Raiders were first to survive wild ride


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Jan 22, 2006
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Raiders were first to survive wild ride
'80 team went from wild cards to champions
By Jim Jenkins -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Monday, January 30, 2006
Story appeared in Sports section, Page C1

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have more than their own fans pulling for them in Super Bowl XL.
They're the alumni from seven other wild-card teams that made it to the Super Bowl.

Of those seven, three teams won, all from the AFC. Pittsburgh is favored to become the fourth.
The 1980 Oakland Raiders were the first.

A wild-card team's path to the NFL championship is filled with peril. It takes a combination of skill and luck to succeed, and the Raiders were the pioneers.

The Steelers already have experienced that. If not for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's unlikely, touchdown-saving tackle late in the fourth quarter and a missed field goal, Pittsburgh's dream may well have ended in Indianapolis, shy of the conference-title game in Denver.

A quarter-century ago, Oakland's Super Bowl quest nearly vanished on a bitterly cold, windy Jan. 4, 1981, at old Cleveland Stadium. A week earlier, in their first and lone home playoff game that season, the Raiders manhandled Houston 27-7. Now, here they were, with less than a minute to go, against the Browns, staring defeat in the face.

Oakland was ahead 14-12, but Browns quarterback Brian Sipe had led a drive to the Raiders' 13-yard line. It was second down. The anticipation from 79,473 screaming fans that day was for a game-winning field goal by Don Cockroft, nothing new in the grand scheme of things.

This had been part of the Browns' script all season, earning the label of "The Kardiac Kids" for comeback victories.

On the Oakland sideline, receiver Morris Bradshaw, now a team administrator, recalled thinking the worst.

"As I was standing there, waiting for the field goal," said Bradshaw, who had caught a key pass from Jim Plunkett that game, "I was thinking we'd had a great run but weren't going to get there. Then disappointment turned to disbelief. Someone on the bench yelled the Browns weren't kicking."

Nor would they.

On a play that will live in Cleveland football infamy - "Red Right 88" - Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, fretting over poor footing for Cockroft, who missed two field goals earlier, ordered Sipe to take a shot at the end zone. And he did, lofting a pass that he thought would land in the arms of tight end Ozzie Newsome but instead was picked off by Raiders safety Mike Davis.

"We had good man-to-man coverage on the play," recalled Tom Flores, then the Raiders' coach and now part of their radio broadcast crew. "The best place for that pass was Lake Erie. And of all the guys to make the interception! It was by a guy who had the reputation of having the worst hands on our team.

"Thinking back on it, though," said a chuckling Flores, "maybe it was better that the weather was freezing. If it had been any warmer and Mike had felt he was catching the ball, who knows? He might have dropped it."

"You'd have to say what happened was surreal," said Bradshaw. "I couldn't believe it."

It was equally shocking to the Browns. To this day, Reggie Rucker, a top Cleveland receiver at the time, tells interviewers how stunned he and his teammates were over the sudden reversal of emotions. Says Rucker: "Wouldn't you like your chances of the 1980 MVP of the league throwing to a (future) Hall of Famer?"

Immediately, Davis was mobbed by teammates, the Raiders ran out the clock and moved on to San Diego for a rubber match with the high-powered Chargers for the AFC title.

And it was the kind of battle they'd anticipated before prevailing 34-27.

"A comment that I'll always remember from that game," said Flores, "was linebacker Ted Hendricks coming up to me while I was talking to Plunkett on the sideline, saying, 'You'd better keep the ball these last six or seven minutes because if they get it back, our defense might not be able to stop them.' Not what you wanted to hear. As it turned out, we were able to control the ball."

It was now on to Super Bowl XV in New Orleans against the Philadelphia Eagles for a Raiders team that started the season 2-3 and then had to change starting quarterbacks when backup Plunkett, a No. 1 overall draft choice discarded by two teams, replaced starter Dan Pastorini, who had fractured a leg in the fifth game.

"Of all the games we had played to that point," said Flores, "our confidence was very high going into that Super Bowl. We had peaked, our defense was playing well, and we had a good mix of youth and veterans who had played on our previous championship team (1976 season) that John (Madden) coached."

Meanwhile, at NFL headquarters in New York, Commissioner Pete Rozelle was preparing himself for a nightmare. For some time, he and Raiders owner Al Davis had been at odds over a variety of issues, leading to some harsh words. Could it be that Rozelle now was faced with the possibility of having to present the championship Vince Lombardi Trophy to his adversary?

