Friday, December 21, 2007
Here’s the list of every 1-15 team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule:
1980, Week 15: New Orleans 21 New York Jets 20
1982, Week 2: Houston 23 Seattle 21
1989, Week 9: Dallas 13 Washington 3
1990, Week 2: New England 16 Indianapolis 14
1991, Week 11: Indianapolis 28 New York Jets 27
1996, Week 9: New York Jets 31 Arizona 21
2000, Week 13: San Diego 17 Kansas City 16
2001, Week 1: Carolina 24 Minnesota 13
You can see that only the 1980 Saints, the 1991 Colts, and the 2000 Chargers played deep into the season with fans dreading the possibility of immortal infamy. Also note that all three of those critical wins were hard-fought nailbiters. It’s just never easy to break that double-digit losing streak. Now, other teams besides those above have given their fans 0-16 nightmares, but they wound up winning more than a single game. Here’s the ones who gave it a good run:
1984, Week 12: Buffalo 14 Dallas 3 (Bills finished 2-14)
1986, Week 14: Indianapolis 28 Atlanta 23 (Colts finished 3-13)
2001, Week 13: Detroit 27 Minnesota 24 (Lions finished 2-14)
Again we see how hard it is to actually lose them all and how close that streak-breaking win usually is. So where does Miami’s 2007, Week 14 22-16 OT triumph over the Ravens fall among classic triumphs by previously winless teams? Well, only the 1980 Saints went longer than Miami did in making their fans wait for that first win. And that was a close hard-fought game, not decided until inside the final minute when Jets running back Bruce Harper stupidly stayed in bounds trying to get extra yardage even though New York was out of time outs. With the ball at the Saint’s 37-yard line the final eleven seconds ticked away before the Jets could try a field goal or one final pass to the end zone.
The only other team starved for a win as long as the 2007 Dolphins was the 1986 Colts and they also won in last second crazy fashion. The Colts blocked an Atlanta punt and returned it for the winning TD with 20 seconds left.
Three critical late-season triumphs. Three teams coming through with clutch victories to disappoint those rooting hard for 0-16. So which was the greatest game? You’ve got to go with last week don’t you. That’s the only overtime game! And think about the unique rollercoaster ride Miami put its fans through. Trailing by 10 at the half. Coming from behind. Seemingly winning the game with a late field goal. Allowing the Ravens to drive down to the Miami one-yard-line with seconds left. Baltimore choosing to play it safe and go to overtime. The ravens missing the game-winning field goal. And finally, catching lightning in a bottle with a 64-yard TD strike to a complete unknown, the big play that’s been missing the entire season!
Miami 22 Baltimore 16 OT. In the worst season EVER, one of the greatest wins in team history. You heard me. We’re not the worst team ever! It adds up to one thing: the greatest meaningless win in NFL history.
Well, last Sunday Brian Billick choked even worse than he did on Match Game. His team had the ball inside the one-yard line with 12 seconds left in regulation, trailing by three. A FG forces overtime; a TD wins it. If Vince Lombardi had been the coach we know what the decision would have been: "Well, run it and let's get the Hell out of here". But Billick didn’t have the guts to lay it on the line like that even though the Ravens had Miami on the ropes and were averaging over 4.5 yards a carry on the day. He panicked, played it safe, and gave Miami a chance to win it in OT. His play-it-safe strategy blew up in his face in OT when Baltimore drove to Miami’s 25-yard line. Instead of aggressively trying to move the ball into chip-shot field goal range, the Ravens ran the ball up the gut three straight times netting all of one negative yard. Stover missed the 43-yard FG and lightning struck two plays later in the form of Greg Camarillo. Baltimore’s eighth-straight loss and their most humiliating one yet, beaten by an 0-13 club. Clearly Brian Billick has much to teach us about success. Hopefully he made more money off his book than he did from his humiliating Match Game appearance:
Friday, December 14, 2007
Alright so what does this have to do with football? Well it just so happens that a 1977 episode of Match Game PM featured as a contestant one Brian Harold Billick, now the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. At the time of his Match Game fame, Billick had just ended his attempt to play pro ball and took a job as a coach at his old high school. The best part of the whole thing (if Wikipedia is to be belived) is that Billick got crushed by whoever he played and Gene Rayburn and Richard Dawson made fun of him! Rayburn said, "Boy, I hope you signed that contract already. They might think twice after seeing this performance" and Dawson followed up with this: "Failed at football. Failed at Match Game. Where will you go now?.” Classic. Hopefully, Billick will lose as embarrassingly this week as he did back in 1977. Hey Billick, remember this?
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Previously, I wrote how going undefeated is just about as difficult as losing them all. Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran the losing gauntlet successfully since the 1970 merger. The 1982 Baltimore Colts are the only other winless team since that time: 0-8-1. One tie marred their hapless mark. Of course the 1982 strike cost them seven shots at a win though so who knows if they were truly historically Superbad? The NFL has seen many one-loss teams over the years (and the Jets have lost to four of them!), but winless teams are another matter. Other than the Bucs and the 1960 Dallas Cowboys you have to go back to the 1940’s to find another winless NFL team! Three in a row as a matter of fact.
Yes, the 1940’s were the Golden Age of Winlessness. In 1942, the Detroit Lions went 0-11, in 1943 the Chicago Cardinal went 0-10, and in 1944, a merged Cardinals/Pittsburgh Steelers team, Card-Pitt (aka the Carpets) went 0-10. No research into the reason for this futility seems necessary. The years of these winless seasons tells the tale. Manpower shortages caused by World War II no doubt left several NFL franchises woefully lacking in quality football players. The Cardinals and Steelers actually had to merge for a year they were so short of players. Going back to the beginning of NFL’s division format/championship game era (1933), the only one other winless team would be the 1934 Cincinnati Reds. That team, an expansion team in 1933, posted an 0-8 mark in their second and final season, the team actually going out of business for good with three games remaining on their schedule. Fast-forwarding, another expansion team, the 1960 Dallas Cowboys, dropped 11 of their 12 games and tied their opponent in the other.
So, since 1933 the NFL has seen seven winless teams. Three of those teams played in the WWII era and were probably not of true professional quality. Two others, the Bucs and Cowboys, were expansion teams. The final two, the Reds and Colts, never got to play a full season. Plus the Colts at least tied a game. Now we can really see what an amazing “achievement” it would be for the 2007 Miami Dolphins to drop them all. The Dolphins are four decades removed from their expansion days. While they certainly suffer a shortage of quality players, that problem is purely a result of bad personnel decisions, not a war. And the Dolphins will play a full schedule, 16 games. And a tie is unlikely; the NFL hasn’t had one since 2002. The Miami Dolphins are just four games away from pulling off a truly historic feat: a non-expansion, non-wartime team losing a full season’s worth of games. It’s never been done.
Friday, November 30, 2007
1) First, I engaged in further research, going back to 1960, and I discovered that in fact the Jets’ streak has lasted over four decades! The 1960’s saw a surprising nine teams produce horrible one-win seasons. Adding those nine teams to the prevous list of the post-Sixties Awful Eleven leaves us this list of twenty one-loss teams with, more importantly for the purpose of this post, in parenthesis those teams that managed to fall in defeat to the Terrible Twenty:
1960: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1961: Washington Redskins (Dallas Cowboys)
1962: Oakland Raiders (Boston Patriots)
1962: Los Angeles Rams (San Francisco 49’ers)
1966: New York Giants (Washington Redskins)
1967: Atlanta Falcons (Minnesota Vikings)
1968: Buffalo Bills (New York Jets)
1969: Chicago Bears (Pittsburgh Steelers)
1969: Pittsburgh Steelers (Detroit Lions)
1971: Buffalo Bills (New England Patriots)
1972: Houston Oilers (New York Jets)
1973: Houston Oilers (Baltimore Colts)
1980: New Orleans Saints (New York Jets)
1982: Houston Oilers (Seattle Seahawks)
1989: Dallas Cowboys (Washington Redskins)
1990: New England Patriots (Indianapolis Colts)
1991: Indianapolis Colts (New York Jets)
1996: New York Jets (Arizona Cardinals)
2000: San Diego Chargers (Kansas City Chiefs)
2001: Carolina Panthers (Minnesota Vikings)
Five franchises, the Cowboys, Patriots, Redskins, Vikings, and Colts have fallen twice to one-win teams. But the New York Jets easily stand alone when it comes to Losing to Losers. Including the decade of the Sixties, now it’s four separate times the Jets have been the sole victim of a one-win team. And it’s so much better once we tally up the years the Jets have been vanquished by the lowest of the low: 1968, 1972, 1980, and 1991. With awe we see each ignominious defeat taking place in a different decade; the Jets embarrassed themselves in the 1960’s, 1970’s, the 1980’s AND the 1990’s. Unfortunately, it’s been 16 years since the Jets’ last ultimate loss and with this current decade nearing its end the Jets’ amazing streak had appeared to be in serious jeopardy at the time of my previous blog post on this subject.
