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Archive for February 2016

4th Annual Goldie Awards!!

-Who will be the host!?

-The Best and Worst Moments and Players of the 2015 Green Bay Packers Season

-This season was very frustrating

-Who had the play of the year?

-Were there any offensive players worthy of being the MVP?

-Are Packer fans being spoiled and entitled for criticizing this season?



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Super Bowl 50: Denver Broncos 24  Carolina Panthers 10

-Who thought Denver would dominate like that?

-Denver has a great defense

-Peyton Manning gets another championship...but didn't really earn it

-Cam Newton walks out of his press conference. Was he justified?

-Championships are not the best way to judge QB Greatness

-Was Eli Manning sad that the Broncos won? 

-All things Super Bowl 50: Halftime! Commercials!! Pregame!! Peyton kissing Papa Johns

-Hall of Fame Class of 2016: Did they get it right?

Thanks for a great season!


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Erased Super Bowl XXXIII: Denver Broncos 34 Atlanta Falcons 19
The Denver Broncos entered Super Bowl XXXIII as favorites to become the AFC’s first repeat champions in 19 years. In 1997, the Broncos became just the 2nd Wildcard team to win the Super Bowl, upsetting the heavily favored defending champion Green Bay Packers. In 1998, Denver sought out to prove that their run was no fluke. Once future Hall of Fame Quarterback John Elway decided to return for a 16th season, Denver had the majority of their impact players back and expectations were a mile high. They didn’t disappoint. Denver began the season 13-0 and finished 14-2. They had the 2nd highest scoring offense, led by NFL MVP and 2,000 rusher Terrell Davis. Their defense finished 8th in scoring and were stout against the run. In the AFC playoffs, they defeated their two opponents by a combined 61-13. Denver looked poised to repeat.

Awaiting them in the Super Bowl were the upstart Atlanta Falcons. They too had gone 14-2 in 1998, mainly on the strength of a strong rushing attack and an opportunistic defense. Atlanta’s best player was RB Jamal Anderson. While he’s perhaps best remembered for inventing the “Dirty Bird” touchdown dance that came to define the team, he was nearly as good as Terrell Davis in 1998, rushing for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. Journeyman Quarterback Chris Chandler had the best season of his career, averaging an NFL-best 9.6 yards per pass attempt. On defense, the Falcons forced an NFL-high 44 turnovers. While undoubtedly a solid team, the Falcons were considered somewhat of a fluke after being 3-13 in 1996 and 7-9 in 1997. In the playoffs, they defeated the San Francisco 49ers 20-18 and moved on to play the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in the NFC Championship Game. The 15-1 Vikings were favored by 11 points and expected to easily handle the Falcons. Atlanta trailed for most of the game, but had stayed close. Behind 27-20 with just over 2:00 remaining, Atlanta watched as Vikings K Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of 1998. This sparked the Falcons to drive down the field and tie the game with :57 left. In overtime, Atlanta was able to hold the Vikings on two possessions before driving and kicking the game winning field goal 6:35 into the extra period. The Atlanta Falcons had scored one of the biggest upsets in NFL history and punched their unlikely ticket to Super Bowl XXXIII.

Despite identical 14-2 records, Denver was seen as a much better team and were established as 7.5 point favorites. However, there were still thoughts that Atlanta could upset the Broncos like they had Minnesota. As the game began, it looked like Atlanta had a chance, as they moved the ball well and took a 3-0 lead. That was as good as it would get for the Falcons. Despite not playing their best, Denver showed themselves to be head-and-shoulders above Atlanta. They ended several successful Falcon drives by forcing turnovers or stopping them on 4th down and short. The Bronco offense controlled the game with Terrell Davis and an intermediate passing game. The back-breaking play came in the form of an 80 touchdown pass off of play action from John Elway to Rod Smith to take a 17-3 lead late in the first half. Denver continued to methodically add to their lead in the second half, eventually ballooning it to 31-6 in the 4th quarter. After two garbage Falcon touchdowns, the slowout finally ended with a 34-19 final. Denver had showed themselves to be one of the greatest teams in history by becoming just the 7th to win back to back championships. John Elway rode off into retirement as the Super Bowl MVP. This was all great for Broncos fans, but for the rest of NFL fans, Super Bowl XXXIII left everyone with an empty feeling. We all knew the Broncos were great, but a golden opportunity was missed to see just how great Denver was. They had won back to back Super Bowls, but we would never know if they actually were the best team of 1998.

The Switch: 1998 Minnesota Vikings for 1998 Atlanta Falcons 
As mentioned, the Vikings were upset by the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. It’s not unusual for a number two seed to beat a number one seed in the conference championship, but few number one seeds are like the 1998 Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings had made the playoffs five of the previous six seasons, but appeared to have peaked as a Wildcard-level team. In the 1998 Draft, they got the piece to put them over the top: WR Randy Moss. Upon his arrival in the NFL, Moss made an immediate impact at a level perhaps unseen before or since. He caught an NFL rookie record 17 touchdowns passes – 10 of which were over 40 yards. The matchup problems he created allowed other teammates to flourish as well. Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter had another Pro Bowl season. QB Randall Cunningham, who two years prior was retired working as a television analyst, had his best season as a pro, throwing a franchise record 34 touchdown passes. The Vikings deep vertical passing threat terrified opponents and allowed RB Robert Smith to have his best season yet with 1,478 yards of offense and 16 touchdowns. Their defense was solid, if unspectacular, but had many playmakers including future Hall of Fame defensive lineman John Randle. The Vikings were unstoppable. They went 15-1, losing once on the road by just 3 points, and broke the NFL scoring record with 556 points. Their 260 point scoring differential (an average of 16.2 points per game) was second only to the 1991 Redskins in the Super Bowl era. These Vikings truly were one of the greatest teams of all time.

In the playoffs, they destroyed the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals 41-21 in the Divisional Round. In the NFC Championship game, everyone expected them to make easy work of the Falcons and move on to an epic Super Bowl matchup with the Broncos. Instead, they played sluggish. They committed two turnovers and struggled to hit their signature long passes. Despite this, they controlled most of the game and built a 27-20 4th quarter lead. With 2:07 remaining, they had driven to the Atlanta 21 and attempted a 38 yard game-icing field goal. Kicker Gary Anderson was perfect in his 39 attempts in 1998 and had not missed in his last 46 attempts dating back to the prior season. This time, he missed. The game was not over. You could sense the Vikings deflate and the Falcons rejuvenate. Atlanta quickly tied the game at 27-27 and escaped with a 30-27 overtime victory. The Falcons moved on and one of the greatest teams ever didn’t even get a chance to play in the championship game. 

Reality Displacement Index: 1/10
Of all the games that have been discussed in this series, this one is the easiest to change. If Gary Anderson makes his field goal, the Vikings win the NFC Championship game. It certainly is not his fault alone that Minnesota lost, but that was the game changing play. However, if he still misses the field goal, the Vikings defense had numerous opportunities to stop Atlanta from driving 71 yards for the tying score. The best opportunity for Minnesota came with about 1:10 remaining with Atlanta at the Minnesota 16. Falcons QB Chris Chandler threw a pass into heavy coverage that bounced off of Vikings’ CB Corey Fuller’s hands before being nearly intercepted by a diving S Robert Griffith. The Falcons threw the game-tying touchdown pass to Terrence Mathis on the next play. 

In overtime, the Vikings won the toss. On their first possession, they quickly moved the ball to their own 42, but could go no further. After forcing a Falcons 3 and out, Minnesota again got near midfield. This time, on 3rd and 10 from their own 39, Randall Cunningham went for the play that had got them to 15-1: the deep bomb to Moss. Cunningham was forced to hold on to the ball a little long due to the Falcons rush, but he was still able to unload from a relatively clean pocket. Moss had run through Atlanta’s zone coverage and had a good yard of separation from S Eugene Robinson. The ball either hung up or was thrown too late. Moss had to adjust to the ball and Robinson was able to lunge and break up the pass at the Atlanta 15 yard line. Moss nearly caught it. Had he, the Vikings win. Instead, they punted, and the Falcons were able to drive 70 yards and kick the game winning field goal. Let’s assume that Gary Anderson misses the field goal, but Cunningham hits the bomb to Moss for a touchdown in overtime, as it would have created one of the best endings in NFL history. The Vikings get their scare, but ultimately win the way they always had in 1998 and move on to meet the Broncos in the best matchup in Super Bowl history. 

Improved Super Bowl XXXIII: Broncos vs. Vikings - Evaluating the Matchup
This would have been the best Super Bowl matchup of all time on paper. This would have been the only playoff matchup ever between two teams who scored over 500 points in the regular season. It would be interesting to see who would be favored going into this game. Denver was the defending champion and had NFL MVP Terrell Davis, but the Vikings were the highest scoring team ever and would’ve have been on a 10 game winning streak. I suspect the Vikings would have been a 2 point favorite, as the NFC was still seen as the slightly better conference and Minnesota had twice crushed the team that Denver had barely beat in the prior Super Bowl, Green Bay. 

