail lounge. Here’s Michaels’ version of it (as told to The New York Times), which begins with Joe walking in and introducing himself:

I’m still resentful of the way it started out. I thought Joe was at fault. I never had the privilege of meeting Joe, but I knew who he was. I went to school with his brother at Kentucky. Joe walked up to me, and the first thing he said was, “We’re going to beat the heck out of you,” only he didn’t say heck. And he said, “And I’m going to do it.”

If you’re looking for a fight, that’s going to do it. Instead of saying, “Hello, I’m Joe Namath, how are you?” I think he was a little arrogant there. I said, “Suppose we beat you?” And he said, “I’ll sit in the middle of the field, and I’ll cry.”

I believe in that little thing called modesty. I asked him about that, and he said, “That’s not in my dictionary.” I don’t know why he came on so strong. It worked out fine. I have nothing against Joe. If I was in his shoes, I’d be a little down to earth.

The upshot: Yet another MVP performance. Namath picked apart the vaunted Colts defense, connecting on 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards as the Jets won, 16-7.

So there you have it: four quarterbacks, all under the gun — even by Super Bowl standards — and they all came away with MVP honors, Brady included. Maybe this business about avoiding distractions before big games is a bunch of hooey. It certainly didn’t do Brady, Dawson, Williams and Namath any harm, did it?

After a chaotic week in which he got caught up in a gambling investigation, the Chiefs' Len Dawson was MVP of Super Bowl IV.

After getting caught up in a gambling investigation, the Chiefs’ Len Dawson was MVP of Super Bowl IV.

SI’s cover the week of Super Bowl III

If you want to know how far pro football has come in this country, consider what Sports Illustrated ran on its cover the week of Super Bowl III.

The issue before, after the NFL and AFL title games, SI had gone with this Colts cover — Tom Matte plunging for a touchdown against the Browns in Baltimore’s 34-0 win.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 2.00.31 PM

It made sense. The NFL, after all, was the dominant league, and the Colts were a juggernaut that season. They were 17-point favorites to trample the Jets in the Super Bowl.

So what did SI put on its cover the week of the Big Game?

SI Swimsuit cover

That’s right, It wheeled out the swimsuit issue. (It wasn’t even that great a bikini.)

SI had done the same thing before the first two Super Bowls. I guess it figured its mostly male readership would be spending most of the week discussing beachwear and how the two-piece was at least a 17-point favorite over the one-piece.

Miscellaneous note: In January 1969, Elle Macpherson was 4 years old.

Six title games in 14 seasons

What does it mean, historically, to do what the Patriots have done in the 2000s: go to six Super Bowls in 14 seasons? How rare is a run like that?

In the free agency era (1993-), of course, no other team has come close to it. You’d have to go back to the ’70s and earlier to find clubs that had better stretches than New England’s. See for yourself:

SIX NFL TITLE GAMES IN THE SHORTEST SPAN OF YEARS

Team Coach(es) Title Years Total (W-L)
1950-55 Browns Paul Brown 1950-51-52-53-5455 6 in 6 years (3-3)
1960-67 Packers Vince Lombardi 1960-6162656667 6 in 8 years (5-1)
1956-63 Giants Jim Lee Howell, Allie Sherman 1956-58-59-61-62-63 6 in 8 years (1-5)
1933-41 Giants Steve Owen 1933-34-35-38-39-41 6 in 9 years (2-4)
1936-45 Redskins Ray Flaherty, 2 others 1936-37-40-42-43-45 6 in 10 years (2-4)
1937-46 Bears George Halas, 2 others 1937-4041-42-4346 6 in 10 years (4-2)
1932-41 Bears Ralph Jones, George Halas 193233-34-37-4041 6 in 10 years (4-2)
1929-39 Packers Curly Lambeau 1929303136-38-39 6 in 11 years (5-1)
1966-77 Cowboys Tom Landry 1966-67-70-71-75-77 6 in 12 years (2-4)
2001-14 Patriots Bill Belichick 20010304-07-11-14 6 in 14 years (3-2)

(Note: Championship seasons are boldfaced. Also, the Packers’ 1929, ’30 and ’31 titles were based on their regular-season record. The first championship game wasn’t played until ’32.)

