Great Rivalry Week
Did the NFL purposely schedule week 6 of the NFL season in such a way as to create multiple long-time rivalry games? If this was pure coincidence, it sure has created a reason to tune in this week.
Let’s take a look at the schedule and show you why a real NFL fan would want to take in the action this week.
San Diego & Denver: Thursday night’s game will have extra interest due to multiple factors. First, we send our get-well wishes to Denver Coach Gary Kubiak, as we know that migraines can be a major headache. Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis will take on the interim role this week.
This rivalry goes back to the beginning of the old American Football League, as these two teams have always been in the same division and thus have played home and home every year of their existence. The Chargers were the Western behemoth throughout the first half of the 1960s, while the Broncos strived for mediocrity. In the 1970s, both teams returned to prominence, with Denver featuring the “Orange Crush” defense and San Diego moving the ball via “Air Coryell.” The two teams vied for the division championship and wildcard playoff berths.
The rivalry died down for a few years, but it came back in the 1990s with John Elway guiding a hot Broncos’ offense and Junior Seau leading Chargers’ improved defense. In this century, the two teams have enjoyed moments of success, and their games between 2004 and 2008 were some of the best.
The 2013 season saw the rivals playing for a trip to the AFC Championship, with Peyton Manning outdueling Phillip Rivers.
There are multiple coaching ties between these clubs. Current Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy was the offensive coordinator of the Broncos before his hiring in San Diego. Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips served as DC for the Chargers when San Diego repeatedly had the best defenses in the NFL. Other assistant coaches in this game have been coaches for both rivals.
Detroit & Los Angeles: You might have to be a bit of a senior citizen to appreciate this rivalry, but there was a time when this game was like the Broncos and Patriots today. Back in the early 1950s, these two teams dominated the West Division (or what at one time was called the National Division). Between 1950 and 1957, one of these rivals played in the NFL Championship every year but 1956, when Chicago edged Detroit by a half game.
Both teams had celebrity quarterbacks generating headlines as much as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have done in recent years.
The Rams had The Dutchman, Norm Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin was the master at throwing the long pass. Give him an option of a wide open receiver five yards down the field and one in man-to-man coverage 40 yards down the field, and The Dutchman would throw the 40-yard pass 90% of the time. He led LA to the NFL title in 1950, and he won 70% of his starts with the Rams until he was sent to Philadelphia, where he won the Eagles’ last NFL Championship. In this period in the early 1950’s, Van Brocklin averaged around nine yards per pass attempt, unheard of today even with Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, or Rodgers.
Detroit had the inimitable Bobby Layne, aka The Blond Bomber. Layne was a real gunslinger from Texas. With him at the helm of the Lions’ signal-calling (in those days, the QB actually called his own plays, as it was illegal to signal them in from the sidelines), Detroit usually finished at or near the top in passing and scoring. If you think John Elway or Brett Favre cornered the market in fourth quarter comebacks, Layne invented the tension-filled final stanza of more contests than either modern day legend. It was often said that Bobby Layne never lost a game as Detroit Lion QB; he just ran out of time before he finished the comeback.
The 1952 season National Conference race ended in a tie between the two teams, and Detroit won the playoff before knocking off Cleveland for the NFL title a week later.
Miami & Pittsburgh: This rivalry began in the early 1970s after the Steelers hiked from the NFL to the AFC and became a playoff regular, while Miami was enjoying its most successful years in pro football. During the incredible 17-0 Super Bowl Champion season of 1972, the Dolphins ran into a pesky Steelers’ team in the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers actually took the lead in the third quarter, before backup running back Jim Kiick scored a couple of rushing touchdowns to give the Fish a double-digit lead. Still, Pittsburgh stormed back in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to four.
The following year, when the Dolphins were on the march to a second Super Bowl title in a row, they hosted the Steelers in a December game where a win would secure home field advantage for the playoffs. After streaking to a quick 27-0 lead, Miami seemed to have this game securely in the win column, but Pittsburgh came back from a 30-3 halftime deficit to cut it to 30-26 with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
The 1976 season saw the Steelers collapse to a 1-4 record at the start of the season, and it appeared that Coach Chuck Noll’s magic had worn off, as the Steel Curtain Defense seemed to be missing some metal. The final nine games of the season showed the world that this team had more steel power than any modern day defense in NFL history, as the Steelers won their final nine regular season games and surrendered just 28 points in those nine games!
