Pre-game/Post-game preface: Sunday 15 March 2020 ~ noon EDT
Less than 48 hours after initial publication, a new sell-out CBA which runs through 2030 was announced by the NFL & ESPN. Like every other union organization, bribed bureaucrats & cajoled pawns serve the interests of ownership. In exchange for a miserly increase in player share of revenues & too-few post-career benefits, the NFLPA will allow a 17-game season starting in 2021, with the playoffs expanding from 12 to 14 teams starting in 2020– if it’s played.
What’s illustrated below is that NFL players have a hard time getting though a 16-game season (which started in 1978), and more games only increases serious injuries to all players. Expanded play-offs only increases the mediocrity & meaningless carnage, and there’s too of both much already.
Less than a week ago, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter was elected president of the NFL Players Association, succeeding Eric Winston, the OT for mostly the Texans & Bengals from 2006-17. Eric Winston had been president of the NFLPA since 2014. All these players have CTE, so they can easily be manipulated. The coronavirus pandemic has shut down sports & spread fear, which was the perfect opportunity for NFL ownership to get what it most wanted, more games from players.
Right now, virtually every major global sporting event, league, and tour has been shut down, due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. This means there’s no live sports going on. This is a major problem for addicted gamblers, but not for true sports fans.
That’s because YouTube exists, and all the great games of the past, from all sports are pretty much available for viewing. If you love sports, this is a great quarantine activity. YouTube therapy is about appreciating the beauty of sports, not who wins when it’s still undecided. For addicted gamblers, seek counseling.
I grew up in Winneconne, Wisconsin where the NFL & Green Bay Packers are king. I was allowed & encouraged to watch Saturday college & Sunday pro football by 2nd grade, which was a few years later than most boys my age at the time.
In 1976, the Green Bay Packers were coached by the legendary Bart Starr, the HoF QB who had led them to all those NFL & Super Bowl championships in the 1960’s under head coach Vince Lombardi. Starr was still loved, and his mediocre to poor results year after year were tolerated by an adoring & nostalgic fan base. Packers fans are among the most loyal in any sport. I learned that early.
But as a newbie, none of this history or loyalist pressure impressed me enough to become a Green Bay Packers fan, because they stunk on most Sundays. This was the NFL in 1976:
The Packers were 5-9 in a poor division, outside of the Vikings at 11-2-1. I was enamored with the way QB Fran Tarkenton scrambled, evaded defenders trying to take his head off, and then tried to make a big play down-field. It didn’t always happen and it could blow up, like in Super Bowl 11 when he was pick-sixed by Oakland Raiders DB Willie Brown, but Tarkenton was always battling & playing smart trying to get the win. The Packers didn’t do that under head coach Bart Starr.
When the Dallas Cowboys pulled out the ‘Hail Mary” Staubach-to-Pearson in Metropolitan Stadium in the 1975 divisional playoffs, the NFC pendulum had swung. But in 1976, it was the Vikings who were lucky in getting to the Super Bowl. When the LA Rams upset the Cowboys in Dallas 14-12, it set up the NFC championship in chilly Bloomington against a soft, warm-weather team.
The Los Angeles Rams were coached by “ground” Chuck Knox, and a blocked chip-shot field goal attempt returned 90 yards for a TD by Vikings DB Bobby Bryant (along with his 2 picks) tipped the game. Vikings 24, Rams 13. The real 1976 Super Bowl was won in Oakland, with the Raiders crushing the Steelers 24-7 in the AFC championship game. This sent the Raiders to their first Super Bowl, where they were heavy favorites to crush the aging Vikings. They did: 32-14.
Color analyst Don Meredith is a piece of work in Super Bowl XI. Lots of whooping it up, questionable assertions & pointing out the obvious after the fact. He hates all over Fran Tarkenton the entire game, obviously jealous of a contemporary who outlasted him. Yes sir! Curt Gowdy doesn’t help ease the pain.
Total domination by the Raiders. Stoneface was outmatched and never had answers when that happened. Jim Tunney was known as the dean of NFL referees, and Super Bowl XI was his second of three (VI & XII). Raiders DB’s viciously targeted Vikings WR’s heads the whole game, culminating in one of the most dangerous hits in Super Bowl history by Skip Thomas & Jack Tatum on Sammy White in the early 4th quarter as his helmet goes flying at 1:39:30 in this video. No penalty was called, and Dandy Don & Curt Gowdy were okay with that.