Minnesota had the better all-around rankings, but had a mediocre rushing defense. Terrell Davis would have been able to run the ball quite well on the Viking front. Minnesota’s pass defense also was below average, but they were 6th in the NFL in turnovers forced. John Elway would have had many options including the NFL’s leading tight end Shannon Sharpe. The Broncos would have no trouble scoring. And that’s good for them, because they would need every point they could get. Denver had just the 26th ranked passing defense. DBs Darrien Gordon and Ray Crockett would have been no match for Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Add in former four time 1,000 yard receiver Jake Reed in the slot and 500 yard TE Andrew Glover and Minnesota would have had an answer for anything Denver threw at them. The positive for Denver is that their 3rd ranked rushing defense would have contained Pro Bowl RB Robert Smith. That wouldn’t have bothered the Vikings much. Early on in the season, the whole world figured out that Minnesota just wanted to throw downfield and still no one could stop them. 

All indications are that this would have been one of the wildest shootouts in NFL history. Neither team would be likely to stop the other too often. If Denver could control the clock by getting Terrell Davis on track, the Broncos would be in good shape. Once they got the play action passing going, they could have hit some big plays down the field. However, Minnesota also had a few playmakers in their secondary. That combined with the way John Elway typically played in Super Bowls – at least one interception in each he appeared in, the Vikings should have expected to force a turnover or two. If one of Denver’s wayward passes fell into the hands of Vikings DB Jimmy Hitchcock, things could get bad for the Broncos, as Hitchcock had returned 3 of his 7 interceptions for touchdowns in 1998. 

If Denver’s offense made many mistakes, they would be in deep trouble, as their passing defense would have been torched by the multifaceted Vikings passing attack. They could hope for some turnovers, but Minnesota committed the 3rd fewest in 1998, while Denver was just 13th at forcing them. It’s easy to imagine Randy Moss breaking free for one or two long touchdowns and creating opportunities for his other teammates to add some more points. Denver fights valiantly, but ultimately falls short. America gets treated to one of the greatest games of all time. The Broncos go down in history with the 1983 Redskins, 1997 Packers, and 2014 Seahawks as great teams who barely missed being legendary. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings become one of the teams most commonly called the greatest ever, sparking thousands of bar room debates about how they stack up against Lombardi’s Packers, the 1972 Dolphins, Noll’s Steelers, the 1985 Bears, Walsh’s 49ers, and so on. Their highlights would constantly loop on NFL documentaries and Super Bowl pregame shows instead of being largely relegated to the dustbin of history. Minnesota finally has their championship and forever shakes the stigma of being history’s greatest big game choker. It sucks to know all that was lost on a missed field goal. Unless of course you’re a Packer fan. 

Minnesota 38 Denver 35
MVP: Randy Moss

Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl XX: Chicago Bears 46 New England Patriots 10
There have been many blowouts in Super Bowl history, but none have a reputation like the 1985 Chicago Bears 46-10 win over the New England Patriots. 

The Bears arrived at the Louisiana Superdome as 10 point favorites. At the beginning of the 1985 season, the defending NFC Central champs possessed the NFL’s top defense and were expected to win the division again, but were not picked by many to win the Super Bowl. They played up to expectations to start the season by beginning 5-0, but were not quite as dominant on defense as they had been in 1984. In Week 6, they traveled out to San Francisco to play the defending champion 49ers. The prior year, the 49ers had gone 15-1 and defeated the Bears 23-0 in the NFC Championship game. Many considered them to be the best team ever. The meeting in San Francisco would be the Bears launch point for their rise to that same claim. Chicago left with a hard fought 26-10 victory and never looked back. From that point on, the Bears unleashed a reign of terror on the rest of the league. They finished 15-1. Their ferocious defense was number one in both points and yards. They averaged 4 sacks and 3.4 takeaways per game. They had left many quarterbacks laying, and seemed to defeat some before the plays even started. In the NFC playoffs, they took it to a whole other level. In two wins, they forced four turnovers, 9 sacks, allowed 19 total first downs and gave up 0 points. For good measure, the Bears efficient offense, which finished 1985 first in rushing and 2nd in scoring, added 55 points and the Bears were on to Super Bowl XX to claim their first title in 22 years. 

Awaiting them were the surprising New England Patriots. To date, New England had just one playoff win in their franchise’s history. In 1985, the Patriots won with a combination of a solid defense that thrived on takeaways and a decent offense predicated on running the ball with their dual threat backfield of Craig James (1,587 yards from scrimmage) and Tony Collins (1,206 yards from scrimmage). They notched an 11-5 record and made the playoffs as the second wildcard team, meaning they would have to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl – something no team had ever done. In the Wildcard round, the Patriots collected four turnovers from the New York Jets and claimed a 26-14 victory. At the top seeded Los Angeles Raiders in the Divisional Round, New England forced six turnovers, slashed for 156 yards on the ground, and scored the shocking 27-20 upset. In the AFC Championship game, the Patriots would head to a spot where they had not won in their last 15 tries: Miami. The 12-4 Dolphins were 5.5 point favorites and featured perhaps the league’s best player in quarterback Dan Marino. This would be a matchup of the Dolphins elite passing attack verses the Patriots red hot running game. Fate, however, played perhaps the biggest factor. The game would be played in steady rain. The weather affected the Dolphins pass-first offense, as they lost four fumbles and never got their passing game on track. The Patriots traversed the slop with 255 rushing yards and controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes. New England logged their third straight playoff upset, 31-14, and headed for a matchup with the Bears believing they could do it again.

For the first six plays of Super Bowl XX, it looked like the Patriots were going to score their most improbable upset yet. On the Bears second play, the Patriots forced Chicago’s future Hall of Fame Running Back Walter Payton to fumble at the Bears 19. After a recovering the fumble, New England went for the kill shot. They barely missed three big pass completions, including two that could have been touchdowns. They settled for a 3-0 lead. From that point on, the Bears regained their focus and physically destroyed the Patriots in a manner perhaps never seen before or since in the NFL. The Bears and their 46 Defense, led by Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan, sacked Tony Eason on three of his next six drop backs - including a sack that Eason conceded by diving to the turf for safety before ever being touched. This led to New England coach Raymond Berry pulling him from the game. After gaining 510 rushing yards in the AFC playoffs, the Patriots rushing attack was held to seven yards. That is not a misprint: seven yards. New England had -19 yards of offense at halftime. Chicago’s typically workmanlike offense was perfectly balanced, exploding for 408 yards of total offense – 3rd most in Super Bowl history at the time. After allowing rookie defensive tackle William “the Refrigerator” Perry to carry the ball and score an offensive touchdown, Bears legendary Head Coach Mike Ditka called off the dogs with a 44-3 lead and 3:48 remaining in the THIRD quarter. Chicago would win 46-10, setting records in both points scored and margin of victory, and carried both Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan off the field. New England had been humiliated and America was left wondering if the 18-1 Chicago Bears were the best team of all time. How the hell did this team ever lose one game?

The Switch: 1985 Miami Dolphins for 1985 New England Patriots
On Monday, December 2nd, 1985, the 12-0 Chicago Bears came to Miami to take on the 8-4 Dolphins. The talk in the pregame was whether or not Miami was the last hurdle between the Bears and a 16-0 season – thus eclipsing the 14-0 mark of the 1972 Dolphins. The Dolphins were a home underdog for just the 5th time in the 1980s. Miami rose to the challenge and attacked the Bears with the one weapon they had: Dan Marino. Despite facing the Bears ferocious pass rush, they threw often. Marino was at his best, throwing for 270 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 108.6. Through Marino’s great play, some good defense, and some lucky bounces, Miami raced out to a 31-10 halftime lead and held on for a 38-24 win. Miami would go on to win the rest of their games, averaging over 30 points per game, and clinching the AFC East. In the playoffs, Miami didn’t play their best. They had to come back from 18 points down at home to defeat the 8-8 Cleveland Browns in in the final minutes. After the New England Patriots upset the 12-4 Los Angeles Raiders, Miami unexpectedly hosted the AFC Title game against a team it hadn’t lost to at home since 1969. As described above, things didn’t quite go as planned. 

Miami was a strange team in 1985. The year before, the Dolphins were 14-2 with the 7th best defense in the league and the best offense in NFL history to date. Dan Marino was NFL MVP and shattered many passing records - most notably by setting single season marks with 48 touchdowns and 5,084 passing yards. While the Dolphins would lose to the 15-1 49ers in the Super Bowl, everyone expected them to be back. In 1985, they were still a good team, but started to take the shape that many of Dan Marino’s teams would frustratingly take over the rest of his career: incredible passing game, but below average running game and defense. The Dolphins still tied for the best record in the AFC, but were not as good as the Bears or frankly most of the other top NFC teams. However, they threw the ball as well as anyone in the league, even without a running game. As long as there has been a forward pass, there is nothing that scares a defense like a great quarterback. 