2) Suddenly opportunity in the form of the 0-11 Miami Dolphins has dropped into the New York Jets’ lap. Should the Jets find a way to lose to the Dolphins this weekend and the Dolphins then go on to lose their remaining games, the Jets will have lost to a one-win team for an unprecedented fifth consecutive decade, a record guaranteed to last for over half a century at least! As a Dolphins fan I am a little torn about this scenario. I will be rooting for Miami to beat the Jets just as enthusiastically as I do every time my favorite team squares off against those losers in Kelly green. Perhaps even more so this time as I desperately do not wish to see the Dolphins become the first 0-16 team in NFL history. So that part is easy. But should Miami knock of the J-E-T-S this weekend that only completes the first part of the equation. The Dolphins would then have to lose their final four games and become a 1-15 team in order for the Jets’ Losing to Losers streak to continue for a fifth straight decade. Could I really root for Miami to drop four straight? Of course not! But you know if it happens it happens.
First things first. Can the New York Jets rise to the challenge and pull out a critical loss on the road to ensuring their place in history? It all starts this weekend.
1) In addition to the 20 one-win teams, the modern era has seen three winless teams. The 1976 Bucs of course, the 0-11-1 Dallas Cowboys of 1960 who tied the New York Giants, and the 0-8-1 Baltimore Colts of 1982 who tied the Green Bay Packers.
2) The 1968 Jets and Bills were actually AFL teams at the time.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
To boil it down, just two guys, Dick Anderson and Nick Bunoconti, toast each other in a parking lot with champagne after the last undefeated team loses every year. That’s it, only two men, not every surviving member of the team, and I’m pretty sure the little ritual of Dick and Nick isn’t nationally televised. Honestly, I blame ESPN and Chris Berman for blowing that all out of proportion. Each year, when that last undefeated team loses, NFL Primetime/The Blitz shows the highlights, we hear the sound effect of a champagne cork popping, Berman mugs, makes a big show of the whole thing (“What’s that I hear Tommy? The 1972 Dolphins celebrating?”), and congratulates the Fins again for being the only NFL team to accomplish perfection. Now the champagne myth had to predate Berman’s shtick for that tired bit to have ever been generated, but I’m pretty sure the shtick popularized the whole thing in the minds of fans who are convinced this mythical team celebration is both real and in poor taste.
Now, here’s the crux of the problem. The 17-0 mark is a unique record that stands alone among all other records. You know in baseball every single game starts out as a potential no-hitter. Something similar happens with every new football season. Every team’s got a shot at an undefeated season until they lose. So the story of Miami’s record comes up every single year. Nobody really cares all about that much about any team records, a la most points, fewest points allowed, etc., other than winning them all. When Brett Favre breaks another one of Marino’s records, it’s a one-time story (just as Manning breaking Favre’s records one day will be). Nobody cares anymore, nobody will be asking him about it in the future, we all move on. But the 17-0 mark is a completely different animal. After 34 years the 1972 Miami Dolphins still remain the only undefeated team in NFL history. So for 34 years we’ve had sportswriters calling 1972 Dolphins players and coaches to ask those players and coaches what they think about somebody’s chances of going undefeated. And in years where a team appears to actually have a shot at doing it, we get lots and lots of attention paid to those 1972 players and coaches, attention that gets exponentially worse over the years with the rise of sports-talk radio and 24 hour cable sports channels. And who are the players and coaches most likely to be asked for their thoughts? Why, controversial opinionated types like Eugene “Mercury” Morris and cranky high-profile former head coaches like Don Shula. The sports media want to fan the flames of controversy and the likes of Morris and Shula are all too happy to help them.
And what should an undefeated Dolphin answer when asked how he feels about the 2007 New England Patriots? Does any football player want their record tied or beaten? Of course not and if they say they the opposite then they’re lying and we all know it. Honesty does not equal poor sportsmanship. And those old Dolphins really, really do not want anybody to join them in the pantheon of perfection. The greatness of the 1972 Miami Dolphins is inextricably intertwined with that team remaining as the NFL’s only perfect team. When fans and football experts debate who the greatest team of all time is, the arguments get complicated. Points scored, points allowed, margins of victory, strength of schedule, Hall of Fame players, clutch performance--all factors to be considered. But the1972 Miami Dolphins claim to greatness is the simplest argument of all: They won ‘em all. Nobody else can say that. Nobody else ever failed to put forth at least one losing effort. Everyone else cracked under the pressure of trying to win every time out. But not the 1972 Dolphins. Maybe there were other more dominant teams, but alone the 1972 Dolphins succeeded every time they stepped on the football field. Should the 2007 Patriots also go undefeated, the ’72 Miami Dolphins forever lose their unique claim to fame. Understandably, none of them wish that to happen and several of them aren’t shy about letting that be known. And the media constantly sticking microphones in their faces allows us to repeatedly be bombarded with this vital information, negatively coloring the perceptions of those old players.
But you cannot let the words of a few men from an entire football team stand in for the whole. It’s totally unfair. Fine, Dick and Nick celebrate, Shula think the Pats cheat, and Merc is kind of a jerk. That’s hardly the whole story. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich said this recently to the New York Daily News: “You guys put forth the myth that we are pathetic losers down here clicking champagne glasses and clinging desperately to a record set 35 years ago…Somehow we've been portrayed as being evil. We don't ever blow our own horn. It's a great record, but the record doesn't get beaten. The Patriots have assembled a powerhouse of a team. They are a classy bunch of guys and play ball the right way. If they want to join the unbeaten club, come on aboard."
Now get off the Dolphins’ backs already!
Sunday, November 11, 2007
ALTERNATE VERSION: Worst…Season…Ever.
LONGER VERSION: Has there been a sadder moment in recent Dolphins history than the announcement that Ronnie Brown tore his ACL and was done for the year? Brown was having possibly the greatest season any Dolphins running back has ever had, and for a winless team no less, at the time he wrecked his knee. The one bright spot in a dismal season and now he might never be the same again. You have to go back to Jacksonville’s 62-7 destruction of Miami in the 1999 playoffs for the last great moment of Dolphin sorrow. As that game progressed it was all too clear that Dan Marino was finished, that he wasn’t winning a Super Bowl, and that Jimmy Johnson wasn’t going to be the savior Miami fans hoped for when Huizenga forced Shula out in favor of Johnson. It’s been all downhill since that game.
Now it’s all a big ball of nothing. Terrible defense, horrific passing game, star player out. It doesn’t get worse. If you’re homer enough to desperately need some sort of bright spot to cling to, I’d say we’ve got three things:
(1) The offensive line’s playing very well. The success of the running game wasn’t entirely due to Brown. The other backs are averaging over 5 yards a carry too (in limited play admittedly). And Miami’s above average in not allowing sacks despite the bad quarterbacking. So if the team can find a few quality skill position players, a very good offense is still a possibility.
(2) The team is still trying. At least they haven't quit on their coach yet. It can’t be easy to go out and give it your best effort when you know yet another loss is the likely outcome and you stopped thinking about the playoffs in week three. Half the eight losses have been by three points. Miami’s got to catch a break sometime right?