Monday Night Football was a relatively new phenomenon back then, which made it more exciting to watch, if you allowed to stay up that late, which i wasn’t. Crazy stuff happened during their broadcasts, with Don Meredith leading the charge in stupidity & obnoxiousness. Dandy Don & Howard Cosell clashed repeated, on & off the air.
There were a few memorable games from this era, like the one above with the Oilers beating the Dolphins, 35-30, but the truth is that most were dull & pointless. Below is a typical 1976 MNF game, which the Vikings lost to the 49ers in Candlestick, 20-16, with Alex Karras in place of Don Meredith in the booth.
Alex Karras was a DT for the Detroit Lions from 1958-70, but on MNF he was only a pawn in Howard Cosell’s & Roone Arledge’s power games of life. I didn’t mind Karras because he mostly kept quiet, and said very little when compelled to pitch in. That let Gifford & Cosell do their thing, which was when early MNF was at its best.
One note on the video above. That’s future Texas Rangers slugger Pete Incaviglia winning the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in his age group at halftime, announced at the end of the 3rd quarter.
It turned out that 1976 was a new era in the NFL, as the Seattle Seahawks & Tampa Buccaneers expanded. Coached by USC legend John McKay, the expansion Buccaneers were the worst NFL team ever. In their first season they were forced to play in the AFC West, so they could play every AFC franchise once, before moving to the NFC Central in 1977 and then playing every NFC team once.
Seattle flip-flopped this, by playing in the weaker NFC West in 1976, and moved to the AFC West in 1977. Of course, the Seahawks became a NFC team again, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002.
The 1976 Buccaneers had Steve Spurrier at QB, and were helpless against the many AFC powerhouses. Their Pythagorean still has them at <1 win in 1976. The winless 2008 Detroit Lions & 2017 Cleveland Browns, and the 1-15 1989 Dallas Cowboys all project at 3-13, which is about as bad as an NFL team can get with even breaks.
But the expansion Buccaneers were futile and reached 0-26 in 1977, until they finally pulled out a win at the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints & QB Archie Manning. The inspired Tampa Bay Buccaneers then beat the St. Louis Cardinals in their finale to finish 2-12. Head coaches Hank Strahm (NO) & Don Coryell (STL) were both fired thereafter.
Hank Strahm had had his day, and would retire from NFL coaching and instantly became a 3rd-string (at best) color analyst for CBS. He called many a Green Bay Packers game, when they played a bad opponent, going on & on about “point of attack” and “taffy pulls.” Click. Don Coryell was more successful, instantly hired by the San Diego Chargers as head coach, he was the brains behind their revolutionary offense led HoF by QB Dan Fouts.
The Chargers were often featured on NBC, matching up with the Raiders & Broncos in epic battles. I can still hear Dick Enberg exclaiming, “Oh my!!” The “Air Coryell” Chargers always scored points in their prime, but their defense couldn’t get stops. Don Coryell is another great head coach who gets forgotten because he never won, or even got to, a Super Bowl. He needed a great defensive coordinator.
Super Bowl XII was perhaps the sloppiest ever, possibly due to all the partying going on in New Orleans. The Cowboys were clearly the better team, but refused to take the gifts QB Craig Morton & the Broncos kept giving them. It was a lonely halftime for Efrin Herrera, as called by Pat Summerall– one of the best play-by-play announcers.
Deep into the second half, things weren’t getting resolved, so an official gave back-up WR Butch Johnson a TD catch, which he actually dropped, and that sealed the game for Dallas. Final score, Dallas 27-10 over Denver. In many ways, Cowboys-Broncos was the first modern Super Bowl. This is when it became an institution that looked great on TV, in spite of it being a poor game. No one cared, because it was such a great party. The NFL schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978.
You can’t be a football good team over time without a great QB, and a real coach. Below are two lists that don’t even go all the way back, but beautifully illustrate the importance of a great quarterback & organized coaching, in correlation to winning in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers QB’s
1956-71 Bart Starr
1971-73 Scott Hunter
1973-74 Jerry Tagge
1974-75 John Hadl
1976-85 Lynn Dickey
1977-79 David Whitehurst
1981-84 Rich Campbell
1985 Jim Zorn
1985-87 Randy Wright
1987 Alan Risher
1987-92 Don Majkowski
1992-2007 Brett Favre
2008-present Aaron Rodgers
Head Coaches since Vince Lombardi era:
Phil Bengtson 1968-70; Dan Devine 71-74; Bart Starr 75-83; Forrest Gregg 84-87; Lindy Infante 88-91; Mike Holmgren 92-98; Ray Rhodes 1999; Mike Sherman 2000-05; Mike McCarthy 2006-18; Matt LaFleur 2019-present.