Despite losing the AFC Championship game by 17 to the Patriots, Miami had numerous chances to win. The Dolphins trailed just 10-7 in the 2nd quarter, when Dan Marino fumbled the wet ball on the snap. New England recovered and turned that opportunity into a 17-7 lead. Right before halftime, Marino threw an interception in the end zone, allowing the Patriots to take their two-score lead into the second half. Had Miami scored a touchdown there, the resulting 17-14 halftime score would have been easier to come back from. Miami received the second half kickoff. If things had gone differently on the two first half turnovers, Miami could be getting the ball with a chance to tie, take the lead, or even further their existing lead. In reality, Miami trailed 17-7 and then fumbled the kickoff. New England recovered and scored yet another touchdown to take a 24-7 lead. Down 17 in the 3rd quarter, in the rain, without a running game, against a team you can’t stop on the ground; Miami was beaten. While they lost the real game 31-14, the game was really lost on those three plays. Had Miami not committed those turnovers, they would have had a very good shot to win. Let’s imagine Miami makes those plays and the Dolphins win their second consecutive AFC Championship. Could they upset the Bears again?  

Improved Super Bowl XX: Bears vs. Dolphins - Evaluating the Matchup
Chicago likely would have opened as a 4 to 6 point favorite over the Dolphins, but there would be plenty of buzz wondering if Dan Marino would once again orchestrate the success he had against the Bears back in December. Marino would always be the arch-nemesis for a defense whose success relies on pressuring and intimidating the opposing passer, especially the 1985 Bears and their 46 Defense. Chicago was 3rd in the NFL in sacks with four per game, but over the final 11 games led the NFL and averaged nearly 4.5 sacks per game. During the defensive prime of Ditka’s Bears (1984-1988), when they recorded 4 sacks or more in a game, they had a 37-4 record. When the Bears recorded fewer than 2 sacks a game, they were just 13-9 – in other words: human. 

Unfortunately for the Bears, avoiding sacks was Dan Marino’s specialty. According to Pro Football Reference’s advanced stat, Sack% (the percentage of dropbacks resulting in sacks), Dan Marino was not only the most difficult to quarterback to sack in 1985, he was the most difficult quarterback to sack of all time. During that same 1984-1988 time frame used above, Dan Marino was sacked an average of just 0.88 times per game. He had only been sacked 4 times in a game twice – losing both times. If Marino could avoid the rush, he would have opened passing lanes against a pass rush focused defense. Then he could take advantage of man-to-man coverage with his trio of past and future Pro Bowl Wide Receivers Mark Clayton, Mark Duper, and Nat Moore. 

While most of the intrigue would come from Marino vs. The 46 Defense, the other matchup would have been equally as important. Miami had just the 23rd ranked defense. The 1985 Bears’ offense played the best it would ever play under Mike Ditka. They were second in the NFL in points and number one in nearly every rushing category. If Miami’s 23rd ranked rushing defense could somehow slow down all-time leading rusher Walter Payton and the Bears rushing attack, they could put pressure on the Bears sluggish passing attack. Bears QB Jim McMahon may be a top ten personality of all time, but he was never a great passer that could carry an offense alone. If Chicago had to rely on McMahon and their 20th ranked passing game to match Dan Marino and the Dolphins offense step for step, they were in big trouble.  

There is no reason to believe that the Dolphins would have been able to stop the Bears on the ground. After seeing the Patriots’ 6th ranked rushing attack gash the Dolphins for 255 yards in the real 1985, it’s hard to not expect the Bears to do the same thing. Chicago would have likely tried to control the clock, as they would not want to tempt fate that Marino could have recreated his Monday Night heroics. Chicago likely would not have taken so many chances throwing downfield like they did against a New England team they knew couldn’t score. Given limited opportunities, Marino would feel pressured to make plays. He likely would have hit some, but Chicago’s 46 defense was still one of the greatest ever. They would have pressured Marino, sacked him a few times, and likely forced an interception or two. The Bears win, tie San Francisco for the most single-season wins in NFL history and still carry both coaches off the field.

Chicago 27 Miami 14
MVP: Walter Payton

Final Thoughts
This modified Super Bowl XX brings up two interesting discussions that I wanted to comment on in a special bonus section. The first revolves around Dan Marino. Throughout this project, there are many other times I could have put the Dolphins into the Super Bowl, most notably 1992 and 1994, but didn’t, because neither of those teams would have fared any better than the two teams who were actually pummeled in those respective Super Bowls. It really illustrated the fact that Marino never had a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl. He was a great player, but the teams he played on were never the best in the NFL. Many times, such as 1990, his best teams weren’t even the best in their own division. It would have taken a transcendent run of play for Dan Marino to have won a Super Bowl. He could not have had the playoff run that many of the other great Super Bowl winning quarterbacks had and won a championship. When he played poorly in the AFC Championship game, he did not have a defensive tackle intercept the ball and score a game winning touchdown like Aaron Rodgers did. If he would have thrown for barely 100 yards and a touchdown in the rain, he would have not won 44-15, like Steve Young in the 1994 playoffs, or 35-14, like Brett Favre in the 1996 playoffs. While Joe Montana played spectacularly in the playoffs, he needed to produce just 12.7 points per game to be victorious in his four championship runs. Marino’s Dolphins scored an average of 20.5 in his playoff career and they still went 8-10 in playoff games. I could go on and on. The point is, for whatever reason, the stars were never aligned for Marino to win a championship through little fault of his own. He’s still one of the greatest of all time and much better than many quarterbacks who do have rings.  

The other thought that came out of changing Super Bowl XX was the effect it would have on the 1985 Chicago Bears legacy. They are often considered one of, if not the greatest team in NFL history. So much of that comes from how memorable they are. People who are not big sports fans, but were old enough to watch Super Bowl XX live, remember the Bears and the beatdown they administered to the Patriots. But even among sports fans, the mythological reputation of the 1985 Chicago Bears comes from the indelible imagery of Super Bowl XX – Richard Dent tossing around Craig James like he was a rag doll, Tony Eason diving to the ground for safety prior to the arrival of six unimpeded pass rushers, William “the Refrigerator” Perry crashing over the Patriot line for a touchdown and spiking the ball with all his might. If you replace the real Super Bowl XX with the one I proposed above, all of that would go away. The Bears would still have been champions and still have been 18-1, but the part that makes them unforgettable is replaced by other more forgettable great plays. Would this team still be mentioned on lazy NFL Network countdowns and ESPN documentaries as unquestionably above the other equally dominant teams of the same era who didn’t have as remarkable capstones? I doubt it. The 15-1 1984 49ers and the 14-2 1986 Giants were arguably every bit good as the Bears, but few outside of the dedicated fan of NFL history thinks of them as being as good as the 1985 Bears. Tell me, which is the most memorable play of the Giants Super Bowl XXI win? Or the 49ers Super Bowl XIX win? I would bet even the hardcore NFL history fans had trouble recalling even one. The Super Bowl XX destruction of the Patriots made the Bears memorable. If not for that, perhaps they would be remembered as one of the most underachieving teams in NFL history. A team who followed up their Super Bowl title by losing at home in the playoffs each of the next three years. As a team who won just two more playoff games under Mike Ditka despite making the playoffs five more times. If this scenario were true, the Bears keep their championship, but perhaps the 1985 Bears get tossed back into the pile of Super Bowl champions that no one other than fans of that particular team and hardcore football fans remember. 

Tomorrow it’s Number 1! At the time, I wanted any Super Bowl but this one. Now, there isn’t a game in NFL history I’d rather see. 

Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl XXXV: Baltimore Ravens 34 New York Giants 7
Super Bowl XXXV featured had two teams that were not on anyone’s radar when 2000 began. The New York Giants had won just one playoff game since Bill Parcells left the team a decade earlier. Fourth year head coach Jim Fassel had compiled a 25-22-1 record in three seasons and looked to be one more mediocre year from unemployment. They had a collection of solid players on defense, but with journeyman Kerry Collins at quarterback and a collection of unknown offensive skill players, the Giants were expected to be nothing more than another also ran in the NFC. Instead, they shocked everyone by finishing with a 12-4 record and the top seed in the NFC. In the playoffs, the Giants proved skeptics wrong by beating the upstart Eagles 20-10 before destroying the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship game. The Giants were unexpectedly in the Super Bowl.

