Wednesday Jan 22, 2014
Wednesday Jan 22, 2014
Wednesday Jan 22, 2014
They say that going to a Super Bowl immortalizes a team in the consciousness of all football fans. The matchups in these games are etched in the minds of NFL fans for years to come. When you think Steelers, you think of the Cowboys. When you think of the Patriots, you think of the Giants, Rams, and Panthers. The matchups are so iconic that we forgot how close many of these games came to not happening. For every two teams that square off on the game’s biggest stage, there are two more that lost one game away from the show and are forever forgotten by most fans. Well, we're here to remember them again and acknowledge the Super Bowl matches that almost happened. Many of these look so foreign to us today.
BIZARRO SUPER BOWL ONE:
Every NFL history fanatic knows that Super Bowl I featured Lombardi's Packers vs. Hank Stram and the AFL's legendary Chiefs. But what if both of those clubs had lost their respective league title games?
That's right. The Buffalo Bills were a game away from Super Bowl I. The Cowboys were at the doorstep of the first Super Bowl, as they would be for most of the game's early history. Had Landry's Cowboys won all of their NFL/NFC championship game appearances, they would have played in 12 of the first 17 Super Bowls!
HOW DID THIS SUPER BOWL NEVER HAPPEN!?
As we move on in Bizarro Super Bowl history, we notice one trend: the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders completely dominated their conferences from the 1960s through the early 1980s. These two teams were perennials in their respective conference title games. We mentioned Dallas' success, but the Raiders were equally as impressive, playing for the right to go to 9 of the first 12 Super Bowls in the AFC/AFL Championship game. In another universe, Dallas and the Raiders could have had the most epic championship rivalry, meeting in 5 of the first 15 Super Bowls (II, V, X, XII, XV)
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME
The 1970s were dominated by 6 teams: Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Miami in the AFC, and Dallas, Minnesota, and the LA Rams in the NFC. These teams won all of the championships after 1970 and occupied all but a couple of the Super Bowl slots. However, the winds of change were blowing by 1979. Two upstart challengers pushed to the doorstep of Super Bowl XIV. Had a few calls and bounces gone differently, believe it or not, this would have been the Super Bowl:
THE TEAM OF THE 1980s...BROWNS OR RAMS!?
No one remembers the losers. This is best exemplified by the reputations the Rams and Browns hold today. Both are viewed as teams that have histories of losing. This is far from the truth. Sure they have been down on their luck lately, but no more so than teams like the Redskins, Raiders, or Dolphins. Why are those teams remembered as having storied pasts, while the Rams and Browns are considered losers? It's because of the Super Bowl. But both Cleveland and the Rams were so close to having history tell a much different story.
We'll begin with the Rams. For most of the first half of Super Bowl history, the Rams were a perennial championship contender. Had they won all of their conference title game appearances, the Rams would have played in 6 Super Bowls from 1974-1989. I have not recreated all of those, but I have re-imagined their two potential appearances from the 1980s. First:
The game would have happened had the Rams somehow found a way to have won on the road against 1985 Bears (a strong candidate for the best team of the Super Bowl era) in the NFC Championship game. Had they won, and the Dolphins won at home against New England, we could have had this more competitive game in bizarro Super Bowl 20.
The Rams' second 1980s Super Bowl appearance could have come after the 1989 season, where they would be trying to prevent Marty Schottenheimer's Browns from becoming the team of the 1980s.
Had the Browns stopped John Elway on The Drive and Jay Schroeder's Redskins somehow pulled off a miracle against the 14-2 Giants in New York, Super Bowl 21 would have looked like this:
This was VERY close to having been Super Bowl 22 as well, if not for The Fumble in Cleveland's AFC Title loss to Denver (again) in 1987. I can't imagine what it was like to be a Browns fan in this era.
But had Ernest Byner held on to the ball, and Vikings QB Wade Wilson completed his 4th down and Goal pass to Darrin Nelson in the 1987 NFC Title game to tie (and eventually defeat) the Redskins, this would have been Super Bowl 22:
Lastly, in 1989, the Rams and their mighty 5 super bowl titles in the last 14 years come to take on Shottemheimer and his dynastic Browns in Super Bowl 24:
How differently would we view the Rams and Browns if these events had actually happened?
THE DETROIT LIONS ALMOST MADE A SUPER BOWL!?