Head coach Bart Starr always believed Lynn Dickey was a winning QB, when he really wasn’t. The shining moment of Packers glory, in the middle of all this ineptitude, finally came in 1979.
The video above was the signature upset win for head coach Bart Starr (1975-83) back in the day, and also for QB David Whitehurst (1977-79). Packers 27, Patriots 14 on MNF. New England Patriots QB Steve Grogan was very erratic throwing, and when he ran he took on too many SS’s & LB’s head first. Jim Plunkett was much better, and that was Chuck Fairbanks’ franchise-turning mistake.
CB Mike Haines, TE Russ Francis, OT John Hannah were great for NE, while WR James Lofton was the HoF-er for the Green Bay Packers. This was RB Terdell Middleton in his brief prime. Frank Gifford is golden, but I’m grateful for this editing, and not having to listen to Howard Cosell & Don Meredith bicker & banter for 3+ hours.
Above was the other big upset win of the Bart Starr head coaching era, this time with Lynn Dickey at QB, as this is still one of the highest-rated MNF games ever on ABC. Lynn Dickey is at his best, and WR James Lofton is in his prime, with HoF K Jan Stenerud helping lead the Packers to a thrilling 48-47 win at RFK.
The Washington R-words were defending champions, but their vulnerabilities were exposed in this game, and they showed up again in SB 18 against the LA Raiders. MNF is always a mixed bag when it comes to announcers. Giff is gold, but Dandy is obnoxious & stupid. OJ Simpson was actually under-rated, a true football genius who knew when to talk and when to shut up, as you can hear in this broadcast. Irony?
Above is the best NFL game ever, called by one of the game’s best play-by-play announcers, Don Criqui. Last play of the first half, “Hall of Fame! Hall of Fame football play!! That goes to Canton!” Meanwhile, the Orange Bowl is going bonkers. Final in OT: Chargers 41, Dolphins 38.
A big part of any game we watch on television are the announcers. They can enhance the experience, or detract from it. John Brodie had a sweet-sounding voice, but an uncanny knack for talking a lot, while saying very little. Keep in mind, the best color analyst of this era was ABC’s Howard Cosell, and then CBS’s John Madden, which tells you how bad it was back then.
As the 49ers QB for a decade, John Brodie was comparable to Dallas Cowboys QB Don Meredith as a player, and only slightly less annoying as a color analyst. During the Chargers-Dolphins 1981 playoffs broadcast, John Brodie is often confused and behind the action, or calling it wrong as it happens.
Don Criqui probably knew John Brodie was brain damaged (like all the rest), but he was the consummate professional & ever-respectful to the players, the rightful heir to Curt Gowdy. The problem for Don Criqui was that NBC producers preferred Dick Enberg, who was better at stuff like the Olympics, tennis & baseball.
Dick Enberg was made the NBC play-by-play announcer for all their Super Bowls (and featured games) back then. He teamed with Merlin Olsen who was always lost without a map. See Merlin Olsen in Mitchell (1975) which got Mystied, if you need proof. Merlin Olsen was a DT with the Rams. The above mentioned 1976 Rams-Vikings playoff game was his final NFL game.
I’m kinda bouncing around here, but no discussion of the ancient Minnesota Vikings is complete without reviewing their 1984 season. When the Vikes moved into the Metrodome in 1982, it signaled the end of the Bud Grant era, and it was past time. Stoneface had fallen hopelessly behind the game, as the Vikings still needed to find a replacement for QB Fran Tarkenton who retired after 1978.
Tommy Kramer was an untalented throwback, and an alcoholic who never recovered. Instead of taking QB Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL draft, the Vikings selected S Joey Browner. Instead of drafting RB Marcus Allen in 1982, they took RB Darren Nelson. All this lack of vision paved the way for Les Steckel in 1984, which necessitated a 1985 encore season for Bud Grant– out of desperation.
The 1984 Minnesota Vikings were completely undisciplined & leaderless. Les Steckel couldn’t communicate with his players, management, the fans, nor the media. This video above is proof that these Vikings had TE Steve Jordan, K Jan Stenerud (final 2 seasons), and nothing else of value on the field. Les Steckel’s Vikings were in many ways worse than the 1-15 Cowboys of 1989, because there was no plan for the future. Just Les Steckel, more Bud.