Perhaps even more unexpected was the team awaiting them: the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens had only been a team for about 9 weeks when the NFL awarded Super Bowl XXXV to Tampa, FL. The former Cleveland Browns had largely been forgotten once they moved to Baltimore, posting just a 24-39-1 record in their first four seasons. However, their poor performance allowed them to quietly assemble some of the best young talent in the league, particularly on defense. After moving to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens next four years of first round draft choices were future Hall of Famers T Jonathan Ogden and LB Ray Lewis, four time future Pro Bowler Peter Boulware, and Super Bowl starting cornerback duo Duane Starks and Chris McAlister. While no one expected much from the Ravens in 2000, they had some young talent that had the potential to deliver. What they delivered was a 12-4 record and one of the best defenses in NFL history. The Ravens allowed just 10.3 points per game, which is the fewest points allowed in a 16 game season. They had the best run defense, second best total defense, and forced 49 turnovers – 5 more than the next closest team. The only question mark was their lackluster offense, but it turns out they didn’t need an offense. The Ravens dominating defense somehow took it to another level in the playoffs, allowing just 16 total points in three playoff wins. The Ravens shockingly won the AFC and formed the other half of this unlikely Super Bowl.

Going into Super Bowl XXXV, the expectations were for a low scoring slugfest featuring two of the best defenses in the NFL. The Over/Under was set at 33 points, tied for the lowest in the Super Bowl history. Somehow, the two teams hit the over, but that doesn’t mean this game had a lot of action. While Baltimore’s offense played unimpressive mistake-free football, the Ravens defense dominated. They opened up a 17-0 lead in the 3rd quarter after a Trent Dilfer touchdown pass and an interception return for a touchdown by Duane Starks. The Giants responded when Ron Dixon returned a kickoff for a touchdown to close the gap to 17-7. New York’s excitement was short lived as the Ravens star returner Jermaine Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown as well. Baltimore ended up winning 34-7 in a completely one sided game. The Ravens exceptional defense held the Giants to just 2.76 yards per play and forced five turnovers. 

I used to think Super Bowl XXIX was the worst Super Bowl ever, but at least that had a great team from a legendary franchise playing at its best. This had a great defense carrying an okay offense to a win over a mediocre opponent in a dreadful game. This is probably as bad as it gets. If this isn’t the worst Super Bowl, it’s still the most depressing. The game is bad, the teams are uninteresting, and the whole production felt like such a letdown from the year before. Super Bowl XXXIV was one of the greatest games ever played. Rams MVP QB Kurt Warner threw a dramatic 73 yard touchdown with minutes to play to break the Super Bowl passing yardage record and take a 23-16 lead. The Titans engineered a dramatic drive that fell short as WR Kevin Dyson was stopped at the 1-yard line while lunging for the end zone as time expired. The drama was everything the Super Bowl is all about. Heck the game was everything America is supposed to be about. The commercials for Super Bowl XXXIV featured numerous new “dot-com” internet companies that were representative of the late 90s rags-to-riches economy. The Rams followed a similar story, going from 5th place to the title in just one year. Fast forward to a year later and many of those dot-com companies had already gone out of business, the stock market had crashed, and the Super Bowl had one boring low scoring team dominating another boring low scoring team with unglamorous hard work. Who wants that? Why couldn’t we just go back to the year before?

The Switch: 2000 St. Louis Rams for 2000 New York Giants
The 2000 St. Louis Rams are one of the strangest teams in NFL history. In the offseason, Head Coach Dick Vermeil retired, becoming just the fourth Super Bowl winning coach not to return the following season. Mike Martz, the architect of the Rams great offense, was named the new head coach. Their season started out routine enough for a defending Super Bowl champion, as they won their first six games. But if you looked closer, something strange was happening. Their “Greatest Show on Turf” offense was somehow even better than they were the year before, but their defense was suddenly as bad as any in recent history. Nearly every game for the 2000 Rams turned in to a wild shoot out more familiar to arena football. Their offense couldn’t be stopped, but their defense couldn’t stop anyone. Despite losing reigning MVP Kurt Warner for 5 games, St. Louis became the first team in NFL history to surpass 7,000 yards of total offense in a season. When Kurt Warner did play, he averaged a mind blowing 9.9 yards per pass attempt. The only other quarterbacks in history to do that all played before 1956 when passing was all about throwing down the field. Running back Marshall Faulk scored an NFL record 26 touchdowns and won the league MVP Award. Wide Receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce each made the Pro Bowl after having 1,400+ yards each. St. Louis’ 540 points scored were the 3rd most in league history. Unfortunately, their defense surrendered 471 points. That is the 7th most ever. The six teams who surrendered more points had an average record of 2-14. Somehow, the Rams went 10-6 and made the playoffs as the 6th and final seed. They may not have been the best team in the league, but in 2000, the NFL had no dominant complete teams. Any team with a historically great offense that can score at will on anyone will always have a puncher's chance. 

The real 2000 St. Louis Rams lost in the Wildcard Round to the New Orleans Saints 31-28. In order to make this new Super Bowl a reality, we need to find a way for them to win three road games – a rare feat in NFL playoff history. The New Orleans game would be quite easy to change. St. Louis’ offense struggled early, allowing their awful defense to get torched, and the Rams found themselves down 31-7 with 11:57 to play in the 4th quarter. Then, the Greatest Show on Turf finally awoke. They scored 21 unanswered points and pulled to within three with 2:36 remaining. The Rams forced a three and out and were going to get the ball on a punt after the 2:00 warning. However, Rams WR Az-Zahir Hakim muffed the punt, the Saints recovered, and the Rams chance at repeating was lost. Had Hakim fielded the punt, the Rams likely at least force overtime. They perhaps win the game outright in regulation. They had complete momentum and likely would have won without that fumble.

Next up would be the number one seeded New York Giants. As discussed, the Giants were no ordinary number one seed. They had the 5th best defense in the NFL, but they were middle of the road against the pass. As everyone had in 2000, the Giants 13th ranked offense would have put up points on St. Louis. However, the Rams offense had already shown they could score on the Giants. With backup quarterback Trent Green (who admittedly is about as good as a “backup” can be in the NFL) the Rams handily defeated the Giants in New York 38-24 in November. With Kurt Warner back under center, there is no reason to think they couldn’t put up big points again. Although, with their bad defense, they would have to play mistake free football to avoid giving the red hot Giants too many chances to outscore them. Let’s say St. Louis does just that and moves on once more. 

The NFC Championship game would have likely been a matchup with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. With the Rams beating the Saints in the Wildcard round, the Philadelphia Eagles go to Minnesota in the Divisional Round instead of New York. The Eagles would have had a better than average chance to beat the Vikings, but Minnesota has the slight edge with their elite offense and homefield advantage. The Vikings/Rams matchup would have the potential to be the highest scoring game in championship history. Minnesota was very similar to St Louis. They had the 5th best offense in scoring and total yards, but a terrible defense ranked 24th in scoring and 28th overall. Also, the teams had squared off in two shootouts near this time. In December, the Rams beat the Vikings 40-29 in St. Louis. They had also beaten the Minnesota 49-37 in the 1999 Divisional Playoffs. This game would come down to who commits the fewest turnovers and who has the ball last. If the Rams are tied or down one score in the 4th quarter, their offensive stars rise up and make the plays necessary. St. Louis beats Minnesota in another shootout and wins the NFC for the second straight year to move on to Super Bowl XXXV. 

Improved Super Bowl XXXV: Ravens vs. Rams - Evaluating the Matchup
There may not have been a matchup between two more extreme teams in NFL history. Many Super Bowls featured a matchup between the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense, but there is a strong argument to be made that, at the time, this would have been the greatest offense of all time vs. the greatest defense of all time. Those are the kind of matchups that a sports fans' dreams are made of. 

However, this game could have ultimately come down to what happens when the other units are on the field. The Ravens had the 16th ranked offense and a passing game in the bottom 10. St. Louis had given up the 7th most points in history and had the 23rd ranked total defense. It would have been the matchup of the resistible force versus the moveable object. 

St. Louis would also have been playing for history. A win would make them the 7th team to win back to back Super Bowls and would likely vault many of their Pro Bowl caliber offensive stars into Hall of Fame status. Not only would they be one of the greatest offenses ever, they would’ve beaten one of the greatest defenses ever while dragging their own horrible defense along for the ride. They would have been the team to prove “Defense Wins Championships” to be a myth. 

This game is very hard to call. I am confident the Rams offense was one of the best in NFL History. With the same parts, they were great in 1999 and would be great in 2001. However, it’s hard to know if the Ravens defense really was as good as their statistics. While still very good, there are some red flags. The 31-team NFL that existed from 1999-2001 was very strange, especially for AFC Central teams. Once the Cleveland Browns were added in 1999, the AFC Central had 6 teams. 10 of those teams’ 16 regular season games were played within the division. While the Ravens' record setting 165 points allowed is very impressive, it loses much of its luster when you realize the 2000 Tennessee Titans had the 3rd best scoring defense in the 16 game era (11.9 ppg) playing the same opponents. This is due in large part to the abysmal Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, who each had a scoring offense ranked in the bottom ten in NFL history. Baltimore allowed 14 points in four games against those two teams. The Ravens eye-popping stats were built on bullying terrible teams. In the regular season, they played just two teams in the top half of the NFL in scoring (Jacksonville and Tennessee) and lost two of those four games. In the playoffs, they did play the two highest scoring teams in the AFC, Denver and Oakland, and defeated them by scores of 21-3 and 16-3. However, the Broncos played without Pro Bowl starting Quarterback Brian Griese and Raiders star quarterback Rich Gannon was injured in the second quarter and played sparingly after that. Was Baltimore’s defense really good enough to shut down the Rams?