(3) The team finally recognizes it’s time to rebuild. The trade of Chris Chambers sent a message that this team knows it’s years away from contending and that it’s time to stockpile draft picks and get young. For years the team's been guilty of thinking it was a player or two away and they'd give up picks to get vets (of questionable talent) and miss the playoffs anyway. I'm looking at you Dave Wannstedt! That's finally over. Or...is...it? Lemon's getting the start yet again this week so maybe I'm speaking/writing too soon. Beck needs to be starting as soon as possible. The Dolphins are going to have a top pick next year and there’s lot of QB prospects out there. Do we need one? FIND OUT ALREADY CAM! Get this kid in there. Looks like it won’t be this week. It's gotta be next week though right? Right?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The highlight of the bit was the pungi solo mimed by the actor dressed in snake-charming gear. What that had to do with any actual kicker I have no idea since as far as I know, no NFL team’s ever suited up a kicker from the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, or North Africa. (And yes, that includes Ali Haji-Sheikh a.k.a. "Ali Haji Shank". He was born in Michigan!). Foreign placekickers have mainly come from Europe and North and South America. Whatever, it seemed to work. Funny thing is, the trend toward foreign-born kickers was actually declining at the time of that SNL episode. There were only 10 foreign-born placekickers on NFL rosters during the 1986 season. A decade later, there were only four. Right now? Still just four: Lawrence Tynes (Scotland), Shaun Suisham (Canada), Sebastian Janikowski (Poland), and the ageless Morten Andersen (Denmark). Almost all NFL kickers now hail from the good old U S of A. The good times of dopey kickers butchering the English language appear all but over. Except for Janikowski. Now that guy’s a real idiot.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Chicago 14—New York 10
Could any loss actually be more gut-wrenching than the loss the Giants suffered in the 1958 Championship Game? The goal-line stand, the comeback, the controversial ball placement erasing a seeming victory, and then the first overtime loss in National Football League history. It’s hard to top that. But rather than think of that heartbreaking defeat as just as a loss, consider it as the mere beginning of an era of championship game failure unmatched in the annals of football. The 1958 defeat didn’t demoralize the Giants. Far from it. They returned to the title game in 1959. This time the Colts crushed them. After a year away from the postseason, New York returned for the 1961 championship game. Lombardi’s Packers overwhelmed them. They did the same to New York in the 1962 title game. Five years. Four championship game losses. The last three games weren’t close. The 1963 Championship Game would be different.
The Giants returned to the title game one more time to battle for that elusive ring. Their leader: 37-year-old quarterback Y.A. Tittle. Tittle posted one of the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had, throwing a then record 36 TD passes and winning the MVP award. Facing brutally cold weather and the league’s best defense, Tittle opened the 1963 title game by leading his team on an impressive 83-yard drive ending with a 14-yard TD pass from Tittle to Frank Gifford. Later in the quarter, New York recovered a fumble at the Chicago 31. Tittle immediately found his great receiver Del Shofner wide open in the end zone. According to Bears’ defensive end Doug Atkins:
I don't know if his hands were cold or what, but it bounced right off them. Hell, I could have caught that one. If he would have caught that pass, the Giants would have been in command, and I think they would have won. But that's what kind of a season it was for us. We got just about every break.
The Giants didn’t score. Shortly thereafter, Bears linebacker Larry Morris picked off a screen pass and ran 61 yards to the New York 5-yard line. Two plays later Bears’ QB Billy Wade scored the tying TD on a quarterback sneak. In the 2d quarter, Tittle and the Giants drove to the Bears’ 3 but the Bears held and New York settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. When New York got the ball back again, Tittle moved his team to a first down at the Chicago 32. On his next pass, Tittle got blasted as he threw and he limped off the field with torn knee ligaments. The Giants' drive ended in a missed field goal. Tittle came back in the 3d quarter after getting some pain-killing injections but he wasn’t the same player. He couldn’t plant his leg and he later admitted he knew he should have come out of the game. Late in the quarter, the Bears picked off a Tittle lob and set themselves up at the New York 14. Five plays later, Wade scored on his second sneak of the game and Chicago took the lead 14-10. Tittle kept fighting but he couldn’t stop throwing interceptions (five on the day), the final one coming in the Bears’ end zone with 10 seconds left, sealing the win for the Bears, and giving George Halas his final NFL championship.
The Giants were left with plenty of what-might-have-beens: What if Shofner held onto that ball? What if Tittle had come out of the game after the injury? What if New York had just run the ball more? This crushing defeat proved to be the capstone to a spectacular era of championship game losing, the likes of which the NFL has never seen before or since. The Buffalo Bills lost four Super Bowls in a row, but the New York Giants lost five title games in six years! The 1958 defeat had to hurt. The 1963 loss, magnified by years of disappointment leading up the game combined with the defeat itself, had to be absolutely devastating. Especially since that great Giants team had reached the end. They wouldn’t return to the title game for almost three decades, and would need another 18 years just to reach the playoffs.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Baltimore 23—New York 17 OT
Though we now refer to it as the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, for most of three quarters this game was anything but. Frank Gifford’s two 2d quarter fumbles led to two Baltimore touchdowns and a 14-3 halftime lead for the Colts. In the 3d quarter, Baltimore drove to the Giants’ 1-yard line with a chance for the knockout blow. Instead the Giants’ defense stopped Alan Ameche for a loss on 4th down. Moments later, the game began to turn in the Giants' favor. New York QB Charlie Conerly hit Kyle Rote with a 62-yard pass that Rote fumbled at the Colts’ 25. Alex Webster alertly picked up the ball and took it to the Colts’ 1-yard-line where the Giants scored on the next play, completing a 95-yard drive. Early in the 4th quarter, Gifford, trying to atone for his earlier fumbles, caught a 15-yard TD pass that gave New York a 17-14 lead.
The game then settled into a defensive struggle. With less than three minutes to go, the Giants faced a third-and-4 from their own 40. A first down would allow them to all but run out the clock. With a chance to wipe away all memory of his earlier fumbles, Gifford got the ball on a sweep and appeared to make it just past the first down marker as he was tackled by Colts defensive end Gino Marchetti. Marchetti caught a bad break, literally, when his teammate "Big Daddy" Lipscomb then fell on him and broke his leg. But Gifford may have caught a worse break. Marchetti's scream of pain supposedly distracted the official who spotted the ball because where that official marked the spot left the Giants inches short of the clinching first down. Years later, Giants announcer Chris Schenkel said it was the worst placement he’d ever seen. But the refs ignored Gifford’s protest and Colts DT Art Donovan told him to "stop crying and get off the field!" To this day Gifford swears he made that first down (of course Giff probably also swore to his wife that he wasn’t banging that airline stewardess a few years back either).
The Giants chose to punt it away and Baltimore took over at their own 14 with one last shot to pull it out. Colts receiver Raymond Berry thought the Giants’ goalposts “looked a million miles away", but Unitas quickly took advantage of the Giants’ prevent defense with several underneath throws to Berry. The Colts reached the New York 13 with 20 seconds left. Out of time outs, Baltimore’s kicking team ran out onto the field and Steve Myhra kicked a 20-yard field goal to tie the game and force the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history. The Giants won the OT toss but went three-plays-and-out. The Colts took over on their own 20 and Unitas choreographed a legendary 13-play drive. The biggest play was a 21-yarder to Berry on 3d-and-14 that put the Colts into Giants’ territory. Mixing runs and passes perfectly, Unitas drove his team to the Giants’ 1 where Ameche ended the game with a TD run (“16 Power”). Colt fans swarmed the field and tore down the goalposts as NFL Commissioner Bert Bell shouted out to anyone who could hear him: “This is the greatest day in the history of professional football”. He may have been right. The high drama of the game captured the attention of the TV-watching public like no other NFL contest ever had and sent pro football on its way to becoming America’s most popular sport. It’s a loss no Giants fan could ever forget. How could they? Even the generations of Giants fans born since that game are probably sick of hearing about it and dealing with the countless books, articles, and TV shows endlessly rehashing “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
San Francisco 39—New York 38