Possibly the best MNF game ever was this Bears-Dolphins game in 1985, featured below. Dolphins 38, Bears 24. Frank Gifford is at his best, and the atmosphere is electric. OJ Simpson & Joe Namath fill in well enough. No Howard Cosell anymore, as he had gotten stale, and never recovered from his “little monkey” comment on September 5, 1983, referring to Washington R-words WR Alvin Garrett.
By the mid-1980’s, the Green Bay Packers had become completely unhinged. This unforgettable cheap shot from DE Charles Martin on Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon was the low point of the Forrest Gregg head coaching era, as Packers teammates congratulate him on the sidelines after he is ejected for his blindside assault, which ended the Bears repeat hopes in 1986, and Jim McMahon’s career as an effective starting QB.
Head referee Jerry Markbreit makes up for bungling the 1977 Raiders-Chargers “Holy Roller” game; by first controlling the players, then discussing the situation with his crew, before definitively ejecting Charles Martin. Outstanding officiating. It was respected, and it set a good precedent. All this & more insanity led to instant replay officiating.
As a footnote, the Holy Roller game led to the rule change where the offensive team could no longer advance a fumble, unless it was the player who fumbled. RB Pete Banaszak & TE Dave Casper were both guilty of that on the disputed play. It was actually a forward pass by QB Ken Stabler that fell incomplete, and it should have been flagged for intentional grounding, as he was in the grasp. Spot foul with a loss of down– Chargers win. Just ask Dan Fouts.
Jerry Markbreit admittedly winces every time he sees the play. I think he was just too far away with a bad angle. But in the history of the NFL, getting this 1986 assault on Jim McMahon by Charles Martin called correctly was much more important. That’s how you respect the zebras.
Don Criqui called perhaps the most hilarious Sunday afternoon game in modern NFL history, featured below. Final score: Cincinnati 61, Houston 7. I had never seen it, but I remember the score rolling up while watching the ongoing Packers-Bears game. Cincinnati head coach Sam Wyche despised Jerry Glanville, and showed him up in every way: cheering every score, fist pumping his players, and carrying on for the crowd & cameras over every onside kick or fumble recovery by the Bengals.
The Houston Oilers played in the Astrodome, and were a bad cold weather team in 1989. Don Criqui wryly noted the irony, but was too cold to enjoy it, and a bit put off having to stand through it to the bitter end. “Another onside kick… (?)”, he predicts– and he’s right again!! Former Minnesota Vikings WR Ahmad Rashad is bundled up so tightly that he’s unrecognizable by the camera as the color analyst. As the second half begins, he states, “I’m very cold.” It wasn’t his best game on the mic.
In the post-game press conference, Sam Wyche was asked about the repeated onside kicks in a blow-out game. Jerry Glanville had been promoting a slogan of, “Hit the beach!” for his Oilers special teams, in the sense they were comparable to US Marines going to war on kicks & punts. Wyche replied, “We got sick of that ‘hit the beach’ crap.” Sam Wyche was like Jim Mora & Herman Edwards, excellent NFL coaches with wit, who never won a Super Bowl, so their greatness is overlooked.
Above is the final essential game in ancient Green Bay Packers history, IMO. NBC’s Jim Lampley & Ahmad Rashad are on the call. Lampley is annoyed early at the quality of the game, and is a skeptic of the Packers. This is the game where Brett Favre takes the helm, when Packers QB Don Majkowski tears ligaments in his left ankle in the first quarter.
CB & PR Terrell Buckley debuts with a 58-YD TD punt return that gets the Pack back into the game, early in the 4th quarter. This Ron Wolf-Mike Holmgren 1st-round pick out of FSU, wasn’t Deion Sanders in the NFL, but he was the type of player they were starting to acquire– a playmaker. WR/KR Robert Brooks is another example.
WR Sterling Sharpe & DB LeRoy Butler were the only championship-level players left over from the Lindy Infante era, so the Packers were a work-in-progress to catch the Cowboys & 49ers, and this was a milestone game in that journey. Final score: Packers 24, Bengals 23. It was also the moment you knew David Shula was a head coach disaster for the Bengals, after they had fired Sam Wyche.
Finally, my favorite singular moment in the Packers-Vikings rivalry is this above clip from 2004. Packers fans had a history of mooning the opposing team bus as it was leaving the parking lot of Lambeau Field after a loss. Most football fans didn’t know about his hairy & drunken tradition, until the discussions in the media afterwards.