On the other side, St. Louis’s poor defense had been matched up all season with some of the highest scoring teams in the league. Half of their games were against teams in the top ten in scoring. And while that’s no excuse for giving up 471 points, it at least provides a partial explanation for their struggles. Although, you could flip the argument and say each of these teams were ranked that high because a visit from the Rams would produce an average offensive output of 29.4 points.

Ultimately, this game would have come down to turnovers. The Ravens forced the most and committed the 9th fewest, while the Rams were 20th and 24th in those respective categories. When St. Louis committed one or fewer turnovers, they were 7-0 and scored an average of 39.6 points per game. If they committed two or more, they were 3-6 and scored just 25.2 points per game. It’s hard to believe St. Louis would commit fewer than two turnovers against that tough Ravens defense. Baltimore’s offense would likely hit some big plays through the air, as everyone had against the Rams. They also would have controlled the clock with Jamal Lewis and their 5th ranked rushing attack. Add a big play or two from Jermaine Lewis in the return game and the Ravens would have scored enough to beat the Rams. If St. Louis played a clean game on offense, they could have won, but many of history’s top offense vs. defense matchups turn messy. The defense usually wins those matchups and Baltimore wins here. It’s too bad for the Rams that they had such a putrid defense, as they could have won back to back championships and be better remembered for their greatness. But instead, the Ravens still get their first Super Bowl, Brian Billick still gets to be an annoying commentator, and we all get to have enjoyed a classic Super Bowl XXXV battle instead of live in a world where Kerry Collins has started as many Super Bowls as Dan Marino. 

Baltimore 28 St. Louis 24
MVP: Jamal Lewis

Tomorrow in our Number 2 entry we…did somebody say Dan Marino?…

Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl XII: Dallas Cowboys 27 Denver Broncos 10
Following the AFL/NFL Merger, the NFL went through a period of great league disparity. From 1971-1980, nine of the ten AFC Championships were won by three teams: Pittsburgh, Miami, and Oakland. The one who bucked that trend was the Denver Broncos. In the early 70s, Denver was a mediocre team stuck in a division with the Oakland Raiders. Prior to 1977, Oakland had won the AFC West every year but one in the 1970s and had lost to the Broncos just twice in 14 contests. In 1976, the Raiders went 13-1 and won the Super Bowl. In January 1977, Denver hired Red Miller to be the new head coach. He provided the spark Denver needed to get over the AFC hump. “Broncomania” was born. These new Broncos were like nothing ever seen before in Denver. They got off to the best start in franchise history, reeling off six straight wins to start the regular season, including a 30-7 shellacking of the Raiders in Oakland. Denver would finish the season 12-2 with losses coming just to the Raiders in the rematch and the Cowboys in Dallas. Despite being the AFC’s number one seed and possessing the conference’s best scoring defense – nicknamed the Orange Crush, Denver would have to prove they could play with the battletested AFC powers in the playoffs. In the Divisional round, Denver would host the team of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers. After an even three quarters, the Broncos pulled away to claim a 34-21 win, setting up another meeting with their hated rivals – Oakland. In the AFC Championship game, “Broncomania” was in full effect at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos jumped out to an early lead and held off a 4th quarter Raiders comeback to win the AFC Title 20-17. They had broken through the AFC’s glass ceiling and ran right into the team that had held and iron grip on the NFC since the decade began: the Dallas Cowboys. 

The Dallas Cowboys qualified for the Super Bowl five times in the 1970s and were the only NFC team in the decade to win it. While possessing some of the best players and teams in NFL history over the decade, the 1977 team might have been their best. Their defense had been dubbed “Doomsday II”. The sequel to the legendary Doomsday Defense of the 1960s and early 70s might have been better than the original. It featured a cast of past and future Pro Bowlers and All Pros like DE Harvey Martin, DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones, S Cliff Harris, and LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson. It was anchored by 24 year old Phenom DT Randy “The Manster” White, who would go on to be a 7-time first team All-Pro and a first ballot Hall of Famer. The offense continued to see elite play from legendary quarterback Roger Staubach and got a little bit of help in the 1977 Draft in the form of future Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett. This team was as stacked as they come. They had the league’s number one offense and defense. They cruised through the regular season at 12-2 and won their two playoff games by a combined 60-13. They headed to New Orleans to meet Denver in the NFL’s first indoor and prime-time Super Bowl game.

While the AFC was thought to be the superior conference, Dallas entered as 6 point favorites, due to their experience in the playoffs. That held true. Denver never got on track. Doomsday II completely dominated the Denver offensive line. They hassled the Denver quarterbacks constantly, holding them to 8 of 25 passing for just 61 yards and 4 interceptions. They forced a then-record eight turnovers. On offense, Dallas played an efficient game that saw them gain 325 yards on the Orange Crush defense and produce five scoring drives. Dallas won their second Super Bowl of the decade 27-10, Randy White and Harvey Martin became the only co-MVP’s in Super Bowl history, and America wondered why this snoozer was moved from the afternoon just to waste their evening. 

The Switch: 1977 Oakland Raiders for 1977 Denver Broncos
There is little doubt that the Denver Broncos were the best AFC team of 1977. They had a good enough offense and the best defense in the conference. But it’s hard to watch what happened to them in the Super Bowl and not believe that the Raiders would have fared better. Oakland was the defending Super Bowl champions, had an 11-3 record, finished second to Denver in the AFC in scoring differential by 5 points, and most importantly, had the NFL’s highest scoring offense. 1977 was perhaps the worst year for offensive football since the era of Single Wing offenses. Eight of the league’s 28 teams failed to score an average of more than 14 points a game. In this environment, the Raiders 25.1 points per game makes them a veritable Greatest Show on Baseball Dirt. Defensively, the Raiders were average, but like all Raider teams, they could take the ball away – ranking 3rd in the NFL in takeaways. If you want to go to intangibles, Oakland’s 14 playoff games from 1970-1977 were the most in the AFC. They would not be intimidated by the bright lights of the Super Bowl. Denver was better, but the Raiders would have played better in Super Bowl XII. 

The Raiders fell behind the Broncos early in the AFC Championship game, but closed to within 14-10 in the 4th quarter. However, Raiders QB Ken Stabler threw an interception deep in Raiders territory with 9:25 to go. This led to a Denver touchdown from QB Craig Morton to Haven Moses with 7:43 to play. Denver would miss the extra point to keep the Raiders within a touchdown and field goal at 20-10. Later in the 4th quarter, Stabler hit Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper for a touchdown pass with 3:16 remaining, pulling the Raiders to within three, 20-17. Had the Raiders been able to make a stop, their top scoring offense would have had a chance to steal the game either in regulation or overtime. But Oakland’s suspect defense allowed Denver to gain two first downs, all on the ground, and the Broncos were headed to the Super Bowl.  The Raiders best chance to win would have come by not turning the ball over earlier in the quarter. Let’s assume Stabler doesn’t throw the interception. The Raiders get 10 more points and they advance to the Super Bowl with an opportunity to defend their title against the Cowboys.  

Improved Super Bowl XII: Cowboys vs. Raiders - Evaluating the Matchup
This would have been one of the most anticipated matchups in NFL history. For starters, this was a Super Bowl that almost happened many times. Dallas and Oakland reached their respective conference championship games in the same year five times in the first 15 Super Bowl seasons. But each time one of the two lost, so it never came to be. Also, interest would be added to this matchup by the fact that these two great franchises had met just once before in history – a 27-23 Raiders win back in 1974. These two teams had been the most consistent winners in their respective conferences for a decade and their second ever meeting would be for all the marbles.

However, looking more closely at the two 1977 teams, it’s clear that Dallas was better. They were top ten in nearly every category. While the Raiders scored most often, Dallas was second in the NFL in scoring and their 8th ranked scoring defense greatly outperformed the Raiders 14th best unit. However, there is one part of the statbook that suggests the Raiders had a chance. Dallas’ defense thrived on rushing the quarterback. They were 2nd in the NFL with 53 sacks. The ability to terrorize the opposing team’s passer was on full display against the Broncos in the real Super Bowl XII. However, Denver’s quarterbacks were sacked 50 times in 1977. Oakland had allowed just half as many. While protecting Stabler, the Raiders had the 4th best net yards per pass attempt in the NFL. If they could protect Stabler against that great Dallas front, they might have a chance to hit some big plays to their All Pro trio of pass catchers – Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, and Dave Casper. This would open up their ground game with 1,200 yard back Mark van Eaghen. The Raiders had the weapons on offense to at least threaten the Cowboys. 