The Steelers finally topped the Dolphins during that streak, and they did it with Terry Bradshaw injured and out of the game. Pittsburgh held the Dolphins to a field goal in a 14-3 win, in which the Steelers threw less than 10 passes all day.
New York Giants & Baltimore: This is the rivalry that made NFL Football a national pastime. The Giants had become a dominant team in the 1950s, featuring a veritable who’s who of top talent including quarterback Charlie Conerly, running backs Frank Gifford and Alex Webster, end Kyle Rote, an incredible defensive line featuring Andy Robustelli, Dick Modzelewski, and Rosey Grier, and the middle linebacker that became a legend thanks to an NFL film in Sam Huff. Having two future legends as assistant coaches (see below) made rooting for the Giants just like rooting for the Yankees in baseball.
The Lions and Rams dominated the West, up through 1957, and then along came Baltimore. The Colts had been an afterthought entry into the NFL when the Dallas Texans folded after one season in 1952. The acquisition of an unknown quarterback cut by Pittsburgh as a rookie in 1955 turned out to be an 18-year mistake for the Steelers. One John Unitas made the Colts the dominant Western team until Lombardi joined the Packers, and then #19 fought Green Bay to a draw from the time Lombardi took over in Title Town.
The event that made the NFL into the big boy league was the 1958 Championship game played between the Giants and the Colts. It has been tabbed “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and it has evidence to back it up. In all of Super Bowl history, no game has ever finished tied after 60 minutes, forcing an overtime. Very few playoff games of any kind have needed an overtime, and it didn’t look like this one was going to need one, as the Giants held a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter, with the Colts pinned back at their own 14 yard line.
New York was one final defensive stand away from salting this game away and winning another championship, but it was not to be. Unitas showed why he was one of the best ever to play the position. He guided the Colts on a sustained drive going to his favorite target, receiver Raymond Berry, multiple times until Baltimore was in the Red Zone. With time for just one more play, Steve Myhra was sent into the game to attempt a 20-yard field goal. Forget for a moment that today a 20-yard field goal is successful more than 99% of the time. It was anything but automatic in 1958 for one main reason–there were no kicking specialists in the NFL in those days, because rosters were capped at just 33 players.
Myhra was a two-way position player in 1958, playing guard on offense and linebacker on defense. He was the kicker because he was the best they had from among the position players. He had made just 4 of 10 field goal attempts during the season, and he had missed from less than 20; goalposts were at the goal line in those days, so a 20-yard field goal meant the line of scrimmage was the Giants’ 13. Thus, even a 40% accurate field goal kicker was the choice over trying to score a touchdown on one play from the 13 yard line. Myhra’s kick wasn’t a beauty, but it sailed over the crossbar to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Other NFL games and even a couple of Championship Games had been televised before, but few fans actually saw those games on the Dumont Television Network. On this day before a full-house at Yankee Stadium millions watched on national television. The viewership increased greatly as the Colts made that tying drive, and the game went to overtime, except a good amount of time was lost to the public when the signal was accidentally cut for several minutes. Everything was swell again once the overtime period started.
New York got the ball first in overtime, but the Giants couldn’t do anything with it and had to quickly punt to the Colts. Unitas must have thought it was a gift to start this drive at his own 20, and he never gave the New Yorkers a chance to get the ball back, guiding the Colts on an 80-yard, 13-play drive that culminated with Alan Ameche plunging across the goal for the game-winning touchdown.
The extra eight minutes and change made the NFL what it is today.
Green Bay & Dallas: This rivalry built on top of the building block created by the one just mentioned. When Tom Landry built the Cowboys into “America’s Team” in the last half of the 1960’s, there was still one team Dallas could not defeat. Vince Lombardi’s Packers were the best team ever over the course of eight years, winning the NFL title five times. What made this rivalry even more intense was that Landry and Lombardi were the two coordinators on that Giants team that lost to Baltimore in 1958 (Lombardi-offense & Landry-defense). The NFL Championship Games of 1966 and 1967 helped move the NFL past Major League Baseball in followers, especially since the New York Yankees went on the decline in 1965, and the Los Angeles Dodgers would follow suit two years later.