As you can see, the two Bears entries from the ’30s and ’40s overlap. If you combine them, Chicago went to nine title games in 15 years (1932-46). It’s the same with the two Giants entries from that period. Combine them, and the Giants played in eight championship games in 14 years.

As for the Cowboys, they didn’t go to the Super Bowl in 1966 and ’67, but they did reach the NFL championship game both seasons. That’s why I included them – because they the second-best team in pro football (with all due respect to the ’66 Chiefs and ’67 Raiders, champions of the AFL).*

At any rate, the Patriots’ accomplishment is quite a feat given the limitations of the salary cap and the comings and goings of players. Their closest competitors in recent decades are the 1986-98 Broncos (five Super Bowls in 13 years) and the 1981-94 49ers (five in 14 years).

*The 1967-78 Cowboys also went to six title games in 12 seasons.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Bears coach George Halas after winning the 1940 title over the Redskins by the slim margin of 73-0.

Bears coach George Halas after winning the 1940 title game over the Redskins by the slim margin of 73-0.

When SI’s Super Bowl prediction was only off by 52 points

Predicting the final score of the Super Bowl is an invitation to make a fool of yourself. Every year, though, media folk — and even more non-media folk — give it a shot, just for “fun.”

The greatest of all NFL title game predictions is the one John Steadman made in the Baltimore News-Post before the sudden-death classic between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants in 1958. Steadman thought long and hard about it, may even have availed himself of a palm reader, and somehow came up with 23-17 — right on the money.

(What’s overlooked about this story is that 23-17 was, at the time, a very unusual score. There had been only four 23-17 games in NFL history before the Sudden Death Game — the first, interestingly enough, being the Packers-Giants championship game in 1938.)

At the opposite end from Steadman’s is the pick Sports Illustrated’s Tex Maule made a decade later when the Colts met the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. This, too turned out to be a historic game, because the Jets, 17-point underdogs, upset the Colts, 16-7, to give the AFL its first win over the established NFL. Anyway, Maule, SI’s pro football writer, miscalculated by just a shade. He had the Colts winning, 43-0.

But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Here’s a story that ran in the Oakland Tribune the week of the game:

MIAMI — Among Super Bowl writers, it’s Baltimore Colts, 49-6, with a lot of coward’s abstentions.

There are a record 367 credentialed working pressmen here covering the [Super Bowl], but a poll finds only 49 picking the Colts and a slim six writers going for the New York Jets. . . . Tex Maule of Sports Illustrated showed his NFL affection with a 43-0 Baltimore pick.

The results of the unscientific poll were no great surprise. The Colts had suffered only one loss all season, to the Browns, and had avenged it in the NFL title game with a blowout 34-0 victory at Cleveland. The Jets, meanwhile, had gone 11-3 in a supposedly inferior league and had barely gotten past the Raiders in the championship game.

But 43-0? The scores of the first two Super Bowls had been 35-10 (Packers over Chiefs) and 33-14 (Packers over Raiders). How on earth did Maule come up with 43-0?

Well, to be blunt about it, Tex was an NFL loyalist whose attachment to the league sometimes clouded his vision. A writer like that would have a hard time functioning today. He’d be crucified on sports talk shows, burned at the stake on Twitter and have his face ripped off on Facebook. But the world was a much different place in January 1969.

Before Maule went to work for SI, you see, he’d been a publicist for not one but two NFL teams. He was an assistant with the Rams from 1949 to ’51 . . .

1951 Rams co-Texes . . . and he was the head guy for the Dallas Texans in 1952 (after which they folded and the franchise moved to Baltimore).