This game is ranked number 4 based mostly on its historical significance – not the expected quality of the game. This game would’ve matched up some of the best, most famous talents of the decade, but the 1977 editions of each team strongly suggest a Cowboys victory. Dallas outclassed the Raiders at every turn. The Raiders had playmakers in the passing game and strong rushing offense and defense, but unfortunately for them, the Cowboys were just as good in those areas. The poised Raiders would have stayed in it early and perhaps hit a few big plays, but the Cowboys would not have flinched. To date, they were the only team to have played more postseason games in the 70s than the Raiders. The Cowboys and their superior talent would have taken over in the second half and won somewhat comfortably. 

Besides giving football fans a rare matchup between two legendary teams, this would not have changed history much. Dallas still adds another title and Oakland is still a great team that doesn’t quite measure up to Pittsburgh come crunch time. Perhaps this loss takes some of the luster off of Raiders coach John Madden. In the early 90s, maybe EA Sports looks elsewhere for a popular, eccentric NFL commentator to be the face of their video game brand. In this universe, the Cowboys beat the Raiders and we’re all playing Dierdorf 16 on our gaming consoles. 

Dallas 31 Oakland 17
MVP: Randy White (Because he’s awesome)

Check back tomorrow for number 3, were we see the epic battle between two extreme polar opposites…

Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl XV: Oakland Raiders 27 Philadelphia Eagles 10
The 1980 Oakland Raiders were the original team to “get hot at the right time”. They were an unspectacular 11-5 team that made the playoffs as a Wildcard team. In order to get to the Super Bowl, they would have to win a home game and two road games. Prior to that year, just four teams had ever won two road playoff games in one year. And since the NFL added the Wildcard Round in 1978, the 1978-79 Oilers were the only wildcard teams to even reach the conference championship game. Surely no one was expecting the Raiders to be in New Orleans on Super Sunday. But once the playoffs began, the Raiders could seemingly do no wrong. They scored 27 points in a blowout win over the Houston Oilers and their number two ranked scoring defense. They went to Cleveland and shut down NFL MVP QB Brian Sipe, winning the famous “Red Right 88” game 14-12. In the AFC Championship game, they went out to San Diego and outscored the NFL’s number one offense 34-27. The Raiders, with their average defense and below average offense, had beaten all of the best teams the AFC had to offer and were ready to take on one of the NFC’s best in the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia was one of the NFL’s young up-and-coming teams. Coach Dick Vermeil arrived in 1976 and built them into the playoff team in just three years. They lost the Wildcard game in 1978, won it in 1979, and returned in 1980 to claim their first division championship in 20 years. Their workmanlike offense, led by QB Ron Jaworski, was in the top 10 in both scoring and yards. But their real strength was on defense where they were 2nd in total defense and number one in points allowed. In the 1980 playoffs, the Eagles convincingly defeated the 1970s two NFC powers, the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, and headed to Super Bowl XV as a favorite to beat the Wildcard Raiders. 

Instead, Super Bowl XV turned into the final counterintuitive Raiders win of the 1980 playoffs. Oakland’s mediocre offense moved up and down the field and scored at will on the Eagles' strong defense. Ron Jaworski, who had taken care of the football as well as any quarterback in 1980, threw three interceptions. The Raiders dominated yet another superior team and won their second Super Bowl in five years, 27-10.

In some ways the Raiders win was great for football, as it validated that a team can win a championship from the Wildcard round and provided championship dreams for all playoff teams in feature seasons. On the other hand, these Raiders were the worst Super Bowl champions to date. They did not belong in the company of the NFL’s great past champions. Though it was fitting this acheivement was accomplished by a team called the Raiders. They stole another trophy for their already crowded trophy case and did so at the expense of several hungry franchises who were desperate for their first Super Bowl championship – Philadelphia, San Diego, Cleveland, Houston, and a team that would have loved to have gotten the opportunity to play them. 

The Switch: 1980 Atlanta Falcons for 1980 Philadelphia Eagles
While the Eagles got to the Super Bowl by playing two home games at Veteran’s Stadium, they were not the team with homefield advantage in the NFC. They lost that privilege by losing to the Atlanta Falcons in Philadelphia on a last second field goal in Week 14. When both teams finished with identical 12-4 records, it appeared like the NFC’s road to Super Bowl XV would go through Atlanta.

The Falcons were an interesting team in the late 1970s. They are best remembered for their “Grits Blitz” defense that allowed just 9.2 points per game in 1977. However, their defense would never be that good again. On offense, they were led by former number one overall draft pick QB Steve Bartkowski. He had been largely disappointing in his first five seasons. The Falcons did make the playoffs in 1978, but were not seen to be a contending team. In 1980, the Falcons struggled to a mediocre 3-3 start. Then, for whatever reason, it all started to click. Over their final 10 games, Atlanta posted a 9-1 record. Their defense, which was in the bottom half of the league to start the season, allowed the 2nd fewest points in the NFL down the stretch. Steve Bartkowski finally started playing up to his potential, throwing 22 touchdown passes in the final 10 weeks and finishing with a league-best 31 touchdown strikes. Atlanta’s 12-4 record was best in club history and they would enter the playoffs with homefield advantage all the way to Super Bowl XV. 

As luck would have it, the Falcons would fall victim to the biggest flaw of the pre-1990 playoff format. For reasons I don’t understand, teams from the same division were not allowed to play each other in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Due to the result of the Wildcard playoff game, the second seeded Philadelphia Eagles got to play the 9-7 Minnesota Vikings. The top seeded Atlanta Falcons were paid a visit by the 12-4 Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys were the highest scoring team in the NFL and could go toe to toe with anyone. The Falcons offense played a fantastic game. Steve Bartkowksi had one of the best games of his career, throwing for 320 yards, two touchdowns and notching a 95.5 QB rating. The Falcons took a 24-10 lead into the 4th quarter and looked to close out the Cowboys. Then, their defense reverted back to their early season lackluster form. The Cowboys scored three touchdowns the final quarter, including a 23 yard go-ahead touchdown on a desperation heave from QB Danny White to Drew Pearson with 42 seconds left. The Cowboys won 30-27 and Atlanta’s dream season was over. They would return to their mediocre selves the following season and make the playoffs just once more - during the NFL’s 16 team “Super Bowl Tournament” after the strike shortened 1982 season. By the time Atlanta would make the playoffs again in the 1990s, all of the pieces of these Falcons would be long gone. 

Clearly, when you blow a two touchdown 4th quarter lead at home in the playoffs, you wasted many opportunities to win the game. Even as the Dallas comeback started, Atlanta still led 27-17 with just under 7 minutes to play. Had they held either one of those Cowboys touchdown drives to field goals, their chances greatly increase. However, if the game plays out mostly the same way, the Falcons still had the ball with under four minutes to play with a 27-24 lead. If the Falcons are able to control the ball and get a few first downs, they win. Instead, Atlanta went three and out (perhaps in part to a missed Cowboys offsides penalty) and punted with 2:00 to play. The Cowboys drove down and scored the game winning touchdown. Let’s assume the Falcons make a play in any number of those circumstances and move on. 

Once Atlanta wins, they host Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game. While the Falcons had already defeated the Eagles in a tight game in Philadelphia, it would be difficult to duplicate that result. The Eagles’ number one defense should have slowed down the Atlanta attack and made their inconsistent defense vulnerable to their balanced, efficient offensive attack. However, it’s not hard to imagine the Falcons finding a way to win at home in a very tight contest. Jaworski did not play well in the actual 1980 playoffs. Perhaps he continues that trend in this alternate universe and commits a couple of turnovers, giving the Falcons the edge they need to move on to their first Super Bowl. 

Improved Super Bowl XV: Raiders vs. Falcons - Evaluating the Matchup
Like every other game they played in the 1980 playoffs, the Raiders would be the underdogs. Atlanta was better than Oakland in almost every area, but they were very vulnerable against the pass with just the 25th ranked passing defense. The Raiders vertical passing attach that had caught fire in the playoffs would likely continue to burn.
While the Falcons would be less equipped than the Eagles to stop the Raiders’ offense, the Falcons were much more capable of outscoring Oakland. They had the 3rd best offense and were in the top 10 in both rushing and passing. Perhaps most important, they were the best in the NFL at taking care of the football. Atlanta’s offense committed the fewest turnovers in 1980. The Falcons would matchup very well against the Raiders.