Late in the 3d quarter, with his team leading 35-14, Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped what should have been an easy 3-yard touchdown catch and his team settled for a field goal. But really, what could it have mattered? A 38-14 lead late in the third quarter already had Giants fans looking ahead to the divisional playoffs. Maybe they should have remembered they were Giants’ fans. The Niners proceeded to score on their next three drives, 19 points in all, and suddenly it was 38-33. Finally responding to San Francisco’s assault, the Giants put together a drive and moved from their own 36 to the San Francisco 24. The Niners stopped Tiki Barber a yard shy of a first down on third-and-two. With just over three minutes left, kicker Matt Bryant came on to try a field goal with Trey Junkin snapping the ball. Earlier in the week, New York signed Junkin to replace their regular snapper who had torn his thumb ligaments. Junkin's snap was bad and Bryant consequently hooked the 42-yard field goal attempt. No good. With a chance to take the lead, San Francisco QB Jeff Garcia drove his team 68 yards in two minutes, tossing a 13-yard TD pass to Tai Streets for the go-ahead score with only a minute left. The Niners missed the two-point conversion though, allowing the Giants a chance to win the game with just a field goal. Racing against the clock, Kerry Collins drove his team deep into Niners’ territory. Six seconds remained, enough time for a 41-yard field goal attempt. Enter Trey Junkin. Once again he made a terrible snap, one that holder Matt Allen couldn't handle to set up the kick in time. Grabbing the ball, Allen alertly ran to his right and lofted a desperation pass downfield to guard Rich Seubert. With the ball still in the air, San Francisco defensive end Chike Okeafor blatantly pushed Seubert to prevent a catch. Obvious pass interference. The officials threw a flag, but not for pass interference! No, the refs caught Giants’ guard Tam Hopkins illegally running downfield on the pass attempt. Penalty declined. Game over. The Giants had blown a 24-point lead, the second-biggest collapse in NFL postseason history and the biggest collapse by any Giants’ team anytime, anywhere. To rub further salt in the wound, the next day the NFL's director of officiating admitted the refs should have indeed called a defensive pass interference penalty on the final play of the game. That would have resulted in offsetting penalties and given the Giants a second shot at a field goal. Apparently the officials mistakenly believed Seubert to be an ineligible receiver even though he’d reported to the officiating crew prior to the game as an eligible receiver on field goal attempts. After it was all over Giants coach Jim Fassell said the game, Trey Junkin’s NFL swan song, was about the worst loss he’d ever felt in his entire life.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Philadelphia 19—New York 17
From the 1950's through the early 1960's, the New York Giants were perennial title contenders. In the 1970's the only thing the Giants regularly competed for was the title of Worst Team in Football. After five straight losing seasons, the Giants came out of the gates decently (for them) in 1978 and at 5-6 remained in the playoff hunt as they hosted their bitter rivals from Philadelphia in Week 12. The Giants jumped out to a big early lead and as the game wound down they still held a 17-12 advantage with 31 seconds left to play in the game. Needing only to run out the clock to preserve a win, Giants’ offensive coach Bob Gibson sent in an unusual play. For reasons unclear to this day Gibson ordered a handoff rather than have QB Joe Pisarcik just take a kneel down. Back then there was no kneel down rule so a QB could be hit if he went to the ground with the ball. That may have been the reason for the simple handoff call. Did I say simple? Things suddenly became complicated. The Giants players were shocked by the play call and Csonka told Pisarcik NOT to give him the ball! But Pisarcik had gotten in trouble for changing a play a week earlier and decided to follow orders this time out. With the play clock winding down, Pisarcik quicky called for the snap. Not even knowing if Csonka was going to take the ball, Pisarcik slightly bobbled the snap and he hurriedly handed the ball to Csonka even though Csonka was speeding past the spot where a smooth handoff could be executed. Shoving the ball into Csonka's right hip anyway, the ball bounced off of Csonka onto the turf. Pisarcik dove for the ball, couldn't corral it, and it was picked up by Eagles cornerback (and future NFL coach) Herman Edwards, who ran 26 yards untouched for an absolutely shocking jaw-dropping game-winning TD! The humiliated Giants fired Gibson the following day while Head Coach John McVay followed him at the end of the season after his team collapsed and finished at 6-10. Meanwhile, the win propelled the hated Eagles into the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. Edwards' incredible score became one of the most famous plays in NFL history right up there with the Immaculate Reception. Giants' fans must particularly enjoy the shots of Eagles' Coach Dick Vermeil, who hadn't even seen the play, laughing and giddily jumping into his player's arms, forever immortalized by NFL Films. The loss perfectly epitomized how low the Giants' franchise had sunk by the late 70's. Years later, when Edwards became coach of the New York Jets, New Yorkers were once again forced to endure the highlights of Herm’s starring role in the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” (which bitter Giant fans refer to only as "the fumble").
See it for yourself
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
5) 1997 NFC Wildcard Game
Minnesota 23—New York 22
Thanks to three turnovers by Vikings QB Randall Cunningham, the Giants comfortably led Minnesota at the half of their wildcard playoff game: 19-3. Minnesota chipped away, closing the gap to 19-13 by the 4th quarter, but the Giants responded with a field goal midway through the quarter to give them a seemingly secure 9-point lead. The Vikings needed only needed 90 seconds to shatter that security. Cunningham caught fire late in the game and with 1:30 left he hit Jake Reed with a 30-yard TD pass. With time running out, the Vikings tried an onside kick. New York's usually sure-handed Chris Calloway muffed the kick and the Vikings recovered. Cunningham moved his team deep into Giants territory against the tiring New York defense and with 10 seconds left Eddie Murray kicked a game winning 24-yard field goal. Shortly after the game ended, I called up my friend Wayne and the very first thing my shell-shocked buddy said to me was: "How did that just happen?"
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Today, most people know Garo Yepremian for two things:
1) “I Keek A Touchdown”. As Garo’s former Detroit Lions’ teammate Alex Karras told the story, Garo (who’d never even seen a pro football game before he suited up as a Lion), kicked a last-second game-winning extra point. As he ran off the field with his arms raised in triumph, Karras asked him, "What the hell are you celebrating?" Yepremian replied “I keek a touchdown”. As you might imagine, Johnny Carson loved this and thanks to him it wound up as a catch phrase symbolizing the influx of all the foreign-born kickers entering the NFL back then. To me, the story sounds just a little too good to be true (and I’ve also seen Tony Fritsch’s name associated with the quote). Regardless, Garo titled his autobiography “I Keek a Touchdown” and if he didn’t really ever say it, he should have.
2) Inexplicably handing the Washington Redskins a free touchdown in Super Bowl VII that briefly endangered the Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season. Wikipedia describes it this way:
After Miami moved the ball to the 34-yard line on their ensuing drive, kicker Garo Yepremian attempted a 42-yard field goal in what is now remembered as one of the most famous blunders in NFL lore: "Garo's Gaffe". As had been the case all day, Yepremian's kick was too low, and it was blocked by Washington defensive tackle Bill Brundige. The ball bounced to Yepremian's right and he reached it before holder Earl Morrall. But instead of falling on the ball, Yepremian picked it up and, with Brundige bearing down on him, made a frantic attempt to pass the ball to Csonka, who blocked on field goals. Unfortunately for Miami, the ball slipped out of his hands and went straight up in the air. Yepremain attempted to bat the ball out of bounds, but instead batted it back up into the air, and it went right into the arms of Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who easily avoided Yepremian's feeble attempt at a tackle and returned the fumble 49 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-7 with 2:07 left in the game.
You know, reading about that play again convinces me that it's clearly the stupidest, most asinine play in football history. What are the other candidates? The Miracle in the Meadowlands? Yeah, the Giants should have knelt down but I'm not sure that was the standard strategy back then and still, how hard is it to just execute avsimple handoff? Marshall's wrong-way fumble return? He just got disoriented and ran the wrong way. An understandable mistake. But Yepremian's play...the whole thing makes no sense. It's 14-0 with just a little over two minutes left. Why try to do anything with ball? Garo said he was trying to turn a negative into a positive. But who the hell needed a positive? The game was over. Why would he try to throw a pass? He'd never thrown one in his entire career! He knew he couldn't throw. And who would he have thrown it to? It wasn't a fake. Nobody was going out to catch the ball. And once the kick was blocked, everyone would be running back to the ball, not turning into an open receiver with an insurmountable lead. And once Garo whiffed on the throw, why'd he bat it up into the air? KNOCK IT DOWN! The whole thing was completely insane! Following the TD Manny Fernandez threatened Garo with death if Miami ended up losing that game. No jury in the world would have convicted Manny! Sure they won in the end but Miami would have had the first and still only shutout in Super Bowl history and the 14-7 final score now forever belies just how dominant Miami actually was in that game.
But I digress. Despite those two legendary infamous moments, we must credit Garo as the man who saved the perfect season. As you might expect from arguably the greatest team of all time, few teams played competitive football with the 1972 Dolphins (until the playoffs). Only three of their games were decided by a less than a touchdown but, without Garo, Miami might well have lost two of them.
Game 3, at Minnesota
Trailing 14-6 late in the 4th quarter, a Miami drive stalled at the Vikings 44-yard-line. Coach Don Shula had Yepremian try a 51-yard field goal (the goal posts were at the goal line back then), even though his career longest was 48. Garo made it, Miami then forced a punt, drove the ball down the field, and scored the winning TD with 88 seconds left.
Game 6, vs. Buffalo
Miami won 24-23. The big play in the game? Yepremian’s 54-yard field goal, his new all-time longest kick. ''I remember later reading our yearbook about the unbeaten season,'' Yepremian said, ''and thinking, My god, what if I didn't make the 54-yarder?''
So remember Garo if you will as the little foreign kicker who barely understood football and made the stupidest play in NFL history. But don’t forget, without Garo, no Perfect Season.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
But just how bad is this Miami team? I’ve seen columns this week from both Don Banks and Greg Cote wondering if this team will join their 1972 predecessors in posting a perfect season. Except this time an 0-16 season. Now that’s just stupid. It’s just as hard to lose all your games as it is to win them all. Since the merger, only the ’72 Dolphins have won ‘em all, and only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost ‘em all.