Maule '52 TexansBy the way, did you notice the name above Maule’s in the Rams directory? None other than Tex Schramm, who helped turn the Cowboys into “America’s Team” in the ’60s and ’70s. Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times thought the Schramm-Maule duo was so hysterical that he’d go around telling people the Rams were the only club in the league with co-Texes.

(It was all so cozy back then. Consider: When Schramm left his sportswriting job at the Austin American in the late ’40s to work for the Rams, it was Maule who replaced him. A couple of years later, Schramm needed help in the PR department and, you guessed it, brought Maule out to L.A. Then Maule returned to Texas to take the job with the Texans, and who did Schramm fill the position with? University of San Francisco SID — and future NFL commissioner — Pete Rozelle.)

But returning to Maule . . . his love for the NFL knew few bounds. And loving the NFL meant looking down on the scrappy, rival league that had sprung up to challenge it in the ’60s. In the issue of SI that was published before the Super Bowl, Tex laid out his worldview:

In evaluations of the two teams, most experts, for unfathomable reasons, have conceded the Jets an edge at quarterback. Both [the Jets’ Joe] Namath and [the Colts’ Earl] Morrall were selected Most Valuable in their leagues, but Namath certainly can claim no clear-cut superiority over Morrall. . . .

As usual, the AFL players base part of their hopes for victory on the rather tenuous claim that since football is a game of emotion, they will outemotion the NFL. But Las Vegas bookmakers, a group not known for emotional display, figure the Colts to be 17 points better than the Jets, which is probably conservative. . . .

Because the AFL had to compete with the NFL for the best of the college seniors during the first five years of its existence a kind of natural selection worked against the new league’s acquisition of players with the self-confidence and desire to excel against the best. . . . The rest of the AFL players in those formative years came over from the NFL. They were mostly athletes who preferred to switch rather than fight for their positions in the NFL.

This situation, of course, no longer applies. With the common draft of the last two years, the AFL is getting its share of the truly competitive, gung-ho athletes and it will soon achieve parity with the NFL. But that parity has not yet been reached, and the Colts should demonstrate this with an authority that may shock Jets fans.

To summarize: In the pre-Super Bowl years, the AFL was essentially populated by gutless losers who either signed with the league out of college because they “lacked the self-confidence and desire to excel against the best” or fled the NFL because the competition was too tough. Maule couldn’t even look at the two quarterbacks — Namath, a future Hall of Famer with a cannon arm, and Morrall, a 34-year-old journeyman who was 30-32-2 as a starter going into that season — and admit, yeah, the Jets might have the advantage there.

And SI actually printed this propaganda. Amazing, huh?

SI SB3 coverYou already know how it turned out. Morrall did the “unfathomable,” throwing three interceptions and getting badly outplayed by Namath. Indeed, the Colts might have been shut out if aging, ailing Johnny Unitas hadn’t came off the bench to drive them to a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Maule’s post-game piece was more complimentary of Namath and the Jets, but you could picture him typing the words with clenched teeth. “Broadway Joe is the folk hero of the new generation,” he began. “He is long hair, a Fu Manchu mustache worth $10,000 to shave off, swinging nights in the live spots of the big city, the dream lover of the stewardi — all that spells insouciant youth in the Jet Age.”

Toward the end there was this: “So the era of John Unitas ended and the day of Broadway Joe and the mod quarterback began. John is crew cut and quiet and Joe has long hair and a big mouth, but haircuts and gab obviously have nothing to do with the efficiency of quarterbacks.”

It was as if, in Tex’s eyes, the final scoreboard read: Hippies 43, Establishment 0.

On the brink of going back-to-back

The Seahawks are back in the Super Bowl looking to repeat. Which raises the question: How often has a team in that situation finished the job?