The Falcons should have won this game. They had shown to be better than the Raiders in nearly every area. And yet, that had been the case for every opponent the Raiders faced in the 1980 playoffs. The Raiders were not elite in any area except one: forcing turnovers. They led the league in the category, and, as they demonstrated in the real Super Bowl XV, they could take the ball away from even the most cautious teams. They forced no fewer than three turnovers in each of their 1980 playoff games and would have likely done the same against Atlanta. Unlike the Eagles, the Falcons’ high powered offense could have overcome their turnovers and stayed in the game. But in 1980, the Raiders seemed like a team of destiny. Jim Plunkett continues his hot streak, the Raiders defense continues to make big plays, and while the Falcons offense valiantly hangs on, the Raiders ultimately win in an epic shootout. It’s too bad this game didn’t actually happen. Not only would it have provided a great game, it would have been one of the best uniform matchups in Super Bowl history. All things considered, the Falcons would have at least looked cooler losing a lame 27-10 Super Bowl to the Raiders than Philadelphia did. And that’s all that counts.

Oakland 31 Atlanta 27
MVP: Jim Plunkett

Check back tomorrow for Number 4, when we look at a Super Bowl that surprisingly never happened, despite being very close on five different occasions…
Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl VIII: Miami Dolphins 24 Minnesota Vikings 7
The Miami Dolphins of the early 1970s were one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Their roster included seven future Hall of Famers. They won three straight AFC Championships and, in 1972, recorded the NFL’s only undefeated and untied season in history. Miami entered Super Bowl VIII as a slightly weaker version of the championship team that went 17-0 the prior season. However, they still possessed the number one scoring defense and an efficient balanced offense. They cruised through the AFC Playoffs with a pair of 17-point victories. The Minnesota Vikings of the early 1970s were also one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Their roster included eight future hall of famers. They won four NFC Championships in eight years from 1969-1976. In 1973, Minnesota wasn’t as dominating as they were or would be in other years, but still had a very solid club. They dominated Dallas in the NFC Championship game 27-10 by intercepting Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach four times and holding him to just 89 yards passing. On paper, this looked like it should have been one of the best games of the decade. Unfortunately, as was the case with all Vikings Super Bowl appearances, it didn’t turn out that way.
Despite their greatness, the Vikings could never put it all together on Super Bowl Sunday. They lost all each of their four Super Bowl appearances by at least 10 points. In all but one, they failed to score more than a touchdown. Super Bowl VIII was probably their most embarrassing performance. Miami entered the game as a 6.5 point favorite, but some thought Minnesota could record the upset. They hoped to slow down the Miami rushing attack with their legendary Purple People Eaters defensive line and control the game on offense with rookie of the year fullback Chuck Foreman gashing Miami’s slightly vulnerable rushing defense. None of that happened. Instead, Miami dominated from the get go. Implementing a gameplan better suited for a high school game played in a monsoon, the Dolphins ran 53 times for 196 yards – just 3.7 yards per carry. Their longest gain was a 27 yard pass in the 3rd quarter – one of only seven passes they threw the entire game. Minnesota had no answer. On offense, the Vikings never got on track and didn’t score until punching in a garbage touchdown in the 4th quarter. Miami claimed their second straight championship with a 24-7 victory. Some people romanticize “old-school”, hard-nosed, power football, but I bet those people haven’t seen Super Bowl VIII. I have to imagine this was the game that led to the 1978 rules changes that opened up the passing game and created the modern NFL. Seven passes!? Modern quarterbacks routinely have drives where they throw it seven times. Surely this is a game that no one outside of South Florida will miss. 
The Switch: 1973 Los Angeles Rams for 1973 Minnesota Vikings
In 1973, the Rams hired Chuck Knox to be the head coach. They hoped he would turn around a Rams franchise that had made the playoffs just three times in the previous 20 seasons. This would turn out to be a great hire. Knox reformed the franchise and the LA Rams would go on to become one of the most successful teams in the NFL, reaching the postseason 14 of the next 17 years. Unfortunately, much like the Minnesota Vikings, they could never get over the hump and win the big games. While that reputation would grow throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the team that started this trend of disappointment was perhaps the best Rams team to play in Los Angeles. 
Upon taking the job in 1973, Chuck Knox made drastic personnel changes on offense in an effort to improve a lackluster outfit. He started by trading two players to the San Diego Chargers for former five time AFL & NFL All Star quarterback John Hadl. This move made current QB Roman Gabriel expendable, so he shipped him off to Philadelphia for Pro Bowl WR Harold Jackson. He hoped this would provide a deep threat passing game to compliment his run-first offensive philosophy. To remake his run game, he turned to his existing roster. Second year running back Lawrence McCutcheon didn’t touch the ball once in 1972, but in 1973, Knox made him a featured part of the offense alongside holdover RB Jim Bertelsen. These moves transformed the Rams average offense into an unstoppable juggernaut. Los Angeles led the NFL in both scoring and total offense. McCutcheon and Bertelsen combined for over 2,500 yards from scrimmage and both made the Pro Bowl. At 33 years old, John Hadl had perhaps his best season. He threw a touchdown pass every 12 attempts. Harold Jackson provided the deep vertical threat needed and averaged 21.8 yards per catch. Both he and Hadl were selected as 1st team All-Pros. If that wasn’t enough, the Rams had the league’s top defense led by 1st team All Pro LB Isiah Robertson and future Hall of Famers Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olson. On both sides of the ball, Los Angeles ranked in the top ten in nearly every team category. They were perhaps the best team in the NFL – including the Miami Dolphins. 
So what went wrong? For starters, it appears like the Rams were a victim of the old NFL playoff format. From the inception of playoff games in 1933 through 1974, the NFL awarded homefield advantage based on a scheduling rotation instead of regular season performance. Although no one is quite sure how the old system works, the 12-2 Rams were sent on the road in the Divisional Round to play the 10-4 Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Dallas jumped on the Rams early and built a 17-0 lead. The Rams offense struggled mightily, but they rallied to close the gap to 17-16 in the 4th quarter. However, Dallas would respond with an 83 yard Roger Staubach touchdown pass to Drew Pearson to put Dallas two scores ahead. They would add a field goal late and down Los Angeles 27-16. The Rams’ season was over, and while they would have other successful teams over their next two decades in Los Angeles, none were as dominant or as promising as the 1973 team. 
The Rams trailed the Cowboys by just one point in the 4th quarter in the 1973 playoffs. It’s not hard to imagine that a couple of plays changing would be enough to get the Rams past Dallas and on to the NFC Championship game. Had the Rams won, they would have played the Minnesota Vikings. According to newspaper articles from the time, the Rams would have hosted the Vikings despite losing to them 10-9 in the regular season (man, that old scheduling rotation was stupid). In a rematch, the Rams would have likely won. Since losing to the Vikings and Falcons in midseason, the Rams had been averaging 28.5 points per game – and that’s even if they had beaten Dallas 19-17. Los Angeles would have taken advantage of the Vikings’ 23rd rushing defense with McCutcheon and Bertesen. Hadl would’ve hit a long pass or two, and the Rams defense would’ve contained Tarkenton and Foreman. The Rams beat the Vikings at home and move on to face Miami. 
Improved Super Bowl VIII: Dolphins vs. Rams - Evaluating the Matchup
The big difference between this matchup and the actual Super Bowl VIII matchup was the quality of the Rams run defense. Los Angeles had the number one run defense in the NFL and allowed just the 5th fewest yards per carry. Against the pass, playmaking linebacker Isiah Roberston and elite pass rusher Jack Youngblood would’ve made life quite difficult for Bob Griese. On offense, the Rams would have struggled to throw the ball against the Dolphins top ranked pass defense, but could have attacked them with the run. The Dolphins average run defense would’ve faced a much more difficult challenge against McCutcheon and Bertesen than they faced against Minnesota. 
However, the defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins would not go without a fight. Their pass rush recorded the 2nd most sacks in the NFL and would have caused problems for the immobile John Hadl when (and if) he tried to throw. On offense, they didn’t have the best rankings, but still had a threesome of ball carriers in Larry Czonka, Mercury Morris, and Jim Kiick that accounted for 2,495 yards of total offense. Matched with Pro Bowlers Bob Griese and Paul Warfield in the passing game, they could have matched the Rams play for play. 
Miami had a great team, but relied heavily in the playoffs on the strength of their dominant running game. In their actual final two playoff games, they ran the ball 106 times and threw just 13 times. That strategy would have likely failed against the Rams’ top ranked run defense. Forced to pass, Miami’s 21st ranked passing offense would have had more difficulty producing points. The Rams would have turned to their talented backfield and relied on them for the bulk of their offense. With Miami’s number one pass defense and the Rams number one run defense, one play would have broken the game open. Between the two teams, Los Angeles’ big play receiver Harold Jackson would’ve been the most likely to break one free. The Rams get one more big play and win their first Super Bowl title. The win gets Chuck Knox, John Hadl, and perhaps Lawrence McCutcheon in the Hall of Fame. But most importantly, the win makes John Hadl a hero in Los Angeles, thus making him unavailable for the worst trade in Packers history in 1974. Dan Devine has to look elsewhere or to not trade at all. Perhaps the Packers draft a few more impact players that mature and put them over the top in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Or perhaps Dan Devine sends even MORE draft picks to Los Angeles to get John Hadl and the Packers' rebuilding efforts are even more crippled. Yeah I’m going with that one. 