To go 0-16 a team would have to be historically bad, the worst collection of professional football talent ever assembled in the free agency era. Is this Dolphins team that bad? Of course not. Look at that Bucs team. An expansion team. Shut out five times. Lost 10 games by double digits. Only three losses by a touchdown or less. Outscored by an average of 20.5 points game. The Bucs got crushed week in and week out. They finished the year last in points scored and second to last in points allowed.
The Dolphins aren’t even close to being that inept. Yeah, they’re also second to last in defense but they are currently 11th in points scored. Not bad. Cameron was brought into improve the offense and so far he looks to be doing it. Miami’s only losing by an average of 9 points. Half of their losses have come down to a field goal. They’ve certainly had some bad luck. (Kris Brown makes 54, 54, and 57 yard FG’s in the same game?! C’mon!) . Not to make excuses (I already said they were terrible), but they’re not historically awful. The Bucs didn’t have anybody as good as Ronnie Brown, or Jason Taylor, or Chris Chambers (whoops. So long Chris). They’re good enough to post a few wins before the season is out and I suspect that’s what they’ll do.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Culpepper’s 5 TD revenge-day naturally topped the game headlines, but really, he hardly threw the ball, he looked slow, and had some wide open lanes to run to for easy scores. Yet, compared to his opposite number Trent Green, C-Pep performed like a Hall of Famer. Let’s go through the Green checklist: Throws balls off his back foot for easy interceptions, check; Takes forever to get rid of the ball, check. Defenders repeatedly bat his passes down at the line of scrimmage, check; Slow as molasses, check. And what about the real cause of the defeat--that poor excuse for a rushing defense. 299 yards!!! Are you kidding me? Bad enough when a good back like Lamont Jordan plays well but 179 yards for Huggy Bear’s son!???
Ah, enough of this rehashing that I said I wouldn't do. If you missed the game (lucky) and want to get the flavor of what happened, here’s various excerpts from mine and Jeff’s in-game online chat:
Jeff: why are the cheers so loud for the Raiders?
Rob: Good god we stink
Rob: What? [A] flag on them?
Jeff: DB keeping [his] back to ball [was a] really good idea
Jeff: I think we were offsides there
Rob: Pep as mobile as he was for us last year.
Rob: Green will lead us back! [haha]
Jeff: Sure. We are just instilling them with a false sense of security. Wonder if the crowd would cheer any Dolphins' successes?
Rob: Nice of Green to elude the rush and run backwards to lose even more yards on the sack.
Jeff: I like the laser lock Daunte had on our LB's helmet. These two are both sucking.
Rob: Green slow as molasses. Hey, our 8th straight game without [a] 1st quarter TD.
Jeff: Chatman comes in, thud.
Rob: Green, YOU SUCK!!!!!
Jeff: WHY THE F### DID HE THROW THAT BALL I HATE HIM I HATE HIM I HATE HIM
Jeff: when did we lose all ability to stop the run?
Rob: This year.
Rob: Nice pass rush.
Jeff: CAM CAMERON REVEALED AS AN INEPT, EGOTISTICAL BUFFOON! RESIGNS IN DISGRACE AFTER GAME!!!
Jeff: Our secret weapon on "D"? Donovan Darius, a DB the Raiders cut in preseason! What a personnel genius! And Jesse Chatman and Jerry Porter are the only free agents to make the team! And they're doing f#####g great!!!
Rob: BUF wins. If ATL wins are we the last winless team?
Jeff: The Rams are also 0-4.
Rob: WE'RE WORSE!!!
Jeff: No s###, sherlock. I can't believe how pitiful we are. I want Cameron fired now.
Rob: I want Shula back. Even David Shula would be better.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Stats are great of course, but the game’s about winning in the end. How’d Morrall fare in that area? Well, I wish had his career won-loss record as a starter but I don’t. All I can do is add up the records of the five teams he played for as the primary starter: the 1958 Steelers, the 1963 Lions, the 1965 Giants, the 1968 Colts, and the 1972 Dolphins. Subtracting Griese’s four 1972 wins from the total leaves Morrall with a tremendous 41-22-1 record, a .648 winning percentage. Now you might argue Morrall benefited from playing for great teams. And he did. So lets’ look at his team’s combined records in the seasons immediately preceding the ones set forth above. Those teams totaled a fine 39-24-5 record (.610). So Morrall did take over some excellent teams but he still improved them by another 4%.
Morrall started for five seasons. Four times, his team’s record improved over the previous season. The only team Morrall failed to improve was the 1963 Lions. They tumbled from an 11-3 mark to only 5-8-1 with Morrall at the helm. But I’m not sure if you can pin that on Morrall. A comparion of his 1963 stats to that of 1962 Lions starter Milt Plum shows Morrall was much better:
So why the dropoff? It’s hard to day for sure from our vantage point almost half a century later. The stats show Detroit went from the league’s best defense in 1962 to maybe the third best in 1963. The Lions fell from 4th in rushing yards to 10th in 1963 though their rushing yards per attempt actually improved a bit relative to the league. Turnovers could have played a role. Detroit recovered 23 fumbles in 1962 but just 11 the next year. Maybe they simply didn’t catch any breaks. I mentioned in Part One that the Lions lost 6 games by a TD or less (and tied another) in 1963. Whatever the reason the Lions lost so many games in 1963, overall we can say Morrall improved his teams when took over.
Now what about the postseason? Morrall’s QB rating drops substantially when we look at his playoff career, 56.5 in the playoffs vs. his 74.1 regular season rating. His postseason YPA of 7.83 actually tops his great 7.74 career mark. Morrall’s problem was throwing too many playoff picks. But you know, he still went 4-1. For all those postseason interceptions and subpar play, he lost only one big game: Super Bowl III. Maybe he won ugly, maybe his defenses bailed him out, whatever. In the playoffs a win’s a win. Even if Morrall would have blown Miami’s perfect season without Griese saving the day (and it was only 10-7 at the time), that’s still a 4-2 playoff record, a .667 winning percentage that’s higher incidentally than Morrall’s already excellent regular season winning percentage.
As a starter, Morrall played well at every point in his career. He won games. At 34, Earl Morrall was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. At 36, he won a Super Bowl. At 38, his All-Pro quarterbacking led the Dolphins to an undefeated season. He was good enough to play in the NFL until the advanced football age of 41. He’s tenth all-time in YPA right there with some of he greatest passers who ever lived. Just what might Earl Morrall have done if given the chance to consistently start in his prime? And why didn’t any of those teams who saw what he could do give him that chance? The mystery of the Curious Career of Earl Morrall may never be solved. But it doesn’t matter. Morrall must be content with his two Super Bowl rings and his unofficial title as “The Greatest Backup Quarterback of All Time”.
The Curious Career of Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts
Saturday, September 29, 2007
1) The defense. Couldn’t force a single turnover. Gave up a ton of third-down conversions, several by penalty. No pressure on the quarterback. And they got pushed around, literally, by Thomas Jones. I should just quote Jason Taylor here instead of wasting anymore words of my own:
“We do things that hurt us, and that’s me included. I jumped offsides twice. I can’t do that. You play around with that fine line of jumping the ball and rushing the quarterback and being offsides. I can’t do that to our team. We’re not ready to overcome stuff like that … I didn’t get to the quarterback, I suck right now, it’s as simple as that so there, there’s your headline … “
2) Special teams. Not just the kick return TD by Leon Washington; the Jets had better field position than Miami all game. Again, Ginn did little on returns. His one good return got called back on a penalty of course.
3) Trent Green. His best game of the season. Only 1 INT as mentioned. But that INT was critical. Leading 21-13 the Jets take the second half kickoff, chew up 7 minutes, drive 67 yards, and kick a FG for a 24-13 lead. Miami responds with a good drive into Jet territory, really a must-score drive. And Green kills it with a pick. Bad, bad timing. The Jets then drive for what proves to be the winning TD. (During that drive, CBS showed a closeup of Green on the sidelines looking at a notebook. Jeff said it was his Quarterbacking for Dummies Book).
So even with an improved offensive performance, our special teams stink and the defense is collapsing. Cam was brought in to improve the offense but even if he proves successful at it, it looks like the Dolphins are going to have to rebuild the defense too. And if Ginn doesn’t get it going already, we might have to waste another pick on a WR/KR too.