The Run and Shoot offense looked to be the NFL's next leap forward in 1991. All three teams who ran it, the Houston Oilers, Atlanta Falcons, and 12-4 Detroit Lions, made the playoffs and won postseason games. Eventually, they all faltered, but the Lions got the closest to the big dance. Detroit destroyed Jimmy Johnson's Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the Divisional Playoffs (in what now looks like one of the oddest results in NFL playoff history). They would take that momentum into the NFC Title Game, where they were promptly trounced by the most underrated team in Super Bowl history; the 1991 Washington Redskins.
Meanwhile, In the AFC, the Denver Broncos lost John Elway in the 3rd quarter of the AFC Championship game in Buffalo. Backup quarterback Gary Kubiak threw an interception to defensive lineman Jeff Wright, who returned it for a touchdown and secured the Bills 10-7 victory. Had Elway stayed healthy, and the Redskins decided for some reason to not show up for the game against Detroit and forfeit the NFC title, Super Bowl 26 would have looked like this:
YOU THOUGHT COWBOYS VS. BILLS WAS BAD...
Like Cowboys/Raiders, it is amazing that the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills never met in a Super Bowl. They both made it to the NFL's final four 4 times from 1988-1993. In 1992, they played in a memorable regular season shootout that gave us a glimpse of what these games might have looked like. Certainly, they couldn't have been any worse than the actual Buffalo Super Bowls we had to endure. Here are all four of those games (XXIII, XXV, XXVII, XXVIII)
The upstart Colts and Packers both went on Cinderella runs in the 1995 playoffs. The Jim Harbaugh-lead Colts nearly beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship. Colts wide receiver Aaron Bailey momentarily caught Harbaugh's desperation Hail Mary pass as time expired, before it rolled off his abdomen, hit the turf and gave Pittsburgh a 20-16 win. The Packers took a 3-point lead into the 4th quarter against the Cowboys in the NFC title game, but the team of the 90s took it away with an impressive 4th quarter to secure a 38-27 win. Had the Colts and Packers both held on, this would have been Super Bowl XXX:
A NEAR CRISIS IN 1996
When the NFL decided to expand in 1995, they put provisions in place to make sure that the newly announced franchises of the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars would not be mired in years of tedious franchise-building like previous expansion teams. Each club was given extra draft picks and salary cap exceptions. This proved to be very effective. A little too effective. Both teams leapfrogged the established NFL teams and simultaneously made runs at the Super Bowl in only their second seasons. Two weeks before Super Bowl 31, both of the NFL's newest franchises were a win away from the game's biggest stage. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been from the brass of the 28 other teams had they went to the Super Bowl. Thankfully for the league, an old NFL cornerstone (Green Bay) and an AFL original (New England) saved the day and gave the NFL a more traditional Super Bowl. Had history gone the other way, Super Bowl 31 (and it's brand new field design) would have looked like this:
IS THIS LIST STILL GOING!? WRAP IT UP!!
I am running out of things to say about these games, so here are some more strange matchups from the modern era, where seemingly everyone gets a chance to dance on the big stage:
Haha 1998 Vikings. That still feels good...sorry back to the list.
This one arguably is less weird than the actual Rams vs. Titans matchup. Some day I will write an in-depth article about the absurdity of the NFL in 1999.
The endzones are cool here, but I hate that they ditched the 35-yard line helmets after 2002. Can you believe that Jake Plummer vs. Jake Delhomme was almost a Super Bowl?
Had LaDainian Tomlinson played hurt, Phillip Rivers had a complete ACL, and Brett Favre thrown it to his own damn teammates, this could've been a Super Bowl. Ugh.
I honestly was sick to my stomach imagining how close this game was to happening. How gross.
Lastly, here is what I expect the field to look like for Super Bowl 48. (I did not bother to try and add snow)
Just for kicks, here is the bizarro Super Bowl 48. This matchup is getting into Buffalo/San Francisco and Oakland/Dallas territory of absurdity for not happening yet. For the 3rd straight year, we almost got this matchup, but I guess it will have to wait another year. Or maybe it will just be forgotten like the rest of these potential matchups.
Thank you for reading. I hope all of these photos didn't crash your browser. Leave your feedback below!! If you're so inclined, you can make your own alternate universe Super Bowl fields. Send them to me at email@example.com and I'll post them!