LA Rams 17 Miami 13
MVP: Jack Youngblood
In the last few days, I’ve rewritten Super Bowl history to give titles to the Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers, and Los Angeles Rams. Can we give another sad sack franchise a run in the sun tomorrow with Number 5? We’ll see…. 
Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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Erased Super Bowl XXVIII: Dallas Cowboys 30 Buffalo Bills 13
If there was ever a Super Bowl no one wanted to see, it was Super Bowl XXVIII. The Dallas Cowboys had repeated as NFC Champions and were looking for their second consecutive Super Bowl title. They would square off against the team that they had thrashed 52-17 in the previous Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of people looking forward to this game. 
Compounding the apathy was the idea that this was very close to being the greatest Super Bowl matchup of all time. After the 1992 season, the San Francisco 49ers traded their four time Super Bowl winning QB Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, opting to keep QB Steve Young instead. Young had played exceptionally well in place of the injured Montana in 1991-92 and even won a league MVP award. But Joe was not ready to go quietly into the night. In 1993, he led the Kansas City Chiefs to a division championship, two dramatic comeback playoff wins, and a spot in the AFC Championship game. Meanwhile, Steve Young continued his high level of play, led the 49ers to another NFC West title, and a 44-3 divisional round win over the team that had eliminated Joe Montana’s 49ers three times in the playoffs; the New York Giants. NFL Fans everywhere were ready for the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls: Joe Montana vs. Steve Young, Chiefs vs. 49ers. We would see football’s biggest grudge match settled on football’s biggest stage! Joe just had to beat the three time defending Super Bowl losers in Buffalo and Steve just had to beat the cocky defending Super Bowl champions in Dallas. Of course, both Joe and Steve were crushed in 17 point title game losses. When the dust settled, we were left with a repeat of the previous year’s awful Super Bowl. Woof. 
As for the game, the heavy-underdog Bills played well at first. They disrupted the powerful Cowboys offense and led 13-6 at halftime. They received the 2nd half kickoff and looked to put the Cowboys away and end their unprecedented streak of heartbreak. Instead, Bills RB Thurman Thomas added to it by fumbling on the third play of the 2nd half. Dallas picked it up and ran it in for a game-tying touchdown. From that moment on, both teams flipped a switch. The Cowboys played like a champion determined to defend their crown. The Bills played like a team that can’t do anything right when all the chips are on the table. Dallas dominated the 2nd half and cruised to a thoroughly depressing 30-13 win. The Cowboys had gone back to back, the Bills became the most infamous losers in American professional sports, and America got a 30 minute tease followed by the ending we all expected anyways. 
The Switch: 1993 Houston Oilers for 1993 Buffalo Bills
The 12-4 Buffalo Bills earned the number one seed in the AFC over the 12-4 Houston Oilers via a head to head tiebreaker. The Bills crushed the Oilers 35-7 on Monday Night football in Week 5. This dropped Houston to 1-4. They would not lose again in the regular season. Overnight, the Oilers turned into a powerhouse. Over the last 11 weeks of the season, they scored the 2nd most points in the NFL and allowed the fewest. They would square off with the one team that outscored them, the 49ers, at Candlestick Park on Christmas Day. San Francisco had averaged 33 points a game over that stretch. Houston held them to a single touchdown and won the game 10-7. The Oilers meant business. They were better than Buffalo in nearly every statistical category, but just happened to play the Bills when they were playing their worst and Buffalo was playing their best. And it cost them home field. 
As the number two seed in the AFC Playoffs, Houston hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. The Astrodome was rocking and finally expected a Super Bowl run after six straight years of playoff disappointments. Houston started strong and opened up a 10 point lead that they would take into halftime. They led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when the wheels came off. An old, battered Joe Montana suddenly found his groove and could do no wrong. The Oilers, as had happened in too many playoff games, could not hold the lead and could not make the plays down the stretch. They lost 28-20. In 1994, the team was gutted in free agency and the Oilers would finish 2-14. Three years later, the team moved to Tennessee. If it is possible for an entire franchise to die in 15 minutes, this was it.  
It is not hard to imagine the Oilers finding a way to beat the Chiefs. A simple change of strategy should have helped them win the game. Pass-happy offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was at his strategic worst in the Kansas City game. In a contest the Oilers led into the 4th quarter, he only called 14 running plays all afternoon. Granted, those only netted 39 yards, but there is no reason that your quarterback should be throwing 43 times with the 4th best yards per carry run offense in the NFL and a 4th quarter lead in a home playoff game. Instead, he kept throwing and quarterback Warren Moon was sacked 9 times by the Kansas City defense. If Houston focuses just a little more on running the ball, they probably win.
Once they beat Kansas City, the Oilers head to Buffalo. To date, Marv Levy’s Bills had never lost a home playoff game, but the closest anyone had come to beating them was in the 1992 Wildcard Round when the Oilers famously blew a 35-3 2nd half lead before falling 41-38 in overtime. Add that memory to the pressure of Houston playing in their first conference title game after seven consecutive playoff appearances, and the Oilers either would have been supremely motivated or supremely nervous.
The game against Buffalo ultimately would have come down to turnovers. The Bills and Oilers were the top two in the league at taking the ball away. Conversely, the two offenses were among the worst at giving it away. Both Bills QB Jim Kelly and Warren Moon would likely have thrown a couple of interceptions each. The turnover edge would tip in Houston’s favor as the slightly more sure-handed RB Gary Brown would have fared better against the Bills’ 21st rushing defense than the more turnover prone Thurman Thomas would have against the Oilers number one run defense. Assuming the weather isn’t a factor, the Oilers definitely could have won in Buffalo. 
Improved Super Bowl XXVIII: Cowboys vs. Oilers - Evaluating the Matchup
The obvious storyline going into this game would be the battle for Texas. But the more interesting storyline from a historical perspective would be the battle for greatness. Dallas was vying to become just the 6th team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But Houston would have had more on the line. Their seven straight playoff appearances was (and still is) one of the longest streaks in NFL history. A Super Bowl winning capstone would vault many of the Oilers players into legendary status. Warren Moon would get more recognition as one of the greatest QBs ever. Perennial Pro Bowlers like WRs Haywood Jeffries and Ernest Givins would have become household names. Defensive stars Sean Jones, Ray Childress, William Fuller, Cris Dishman, and Wilbur Marshall may have been vaulted into Hall of Fame consideration. Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan would have won a championship without Mike Ditka. This was a chance to validate all they had done. 
As for the on-field matchup, Dallas would still be the heavy favorites, but there would be intrigue. Could the Oilers shut down the Cowboys like they had the 49ers in December? Could Houston’s number one rushing defense contain NFL MVP Emmitt Smith? Coming off a concussion in the NFC Championship game, could Cowboys QB Troy Aikman withstand the rush of Buddy Ryan’s league best pass rush? Could Warren Moon and the Oilers’ top flight passing attack take advantage of the vulnerable Dallas passing defense? This game would have featured numerous strength vs. weakness matchups. Breaking all of this down makes me wish this game really would have happened. 
At full strength, Dallas would have found a way to win. But these Cowboys would not be at full strength. Aikman would be coming off a concussion he suffered just 7 days earlier. In the real Super Bowl XXVIII against Buffalo, Aikman was off and did not play well. The Oilers relentless pass rush could have pressured Aikman in a way Buffalo couldn’t and there is a good chance that he either would have been injured or completely ineffective. If that were the case, Dallas may turn to backup QB Bernie Kosar to rally Dallas’ passing game as Emmitt Smith pounds up against Houston’s number one run defense. At this point, the Oilers would have had a good chance to win - as long as they took care of the football on offense. Warren Moon was always susceptible to turn the ball over, but Dallas was in the bottom half of the league at forcing turnovers in 1993. With Dallas’ offense in check, the powerful Houston offense could have taken chances and likely would have hit few big plays. Barring a familiar Oilers playoff meltdown, Houston wins. That opens up a gargantuan list ramifications that we could talk about in a whole other series of blogs, but for now, Houston gets their first championship and “How bout dem Cowboys!?” never enters the lexicon of sports fans. What a wonderful world that would have been.  
Houston 20 Dallas 13
MVP: CB Cris Dishman (for shutting down Michael Irvin and making a key turnover or two) 
Tomorrow, you'll find out in Number 6 if one of the best forgotten teams in NFL history can win a championship...provided  you can stay awake through the description of the actual Super Bowl we're fixing...
Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever

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