What about the Raiders on Sunday? Well, if the Dolphins can’t beat a bad team at home in the heat then I’ll have to further revise my predictions downward. I think they'll win it somehow but if they can’t win Sunday, I don’t know what games they can win. Seriously, they can’t actually let Duante Culpepper return to Dolphins Stadium and beat them can they? If they’re not good enough to beat the freaking Raiders then a one-win season could be a real possibility.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
What did Morrall’s teammates think as he stepped onto the field that first time? Well, center Jim Langer claimed to have no doubts about the new QB's ability to get the job done, saying “We felt Earl was prepared and moved on.” But other players were perhaps a bit more candid. Tight End Jim Mandich said: ''I remember seeing Griese lying there in pain, with his ankle all contorted and here's this 38-year-old man with a flattop haircut coming on the field, and I thought, Oh hell, it's all over.'' An understandable reaction, but turns out it wasn’t over after all. To put it simply, Morrall played brilliantly in relief, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, earning All-Pro honors, and winning the NFL’s comeback player of the year award at season's end. Like most dominant teams, Miami thoroughly outclassed its opponents week in and week out but the team did have a couple of close calls. The last real threat to the perfect regular season came in week ten against the New York Jets. Miami trailed the Jets, 24-20 as the fourth quarter started but Morrall led a game winning drive, and more amazingly, the not-so-fleet-of-feet veteran earlier scored on Miami’s longest TD run of the season: a 31-yarder in the third quarter.
After that scare nobody challenged Miami the rest of the year as Morrall finished the job Griese started. For the first time in 30 years, an NFL team won every single one of its regular season games. Morrall proved yet again he could take over a team from a superstar QB and lead it into the playoffs. But what about those playoffs? As we’ve seen previously, Morrall’s play dropped dramatically in the postseason in 1968. Would it happen again?
Miami moved out smoothly to a 10-0 halftime lead against the Cleveland Browns in their first-round playoff game. But Cleveland mounted a second-half comeback. Miami’s offense disappeared and Cleveland came up with some big plays when they needed them. A 27-yard TD pass had Cleveland up 14-13 early in the 4th quarter. Morrall struggled all game. As the Miami offense began a last-ditch drive to win the game, Morrall had completed just 4 passes for 38 yards to that point. Then he had an epiphany: to keep the perfect season alive it might be a good idea to get the ball in the hands one of the greatest receivers of all time, Paul Warfield. Warfield hadn’t caught a pass all day. Now, Morrall hit him first for 15 yards and then on a spectacular 35-yard grab three plays later. Another toss to Warfield resulted in a pass interference call putting the ball on the Browns’ 8. Jim Kiick ran it in from there.
Dolphins GM Joe Thomas shrewdly obtained Warfield from the Browns in 1970, just one of a series of brilliant trades made by Thomas to build a dynasty. Two years later, that move looked extra-brilliant as Warfield’s clutch play now put the Dolphins on the very brink of a trip to the AFC Championship game. And in an amazing twist of fate, the trade was about to pay one more dividend. You see, Miami gave up its first-round draft pick to Cleveland and with it the Browns selected their quarterback of the future: Mike Phipps. The future arrived in 1972 and with the game on the line and Cleveland needing a last-minute scoring drive, Phipps instead tossed his fifth and final interception of the game. Miami ran out the clock and escaped with the win. Morrall’s numbers don’t overwhelm but at least he only threw one pick that day, not Phipps' fatal five.
I don’t know how many people today realize just how close the Orange Bowl came to featuring Earl Morrall in a second monumental upset ranking right up there with Super Bowl III. Miami pulled it out but ominously Morrall had now gone four straight postseason contests without throwing a single touchdown pass.
Due to the old rotating championship game rule, Miami traveled to Pittsburgh the following week to face the emergent Steel Curtain defense. That defense stymied Morrall and the Miami offense throughout the first half. Miami needed a fake punt to get any points on the board at all; the trick play set up a 9-yard pass to Larry Csonka that tied the game. But when Pittsburgh took back the lead with a third quarter field goal the dream of a perfect season and a championship appeared to be in serious jeopardy.
Trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, Don Shula made perhaps the biggest coaching move of his great career. Shula knew he probably waited too long to bench an ineffective Morrall in Super Bowl III. With this game still close, he wasn’t making the same mistake again. For only the second time in his playoff career Morrall left the field with his team trailing. He would never throw another postseason pass again. Finally healed from his injuries, Bob Griese entered the game and immediately tossed a 52-yard bomb to Warfield to set up a short touchdown run that gave the Dolphins the lead for good. After another TD, Miami withstood a Steelers’ comeback, picking off two Terry Bradshaw passes, and held on for the hard-fought 21-17 victory.
Morrall hoped Shula would give him the starting nod in Super Bowl VII but deep down he had to know that wasn’t going to happen. Shula saw firsthand the spark Griese gave his team against the Steelers and Shula probably already suffered from post-traumatic Super Bowl stress syndrome thanks to Morrall’s meltdown four years before. So from the sidelines the perfect season’s key figure watched Bob Griese lead the Miami Dolphins to a triumph in Super Bowl VII, completing the first and still only perfect season in NFL history. Still, despite the benching Morrall’s story is still the hook on which any history of the perfect season has to rest. 38-years-old, Morrall came off the bench and never lost. He was perfect and ultimately responsible for more of those 17 wins than Griese was. Morrall earned a place in pro football history. 1972’s 17-0 season provided the triumphant coda to his long strange career, which finally concluded after the 1976 season at the age of 42.
The Curious Career of Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts
Monday, September 17, 2007
"Players studied. Coaches studied. We saw some things." "Tell what we saw," cornerback Jacques Reeves said at the next locker. "Not me," Hamlin said. "Trent Green likes to get rid of the ball fast," Reeves said. "That's what we saw. For good reason, too. He has, what, seven concussions?" Reeves was told Green has been adamant about having just one concussion, the nasty one last year. "Naw, he's got like seven concussions," Reeves said. "The limit is eight, I think. So he doesn't want to get hit. Can you blame him? But if he's thinking about getting rid of the ball fast, we're going to think about it, too."
I know. It's only two games. Certainly way too soon to render a verdict on Cameron. We know he didn't inherit much to work with. This franchise can't afford another Dave Wannstedt.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
After sitting out almost the entire 1968 season due to his injury, Johnny Unitas hoped to return to start in the Super Bowl but his coach, Don Shula, had other ideas. The Colts hadn't missed a beat with Morrall at the controls and he'd guided them to the league's best record. Unitas was a legend, but Shula had faith in his MVP and he went with what brung him. The Colts fielded great teams from 1964 to 1967 but Unitas was unable to lead them to a single title. Now Morrall was primed to do what Unitas couldn’t, deliver a Super Bowl championship to Baltimore. Everyone and his brother expected that to happen but, as we all know, history and Joe Namath had other plans: the greatest upset in pro football history.
Previously, Morrall succeeded when entrusted with the sarting job. Now, in the biggest game of his career, Morrall self-destructed, flamed out, and flat-out choked. The signature play of the debacle came with 25 seconds left in the first half with the Colts trailing the Jets 7-0. From the Jets' 41-yard line the Colts called a flea-flicker. Tom Matte took the handoff from Morrall and then flipped it back to him. The pass was intended to go to Jimmy Orr and indeed Orr was wide open; the Jets bit on the fake. All alone at the Jets’ 10-yard line Orr waved frantically to get Morrall’s attention but somehow Morrall never saw him. Instead of a momentum-changing, last second tying TD before the half, Morrall threw his third pick of the day. To this day nobody knows how Morrall missed Orr. Some have speculated Orr’s jersey blended in with the uniforms of the marching band headed for the end zone but who knows? Morrall stunk up the joint when the band was off the field too. Shula sent Unitas into the game in the 3rd quarter but it was too late. At least Morrall manfully accepted the humiliation of his third quarter benching saying, "If I was a coach and my team was being quarterbacked by a guy who couldn't get the ball over the goal line, I'd sure as hell do something". Morrall’s final numbers: 6 of 17, 71 yards, 0 TD’s, 4 picks. Ugly. There’s no getting around it. More than any other factor Morrall’s horrible play cost the Colts the Super Bowl.
Morrall went back to the bench in 1969, the team was thoroughly mediocre, and the Colts’ and Morrall’s window of opportunity appeared to be closed for good. But in 1970 the Colts finally caught some breaks. Thanks to the NFL-AFL merger, the Colts now found themselves in a weak conference and they made the most of it. The Colts finished the 1970 NFL season 6th and 7th respectively in points scored and allowed but in their conference, the AFC, that was good enough for 1st in scoring and 2nd in scoring defense. It all added up to an 11-2-1 record and a return trip to the Super Bowl. Morrall played little that year but he was excellent, far better than Unitas who was now only a shell of his former self. But despite Unitas’ sub-par play the Colts remained good enough to glide past the AFC’s inferior competition into Super Bowl V.