Cris Collinsworth calls it beautifully, as HoF WR Randy Moss makes the back-breaking play of the game, then drops a turd & shoots the moon to the Lambeau faithful. FOX play-by-play announcer Joe Buck is either a priss for getting offended, or an idiot for pretending to get offended. Troy Aikman has nothing to say about it, which is par for him.
The best old school football announcer was Curt Gowdy. Here he is above, summarizing a critical playoff game in the early Super Bowl era. Note that NBC gets the score backwards going to commercial at 10:00 in the video. Early east coast bias? This was the Baltimore Colts final game that mattered from their glory years, as Don Shula’s Dolphins, then Chuck Noll’s Steelers, and Al Davis’ Raiders became the AFC’s dominant teams thereafter. Dolphins 21, Colts 0. The Colts weren’t good again until Bert Jones (for a few years), and then finally with Payton Manning in Indianapolis.
The video above was the real 1973-season Super Bowl, Raiders-Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Dolphins win 27-10, on their way to a second consecutive Super Bowl win, this time over the Vikings 24-7. In this AFC championship game, which he is calling, Curt Gowdy (at 10:20 in the video) rattles off the entire officiating crew’s real jobs in 1973, until their names are wiped away by the director. That’s an unreal depth of football knowledge.
As far a Monday Night Football goes, when it got to, “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL!!” My answer was no. I respect Al Michaels as one of the best overall play-by-play announcers, but Frank Gifford doesn’t work as a NFL color analyst. By then it was time for the Giff to go, and MNF was never the same.
Former St. Louis Cardinals OL Dan Dierdorf was brought in by ABC. The limited Dierdorf could irritate a neutral audience as a blow-hard. Dan Dierdorf was always better when he said less. He often got silly when excited. “Payton Manning is literally carving up the Tennessee Titans secondary.” No Dan, it’s “figuratively,” otherwise there would be quivering body parts all over the turf.
These truths hold up in my memories of all the NCAA, NFL featured games, and Packers games I’ve watched over the years & decades. There were a few moments of brilliance that take your breath away, but too much of it is mediocre mayhem. Mostly, they’re just banging each other up for nothing out there. That was my ultimate conclusion back then, and I hold to it now. So many times I walked away from the TV in disgust, and did something else. I never regretted it.
What I’ve covered above is a long & painful era of losing in modern Green Bay Packers football, from head coach Bart Starr’s mediocrity & ineptitude, to the mad fury of Forrest Gregg who could only take the head coaching job at SMU after being fired. The SMU Mustangs were allowed to offer no football scholarships in 1987 & 1988, the NCAA’s so called “death penalty.” This was only time it was ever used by the NCAA, and alumnus Forrest Gregg suffered with all the rest from 1989-90.
Forrest Gregg could take a bullet with the best of them. Vince Lombardi called OL Forrest Gregg the toughest son-of-a-bitch he’d ever met, while he held up the trophy with his name etched on it. That’s how the legend goes. I know this because that’s what was on every autumn Sunday, and there was often no other choice from the NFL or any other sport.
Lindy Infante was the first Packers head coach (1988-91) who came from outside the organization. The Pack definitely needed that change by then. Lindy Infante was an offensive guru, but was recognized to be a better coordinator than head coach after this stint from 1988-91. Packers QB Don Majkowski & WR Sterling Sharpe had their peak seasons in 1989 finishing 10-6, tied with the Vikings who squeaked past on a tie-breaker to win the NFC Central. The Packers went home. “NFC Norris” according to ESPN’s Chris Berman, back then on NFL Primetime. That was the high-water mark of the Lindy Infante head coaching era in Green Bay.
I follow a bit here & there, now & then, whenever something relevant appears. But for the most part I’m done with football, as the NFL & NCAAF are too violent & self-destructive. In the end, American football will need to be drastically changed to avoid CTE & all the other brutal injuries that are endemic to tackle football.
I played tackle football on the playground as a kid, because that’s what all the boys did. It was fun, until middle school, when some kids suddenly got a LOT bigger, and hit a LOT harder. Eighth grade is when I retired from playground football, and I’m a LOT smarter & healthier today because of it.
These videos of games & seasons past should be enough to satisfy any sports fan. The damage has already been done, and to discard this brutal history and demand ever new carnage, is a disrespectful waste to those who sacrificed. This is how to learn from your past, and not repeat fatal mistakes. That’s what I think about most, upon further review.