Well, here we are, the last week of the regular season, and still, a couple playoff berths to fill. While there are a few other intriguing match-ups, for me the Lions visiting Lambeau to take on the rejuvenated Packers stands out. Yes, the smokehouse almonds and Dr. Pepper will be on the coffee table as the game unfolds.
Been a while since there was a meaningful game between these two long-time combatants with plenty of storylines.
Today, we return in history to two games that have real meaning for me. January 1st in the Cotton Bowl the first Cowboy division champion team will take on the defending NFL champion Packers. So many folks always want to discuss the "Ice Bowl", and while that is an iconic game, the 34-27 Packer victory over Dallas was the better game.
Why you ask?
Tom Landry devised an offensive game plan that befuddled Phil Bengston's defense. Ray Nitschke struggled in defending the run due to the blocking combinations that the Cowboy o-line used. My book "This Day In Pro Football" details the game. No doubt we will never have a season like 1982 again, and during that year the Los Angeles Raiders played outstanding football, and after easily dispatching the Browns they faced an old rival.
The New York Jets of '82 demolished the Bengals in the playoffs and now traveled to Los Angeles to battle the Raiders. Lance Mehl's outstanding fourth-quarter performance led the Jets to victory. The key play on the scoring drive for New York was Richard Todd's long completion to Wesley Walker.
The fleet Jet receiver beat Ted Watts deep, and with that said let's go to January 1st, 1984. A warm day at the Coliseum and a record crowd for a playoff game. Coach Tom Flores's quote is the title of this narrative, and since the Raiders and Steelers had played some memorable playoff games in the past, why not attend the game? Pittsburgh drives 78 yards but on 4th down at the one coach Chuck Noll opted to kick a field goal. Raider defenders were quoted after the game that the decision by Noll surprised them, and felt they had won a moral victory.
Late in the 1st quarter Cliff Stoudt fired a pass to his left that was pilfered by Lester Hayes. His reputation as a lockdown man-to-man corner on the left side comes into focus since Hayes is in zone coverage on the right. He dashes 18 yards into the end zone, and the photo of him celebrating in the end zone is a classic! During the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the Raiders score 24 unanswered and dominate play, especially at the line of scrimmage.
Though Marcus Allen gained yards all year, he could never break loose for a long run. That changes today as his 49-yard jaunt through the black & gold defense is a highlight. The Raiders do not lose a fumble in this game, are only penalized twice for 15 yards, and Jim Plunkett is mistake-free; no interceptions.
The veteran quarterback punctures the Steeler secondary with completions to Branch and Allen, yet his strikes to Todd Christensen stand out. That man could find the open areas, and he latched onto everything thrown his way.
The NFL Films saga of America's Game featured Todd and is a personal favorite of all the "America's Game" chapters. Paul Zimmerman in Sports Illustrated picked the Raiders to win the AFC West. Quoting the legendary writer "Tom Flores has emerged as the right kind of coach for the gang of roughnecks who wear the silver and black.
This is exactly Davis' kind of team, at least defensively-defensive ends Howie Long and Lyle Alzado, linebackers Ted Hendricks, Matt Millen, and Rod Martin, cornerback Lester Hayes; flamboyant rough, intimidating, lots of action, lots of penalties. Pacifists need not apply. "These guys are warriors," Davis says".
Street & Smith's annual publication picked the Raiders to finish second in the AFC West behind San Diego. Quoting Larry Felser in his write-up on the Raiders; "Hendricks versatility and unpredictability still cause offenses to over occupy themselves with solving him, which usually opens up opportunities for other defenders". Howie Long in the "America's Game" chapter talked about his teammates on defense, his respect for "Kick'em in the Head" Ted, and how smart he was.
If you have a chance to view the chapter please do so, you will be entertained, and enlightened. The Raider defense though was more than just Lester Hayes, Howie Long, and Ted Hendricks. A lot more.
The mid-season acquisition of Mike Haynes remains one the best ever. How many future Hall of Famers join a team during a campaign and become the final piece to the puzzle? Think back to Ted Watts the year before in the loss to New York. There are no weak links in the silver & black defense now.
Though Burgess Owens was a skilled and tough free safety, youngster Vann McElroy is savvy beyond his years, a tough tackler, and an excellent ball hawk. The Raiders finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks, and though the pass rush was strong in their base 3-4, when Los Angeles was in their "nickel" they were even better.
|Howie Long (L) and Lyle Alzado (R)|
Quoting John Turney, "It was their nickel front that was devasting" Pickel came in for Kinlaw and played left d-tackle, while Howie moved from left end to right defensive tackle. Greg Townsend was a demon rushing from left end, while Alzado still had zest for the game and brought his brand of ferocity from right end.
The two nickel linebackers Rod Martin and Hendricks both were excellent in coverage, and relished blitzing. The Raider rush recorded five sacks against the Steelers, and though Pittsburgh gained over 300 yards in total offense, no one who attended the game would state that the Steeler offense was ever in control. A ball control offense that is mistake-free, and a defense loaded with smart tough talented men just might be on their way to destiny?