No one could call the Dallas Cowboys inferior competition however. That team was loaded with talent especially on defense. As the game progressed Unitas tried his best but his eroding skills were useless against the Doomsday Defense. The Colts D played just as tough against the Cowboys’ Craig Morton and the combination of great defenses and bad quarterbacking resulted in the worst-played, sloppiest Super Bowl in history. They called it the Blunder Bowl when it was all over. 10 turnovers. 14 penalties. Even Baltimore’s lone first half score came off of a mistake: Unitas overthrew Roy Hinton, but Hinton and Dallas CB Mel Renfro each slightly tipped the ball and it wound up in the fortunate arms of John Mackey who took it to the house for a 75-yard TD.
The end came for Unitas in the 2d quarter when he got smacked by the Cowboys’ George Andrie. Cracked ribs. Done. So now the roles reversed from two years earlier. Morrall entered a Super Bowl to replace Unitas. It was almost too good to be true. Earl Morrall, the goat of Super Bowl III, now given a chance for Super Bowl redemption, a chance to make up for his self-immolation two years before. And, as if right out of a feel-good sports movie, Morrall found redemption, becoming the first and still only QB to ever come off the bench and lead his team to a come-from-behind Super Bowl triumph. Forget Johnny Unitas. Forget Joe Namath. This time the hero was Earl Morrall.
Morrall didn’t throw a single touchdown pass. He didn’t lead his team on any long scoring drives. The stats show he didn’t play particularly well. 7/15/147 and a pick. He certainly came out like gangbusters though. Trailing 13-6, Morrall first touched the ball at his own 48-yard-line with less than 3 minutes to go in the 1st half. A 26-yard pass, a 21-yard pass, and just like that Morrall had his team at the Dallas 2. Three rushes totaling 0 yards followed. On 4th down the Colts gambled and lost. With 16 seconds left Morrall overthrew Tom Mitchell in the end zone and the deflated Colts went to the locker room still trailing. Morrall tried again in the second half. The Colts fumbled the 2d-half kickoff but Dallas returned the favor a few plays later. Morrall then drove Baltimore from its own 10-yard line into FG range. O’Brien missed. Continuing to plug away on the Colts’ next possession Morrall tossed a 45-yard bomb to move his team to the Dallas 11-yard-line. But the third drive was not the charm either. Morrall reverted to old Super Bowl habits and threw an end-zone interception to Chuck Howley. Still not giving up, Morrall led a fourth consecutive drive into Dallas territory. From the Cowboys 30 the Colts called a halfback option pass to Hinton that pushed the ball to the Dallas 5 where Hinton promptly fumbled it into the end zone for a touchback. Four consecutive potential scoring drives. Zero points. Normally that would doom any team but like I said earlier the Colts caught some breaks that season. And the biggest came in the form of Morrall’s opposite number Craig Morton.
The list of quarterbacks who’ve lost multiple Super Bowls without ever winning one is a short one: Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly, and Morton. And Morton’s the one not in the Hall of Fame (for good reason). Watching Morton give the game away Morrall finally discovered that most important of Super Bowl lessons: don’t turn it over. Or at least turn it over less than your opponent. In short order, Morton threw a pick that the Colts returned to the Dallas 3. Baltimore ran it in two plays later. After trailing most of the afternoon the Colts had tied the score with 7:35 left to play. Followiing an exchange of punts Morton obliged with another INT, this one returned to the Dallas 28. Three plays later Jim O’Brien kicked the winning field goal with 5 seconds to spare. Morrall’s two scoring drives measured three yards apiece. He completed not a single pass on either. Unless you count his holds on the FG and extra-point snaps he had nothing to do with any point scored that day. But he won. In the end, Morrall didn’t make any critical mistakes to cost his team the game. That’s all that mattered. Morrall cost his team a championship in 1968. He helped them steal one in 1970.
The following season, Morrall played almost as much as Unitas due to Unitas’ assorted injuries and neither man played well. The Colts still reached the playoffs but it was all Unitas in the postseason and at season’s end, the Colts waived the 38-year-old Morrall. His long career finally appeared to be over.
The Curious Career of Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
After leading the Michigan State Spartans to a rare Rose Bowl victory over USC, Earl Morrall became the 1st round selection of the San Francisco 49’rs in 1956. Backing up future Hall-of-Famer Y.A. Tittle, Morrall played little that year and after the season the Pittsburgh Steelers made the Niners an offer for Morrall they couldn’t refuse: two first-round draft picks and linebacker Marv Matuszak for Morrall and guard Mike Sandusky. Morrall rewarded the Steelers huge investment in him by playing well enough to earn a Pro Bowl berth in his first season as a starter. The team improved by a game and the future looked bright. But two games into the 1958 season the Steelers suddenly decided to cut bait with Morrall and go with proven talent, trading him to Detroit for the great Bobby Layne. Now Layne's one of the greatest QB’s in NFL history but he was 32-years-old at the time and a legendary boozer. Layne subsequently had some success with Pittsburgh but never recaptured the championship form of his Lions days.
As for Morrall, on his third team in three years, he found himself stuck on the Lions bench backing up Tobin Rote in 1958. In 1959 they split time, with Morrall playing well and Rote a black hole of ineptitude (5 TD’s, 19 INT’s and a 26.8 QB rating). Morrall’s reward for his superior play? The Lions stuck him back on the bench for 1960 and brought in a new QB to start, Jim Ninowski. Though not as bad as Rote Ninowski was bad enough while Morrall played great in limited action. Morrall earned more playing time in 1961 and again outperformed Ninowski. So the Lions made the obvious move...for them. They brought in yet another new starting QB, Milt Plum, and pushed Morrall back to the sidelines. While the Lions had a great season, going 11-3, Plum played poorly while, again, Morrall outshone the starter when given the chance to play. At last the Lions brass could no longer overlook the obvious.
Up to that point in his career, teams had spent a total of three number one picks and a Hall of Fame quarterback on Earl Morrall. The Detroit Lions traded away the greatest QB in their franchise’s history to get him. Five long years later they finally gave Morrall his chance to start. And Morrall didn’t disappoint. He was simply tremendous in 1963, throwing for 24 touchdowns, 2,621 yards, and finishing fifth in passer rating. The team declined due to drop-offs in their running game and defense plus some plain old bad luck (they lost 6 games by a TD or less) but Morrall showed what he could do with an opportunity. Unfortunately, no sooner had he made the Lions’ QB job his own than he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the following season. Not willing to wait for Morrall to heal, the Lions decided to go with Plum for good and sent Morrall to the New York Giants in 1965 (was Matt Millen the GM back then too?).
Undaunted as usual, Morrall picked up right where he left off in 1963. Fifth in passing yards, fourth in passing TD’s, and fifth again in passer rating. The Giants improved by 5 wins with Morrall at the helm. So the starting job would surely be his again in 1966 right? I think we all know where this is going. Yeah, he had a great year but so what, this is Earl Morrall we’re talking about. Even he had to know that a great season was no guarantee of a job. And it wasn’t but the Giants did the Lions one better, not just finding a new starter to replace Morrall, but instead opting for some bizarre quarterback hydra of Morrall, Gary Wood, and Tom Kennedy. Morrall couldn’t thrive in this three-headed situation (who could?) and his numbers suffered but they were a bit better than Wood's, the team’s attempts leader. Kennedy played the best but he was out of football the next year. After winning but a single game in 1966, one of the worst seasons of all time, New York mercifully pulled the plug on their insane experiment, traded for Fran Tarkenton and sent Morrall back to his accustomed position: the bench.
We now see the pattern emerge: an NFL team gives Morrall a chance, Morrall comes through in a big way, and his team can’t wait to then give his job to somebody else. Getting pushed to the sidelines by Y.A. Tittle, Bobby Layne, and Fran Tarkenton must have been tough enough, but Jim Ninowski, Tobin Rote, Milt Plum, and Gary Wood too? I wish I could tell you why so many teams gave up on Morrall. Was it his lack of mobility? Could he not get along with his coaches? Did he sleep with his GM’s wives? Did he refuse to help old ladies cross the street? Booze? Drugs? Cross-dressing? Bad breath? B.O.? Whatever the reasons when the Giants traded the 34-year-old Morrall to the Baltimore Colts in 1968 it looked like he’d finally run out of chances. The Colts already had a starting QB, Johnny Unitas, and Morrall wasn’t beating out Johnny U. But as it turned out the most interesting parts of the strange saga of Earl Morrall were still to come.