"In all that buildup and commotion about what would happen between Al Davis' Raiders and the commissioner, I don't think anybody really knew who I was," Flores said. "So, at one of the first press conferences, I decided to introduce myself as the coach."

The game itself was a breeze.

The Raiders remained loose all week, flirting with the curfew, while the Eagles, who had beaten Oakland 10-7 in a November regular-season game, were decidedly uptight under their intense coach, Dick Vermeil.

"Actually our players were very focused," said Flores, who was to lead the Raiders to their third Super Bowl title three years later. "Judging from what we were hearing in the press, everybody was out running around all night when it was only (defensive lineman) John Matuszak and maybe a couple others who had stayed out late. But it was our team captains who actually insisted on setting a curfew. When it was time for the game, we were ready. We had come too far. We knew we were going to to win."

The Eagles won the coin toss. After that, everything went downhill for them. Ron Jaworski's first pass was intercepted by linebacker Rod Martin, setting up a Plunkett touchdown toss to Cliff Branch. Later in the first quarter, a scrambling Plunkett, named the game's Most Valuable Player, spotted running back Kenny King near the sideline for an 80-yard scoring play, then the longest in Super Bowl history. The rout was on, a 27-10 victory.

Now Rozelle, as he'd dreaded, would have to hand the championship trophy to Davis in the Oakland locker room before a worldwide television audience. Tensions mounted, but the presentation went surprisingly smooth.

"The Raiders deserve to be world champions," Vermeil said. "They dominated us."


1975 DALLAS COWBOYS (10-4, second, NFC East)
Divisional: at Minnesota Vikings (W) 17-14

NFC championship: at Los Angeles Rams (W) 37-7

Super Bowl X: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (L) 21-17

1980 OAKLAND RAIDERS (11-5, second, AFC West)

Wild card: vs. Houston Oilers (W) 27-7

Divisional: at Cleveland Browns (W) 14-12

AFC championship: at San Diego Chargers (W) 34-27

Super Bowl XV: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (W) 27-10

1985 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-5, third, AFC East)

Wild card: at New York Jets (W) 26-14

Divisional: at Los Angeles Raiders (W) 27-20

AFC championship: at Miami Dolphins (W) 31-14

Super Bowl XX: vs. Chicago Bears (L) 46-10

1992 BUFFALO BILLS (11-5, second, AFC East)

Wild card: vs. Houston Oilers (W) 41-38 (OT)

Divisional: at Pittsburgh Steelers (W) 24-3

AFC championship: at Miami Dolphins (W) 29-10

Super Bowl XXVII: vs. Dallas Cowboys (L) 52-17


(12-4, second, AFC West)

Wild card: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (W) 42-17

Divisional: at Kansas City Chiefs (W) 14-10

AFC championship: at Pittsburgh Steelers (W) 24-21

Super Bowl XXXII: vs. Green Bay Packers (W) 31-24


(13-3, second, AFC Central)

Wild card: vs. Buffalo Bills (W) 22-16

Divisional: at Indianapolis Colts (W) 19-16

AFC championship: at Jacksonville Jaguars (W) 33-14

Super Bowl XXXIV: vs. St. Louis Rams (L) 23-16


(12-4, second, AFC Central)

Wild card: vs. Denver Broncos (W) 21-3

Divisional: at Tennessee Titans (W) 24-10

AFC championship: at Oakland Raiders (W) 16-3

Super Bowl XXXV: vs. New York Giants (W) 34-7


(11-5, second, AFC North)

Wild card: at Cincinnati Bengals (W) 31-17

Divisional: at Indianapolis Colts (W) 21-18

AFC championship: at Denver Broncos (W) 34-17

Super Bowl XL: vs. Seattle Seahawks in Detroit

* Note: The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs were not designated as a wild-card team before pro football's 1970 merger but finished second to the Raiders in the AFL West (11-3), beat the New York Jets 13-6 and Raiders 17-7 in the playoffs for the AFL title and beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.

Sources: NFL, Bee sports staff.
I was there at the Houston game.

Lester Hayes was blitzing from the corner (several times) to take advantage of Stabler being left handed, intercepted Stabler for a TD and overall just raised hell!

CrossBones said:
I was there at the Houston game.

Lester Hayes was blitzing from the corner (several times) to take advantage of Stabler being left handed, intercepted Stabler for a TD and overall just raised hell!

I bet that was great to watch!! :)
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