Even after Lombardi retired for a year in 1968, and the Packers became old and injured almost overnight, Landry’s arguably best Cowboys’ team could not beat Green Bay. The rivalry is as strong as ever, and expect a hard-fought contest Sunday.
Oakland & Kansas City: The Colts and Giants made football what it is today, and the Packers and Cowboys built it even higher, but this rivalry belongs in a class by itself. If you think the Yankees and Red Sox, Dodgers and Giants, Alabama and Auburn, Army and Navy, or North Carolina and Duke basketball rivalries are something, they pale in comparison to what this rivalry once was. This was war in a pasture for many years, and it became a rivalry that made bitter enemies of the players, the coaches, the fans, the owners, and even the residents of the two cities. It was Israel and Iran on the gridiron.
The Chiefs began as the second team to call itself the Dallas Texans when the AFL began in 1960. Owner Lamar Hunt came from great wealth, as the Hunt family owned great oil interests among many other diversified investments. Owning an NFL team was something of an adult toy for Hunt.
Hunt did not like his team being considered second-rate to the expansion Cowboys, who played in the same Cotton Bowl Stadium and seldom competed in their games, while the AFL team won the 1962 Championship. Hunt decided he could much easier share a venue with the inept Kansas City Athletics of the American League, so he uprooted the AFL Champs to Kansas City Municipal Stadium in 1963. With an eccentric head coach in Hank Stram, the Chiefs fit right in with the eccentric owner of the baseball team.
Oakland was never supposed to have a pro football team. The spot had been awarded to Minneapolis, but the NFL powers that be stole the city for the senior league. Another wealthy baron, one Barron Hilton, owned the Los Angeles Chargers and used his influence to force the fledgling league to locate a second team in the Golden State. Oakland was chosen, even though there was no move to bring a team there. There was no adequate place to play their games there, and most of the inhabitants of the east side of the Bay were San Francisco 49ers fans.
Ownership changed hands in the early days about as often as the Cleveland Browns change quarterbacks today. None of the owners had the wealth of a Hunt or Hilton, and the Raiders had to cut corners just to survive. Finding a place to play was a burden, as they changed locales almost as often as the Browns change quarterbacks. They played in a makeshift stadium built for less than half a million dollars with a seating capacity of just over 20,000.
Things started to change for the Raiders in the mid-1960s. Al Davis, a former assistant coach of the Chargers, became head coach, part-owner, and after a stint as AFL Commissioner, the managing partner of the team. Davis brought in better talent, and the Raiders moved into the new Oakland-Alameda Stadium in 1966.
Under new coach John Rauch, the Raiders gave the Chiefs a run for their money in 1966, finishing second in the West Division, but splitting the two games. Kansas City won the AFL title and fizzled in the first Super Bowl.
The following year, Oakland picked up the Mad Bomber from Buffalo. Daryle Lamonica guided the Raiders to the best mark in the history of the AFL, going 13-1 and sweeping the Chiefs, including an embarrassing 20+ point blowout on Thanksgiving Day in Kansas City. The four games of 1966 and 1967 were hard-fought with several dirty blows emanating from both teams. 15-yard penalties were a dime a dozen, as were injuries and bloodshed.
1968 made this rivalry even fiercer. First, the nation as a whole suffered through a year of violence, with two major assassinations, rioting in many major cities, a Presidential Election that experienced severe violence at one of its conventions, and the burning of Detroit following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
So, when that eccentric, cheapskate owner of the Athletics moved his baseball franchise, he chose Oakland. That didn’t sit well with Kansas City sports fans. The city of Oakland was no different than Hanoi to the residents of Middle America.
The Chiefs and Raiders met three times in 1968, and they would do so again in 1969. In the first contest, Stram was strapped for talent. None of his receivers were healthy enough to play, and there was no time to sign any free agents or acquire any in a trade. Stram had three very fine running backs, so he had an idea. Why not use the old-fashioned, moth-balled Power-T formation from the 1940s? He could place his three backs in the backfield at the same time and go with his two healthy tight ends.