The Curious Career of Earl Morrall
Earl Morrall, Part One
Earl Morrall, Part Two
Earl Morrall, Part Three
Earl Morrall, Part Four
Fun Earl Morrall Facts
Saturday, September 8, 2007
I'm having a real hard time getting a handle on what Cameron's doing with the Dolphins. On the bright side he appears to be putting an actual offensive system in place (which is more than their last couple of coaches have done) and he's aggresively bringing in the players he thinks can do well in that system: Green and Beck, Ginn, Lorenzo Booker, David Martin. (It'll be years before we can fairly judge the Ginn/Quinn thing so no point doing it now). I don't like the acquisition of too many vets when clearly this team is years away from being a contender. Green and Joey Porter come to mind. At least Cam jettisoned Hakim and the Schles after seeing what they couldn't do. And what the hell are all these Ronnie Brown mindgames? Returning punts? Making him fighting for his job with journeyman Jesse Chatman? Does Cam not like Ronnie or is it just some crazy motivational scheme? Clearly Brown's our best offensive player and Cam's got to know that. I'm not too worried about the seeming lack of production in preseason. Cameron already said he was more concerned with practicing fundamentals than in running anything to exotic.
Ok, so how will Miami fare this year? My guess is they'll be a bit better than last year's 6-10 squad. Taylor and Thomas are aging and it's a shame Miami wasted their primes by failing to field a decent offense (the flip-side of Marino's career), but overall the defensive unit should still be strong, especially with the addition of Porter. So the question is the offense. There are a lot of reasons to expect a disaster. A 37-year-old QB coming off a horrific concussion, a so far disappointing and injury prone running back, a star receiver who alternates highlight-reel catches with easy drops, and a #1 draft pick who's shown little since a January foot injury and isn't known for his great route running. And let's not forget last year's terrible offensive line. Still, I do expect improvement. Cameron knows how to build an offense. After the last couple of clowns we used as coaches, that's not nothing. I don't care what Trent Green might have lost ability-wise, he will be better than Joey Harrington. We don't need much to improve at that position. And that suddenly improves the receiving corps. I've written about this before but losing Wes Welker won't hurt at all. Miami came out ahead in that trade. Welker's versatile, a gamer, etc., but he's not fast and safety valve guys are easy to replace. The Dolphins needed playmakers. As for Ronnie Brown, given the terrible o-line and abysmal quarterbacking the last 2 years, his 4.3 YPC is a great number. If he stays healthy this should be his biggest year ever. Cameron will find ways to use him in the passing game. The offensive line should be better with the new blood, especially Satele, and Hudson Houck's coaching. No playoffs. Completely independently of Jeff, I also conclude this team improves to 8-8. (And yeah, Miami wins their opener).
1) AFC. The consensus pick are the Patriots (overrated!). A lot of people like the Colts to repeat (they won't get all the postseason breaks this time). The Chargers may have the best talent (and the worst coach, Norv the loser). But I'm going with a team I think people are overlooking: the Baltimore Ravens. The defense remains the best in the conference and the team's biggest weakness last year, Jamal Lewis, is gone, replaced by Willis McGahee. Lewis looked washed up in 2006 and I think BAL might have beaten Indy in the playoffs if the dude could have done anything at all. Having seen the Colts destroy the Saints the other night though, it's a really tough call deciding between the two of them. Manning's just on another level than everyone else now. If IND can regularly play defense like that all year, I don't see how anybody stops them.
2) NFC. With no signs that Rex Grossman has improved, the Bears won't make a return trip to the Super Bowl. So I'll go with Philadelphia. McNabb's the best QB in the NFC when he plays and the defense is strong. They had every chance to knock off the Bears in the playoffs and that was with Jeff Garcia at QB.
Addendum: Is anything more worthless than preseason predictions? I can only think of one thing: a football blog.
OK. So this is my last day to predict (guess at) how the Dolphins will do, before they start doing it (or start having it done to them).
I am incapable of just saying, 8-8, or 10-6, or 1-15 and leaving it at that. Oh no, I have to be meticulous about it. Game by game meticulous.
9/9 at WASH: I think the Skins will be bad. New QB vs. our (very) old QB. We win 28-17, go Trent. 1-0!
9/16 DALL: I have a good feeling about this one. Home crowd that I can't afford to be a part of, Parcells-abandoned 'boys, we win a close one 24-23. 2-0, but don't get too excited b/c...
9/23 at NYJ: Ken O'Brien and Freeman McNeil come out of retirement for this one game, get 400 and 150 yards, respectively. Annual arrrgravaton for me, 21-30 loss. 2-1.
9/30 OAK: Daunte's revenge? We'd deserve it, but it won't happen. They are awful. He says now. 31-14. 3-1.
10/7 at HOU: the early part of our schedule is sweet, yes? 20-10 yawner, 4-1.
10/14 at CLEV: This one's for you Jim. We realize we can't be 5-1 even though we're playing another suck team like yours. And it rains, too. 13-17 zzz...4-2.
10/21 NE: oh, please. They'll kill us. Welcome home, Wes Welker...oh, GOD, we missed you...17-38. 4-3.
10/28 NYG in LONDON: Oi, wet n' cold over 'ere, innit? Don't order any kind of "pudding" there, boys...and don't look for veggies 'cos they don't have any. Culture shock favors the G-Men. 19-24. 4-4.
11/11 BUFF-a-LOWWW: We needed that bye week. And a very beatable opponent like our old nemesis. 31-10 romp, Back in Black at 5-4.
(how wrong am I so far? Is this haunting me circa December or what?)
11/18 at PHIL: they're good. we're not so much. 22-35 (we got a late 2-pt. conversion is why). 5-5.
11/26 at PITT: we wilt under the MNF spotlight. 24-27. Game highlight is a drunken Charles "Chuck" Jablonski of Harrisburg, PA, running onto the field only to be clocked by Zach Thomas. Sadly, this riles up the fans, and Jaws, against us. 5-6.
12/2 NYJ: Because I want to beat them so badly...they win. 27 to our 21. 5-7.
12/9 @BUFF: Because they want to beat us so badly, BUT have Marshawn Lynch instead of Thomas Jones, they can't. We're 6-7, no idea what the score was.
12/16 BALT: I realized that if I got all the other scores right, I'd regret not putting in a random guess at last week's score. So we won 24-10. Why am I not talking about BALT? Because they are more boring than watching paint dry. McNair misses this game due to injury. We win 17-10, all points due to defensive scores. Yes, including the field goals. back to .500, 7-7.
12/23 at NE: Unless they've already clinched and are only playing reserves, we lose again to a really good team. Many graphics compare our free-agent pickups and commentators make snide remarks about Hakim, Campbell, and Schlesinger. Which is ironic b/c the Schles will be a sideline reporter during the game, run up to the booth, and beat the crap out of the commentators. Anyway, 19-32. 7-8.
12/30 CIN: Happy belated Hanukkah, Miami. Cincinnati continues to screw up in late-season games. Our 35-24 win fills us with hope for Cameron's second season. 8-8. We finish second in the division because our division also has the Bills and Jets. Who both end up 0-16 despite the Jets having beaten us twice, and splitting their series with each other. DAT'S WHY DEY PLAY DA GAMES!
AFC Championship: Brady over Manning in a game in which the two quarterbacks are the only players ever mentioned by game announcers...
NFC EAST: 1. PHIL; 2. DALL; 3. NYG; 4. WASH.
NFC NORTH: I can't stop the double spacing. Why is this? anyway, it's LIONS then Bears then Packers then Vikes (WRs, please apply). Oh. And while Favre again starts every damn game, he only makes 5 TD passes. Dan Marino's record remains intact YESSSS!, though there is much speculation (color me shocked) that Brett "may" return for 2008...
NFC SOUTH: NO then TB then CAR then ATL. Best wishes to Joey Harrington and Chris Redman, so that the evil taint of coach- and canine-killer Vick can be minimized ASAP. But since when do I get what I wish for?
NFC WEST: god this blog is taking forever...yes, to write. What, it's not sheer pleasure to read? Where was I? Where am I? Oh of course. Sitting on my tuchas as usual. STL over SEA over AZ over SF in a very tough division.
NFC Championship: Philadelphia over N'awlins.
Super Bowl XLII: Philadelphia 34, New England 30.
BTW, I also predict that I'm going to be wrong. I'm always wrong. This blog was Rob's stupid idea anyway. And is brought to you by the Tinsley Sports Network. (?)
*Not to imply that I'm making any other kind of predictions for 2007.