Answer: Of the 11 previous defending champs that returned to the Super Bowl, eight won the game — 72.7 percent. That’s pretty good odds for Seattle (even if it does have to beat the Patriots, the Team of the 2000s). The details:

DEFENDING CHAMPS THAT RETURNED TO THE SUPER BOWL THE NEXT YEAR

Team First Super Bowl Second Super Bowl
1966-67 Packers Beat Chiefs, 35-10 Beat Raiders, 33-14
1972-73 Dolphins Beat Redskins, 14-7 Beat Vikings, 24-7
1974-75 Steelers Beat Vikings, 16-6 Beat Cowboys, 21-17
1977-78 Cowboys Beat Broncos, 27-10 Lost to Steelers, 35-31
1978-79 Steelers Beat Cowboys, 35-31 Beat Rams, 31-19
1982-83 Redskins Beat Dolphins, 27-17 Lost to Raiders, 38-9
1988-89 49ers Beat Bengals, 20-16 Beat Broncos, 55-10
1992-93 Cowboys Beat Bills, 52-17 Beat Bills, 30-13
1996-97 Packers Beat Patriots, 35-21 Lost to Broncos, 31-24
1997-98 Broncos Beat Packers, 31-24 Beat Falcons, 34-19
2003-04 Patriots Beat Panthers, 32-29 Beat Eagles, 24-21
2013-14 Seahawks Beat Broncos, 43-8 Vs. Patriots, SB 49

The last time a defending champ lost the Super Bowl, in other words, the winning score came on a conceded touchdown. (The Packers offered no resistance on Terrell Davis’ 1-yard TD run so they could get the ball back with 1:45 left.)

The Packers defensive line opens wide in Super Bowl 32 to let Denver's Terrell Davis score.

The Packers defensive line opens wide in Super Bowl 32 to let Denver’s Terrell Davis score in the final two minutes.

In the days before diplomacy

Before players became so well behaved — in terms of their public pronouncements, I mean — Super Bowl Week was a lot more entertaining. I was reminded of this the other day when I came across a story that ran after the 1968 AFL title game between the Jets and Raiders.

Joe Namath’s team rallied to win the game, 27-23 – then went off to slay the NFL champion Colts, the biggest upset in pro football history. The visiting Raiders, who thought they were the better club (and may well have been), could only go home and stew for seven months.

In the walk-up to the Super Bowl, Jets cornerback Johnny Sample was doing what he did best: mouthing off. Sample was one of the early trash talkers — not quite as quotable, perhaps, as Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, but heck, Fred was practically Oscar Wilde.

One day Johnny was holding forth about the cornerback position — and about the notebook he kept that had detailed information on every man he covered. The Raiders’ Fred Biletnikoff, a future Hall of Famer, was just “an average receiver,” he’d decided. “You can’t compare him to the great receivers.”

This was a strange statement coming from Sample. Biletnikoff, after all, had torn him up in the AFL title game, catching seven passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. (In fact, Raiders owner Al Davis told The Boston Globe’s Will McDonough, “Fred has eaten him up the last three times he has played against him, and every time he does, Sample says he’s had a cold.”)

An enterprising reporter for the Oakland Tribune called Biletnikoff to get his reaction to Sample’s remarks. Fred was in a Los Angeles hospital at the time recovering from a collarbone injury that Johnny, apparently, had something to do with.

“The way I feel about it,” he said, “[Sample] should write a new book. He was really trying to shake me up in the first quarter, slapping at me and trying to talk me out of my game.

“When I dropped one on the 1-yard line, he said, ‘That’s the way it’s going to be today.’ But after I started beating him he didn’t say much for the rest of the game. I figure the game went 25 percent his way, 75 percent my way.”

I’m saving the best for last. Sample was suggesting at the Super Bowl that he might retire after the game — and it did, indeed, turn out to be his last season. How did Biletnikoff feel about that?

“I hope he doesn’t,” Fred said. “I’d like to play 14 games a season against him. That way I’d know my family is secure for a long time.”

Anyway, that’s what happened one day before Super Bowl III. Anybody say anything interesting today?

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Jets' Johnny Sample (24) and the Colts' Tom Matte (41) go facemask-to-facemask in Super Bowl III.

The Jets’ Johnny Sample (24) and the Colts’ Tom Matte (41) go facemask-to-facemask in Super Bowl III.