Can you imagine an NFL team using the wishbone offense today? The Chiefs did the equivalent that day in October of 1968, and against the defending AFL Champion Raiders, it made the game a laugher. No, it wasn’t what you might think. Kansas City QB Len Dawson attempted three passes all day, two of them to backs, and one to a tight end. He completed two, as one intended for a back was off target. How bad did the Raiders blow the Chiefs out that day? They didn’t, because with all the faking of multiple backs, two of whom could create their own holes and one with close to sprinters’ speed, Kansas City ran through the Oakland defense all day long. Oakland had no answer for the power plays, inside traps, power sweeps, counters, and roll outs. Kansas City won with ease to move into first place in the West.
Oakland got their revenge a month later, as the Chiefs were back to normal for this game. The teams continued to win and finished with identical 12-2 records, forcing a playoff for the AFL West Division title. It was never close. Lamonica lived up to his moniker, as he completed three long touchdown passes in the first quarter alone. Oakland led 21-0 after the end of the first quarter. After Kansas City cut it to 21-6 on a couple of field goals. Lamonica went at it again with a touchdown bombs to Fred Biletnikoff and Warren Wells to put the game out of reach at 35-6, winning 41-6.
In 1969, the Raiders were the class of the league once again, and they were considered the equal of the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns of the other league. The Jets had proven the year before that the AFL was on par with the NFL, and with Lamonica, Biletnikoff, and a wicked defense featuring Ben Davidson, it was thought that Oakland could punish any NFL team with their hoodlum style of play.
The Chiefs had become one-dimensional by then. Their once great offense was not what it had been, but they had a terrific defense. It wasn’t enough for Kansas City to stand toe-to-toe with Oakland that year. The Raiders won a pre-season game over KC, and then they swept the Chiefs in the regular season in games that resembled pro wrestling as much as it did football.
However, the AFL had decided to add a week of playoffs in its final year, giving it four teams in the playoffs like the NFL. The second place Chiefs played at East Division Champion New York, while the East runner-up, Houston at 6-6-2, played at Oakland.
Kansas City sent Broadway Joe Namath and the Jets packing by holding New York to a couple of field goals and picking off Namath three times. In the second game of the day, Oakland dismissed Houston like Michigan recently beat Rutgers. Lamonica’s six touchdown passes and the Raider defense’s six sacks paced Oakland to a 56-7 win that could have been much worse. Oakland led 28-0 before the end of the first quarter.
The following week, the Raiders hosted the Chiefs in their fourth meeting of the season. The winner would face the Purple People Eaters, the Minnesota Vikings, who had just defeated Cleveland for the NFL Championship.
Once again, an incredible Chiefs’ defense held an offensive juggernaut in check for 60 minutes. Oakland moved the ball in the first quarter and took a 7-0 lead, but that was the end of the Raiders’ offensive success for the remainder of the game. KC did very little with the ball all day, barely gaining 200 total yards, but the defense caught four Oakland passes and won the game 17-7. Kansas City, and not Oakland, proved that the previous year was not a fluke, beating Minnesota on yet another fantastic defensive showing.
In 1970, the two rivals were no longer the behemoths of the AFL days. Still, they fought tooth and nail for the new AFC West title, and their two games were nationally televised. Oakland won the division by a game over Kansas City, but they stole this division title. Kansas City would have won the division under today’s rules. Early in the season, the Chiefs had basically secured a win over the Raiders, and Dawson only had to burn what was left on the clock to end the game. He picked up the crucial first down that would allow KC to down the ball a couple of times and go home winners.
It was not to be. When Dawson picked up the first down to apparently ice the game, the brute Davidson came in from behind and delivered a nasty cheap shot late hit, a very late hit. All the frustrations of the numerous late hits in this game led to half of the Chiefs’ team jumping Davidson in one of the worst free-for-alls in sports history. By the time the referees intervened (a couple of the refs were actually roughed up too), the call was for offsetting 15-yard penalties.
In 1970, any off-setting penalty, including those more than one second after the play like Davidson’s cheap shot, led to the scrimmage play being nullified. So, Dawson’s game-clenching first down was erased. Kansas City failed to convert the first down on the do-over. The Chiefs had to punt, and Oakland moved the ball just across midfield where the old man, George Blanda, kicked the game-tying field goal from 48 yards out on the final play.
The next season, the NFL changed the rules so that had this play occurred in 1971, Kansas City would have kept their first down and could have run out the clock. In 1970, it proved to be the difference in which team made the playoffs.
Back to the present: These two still bitter rivals should give the public a great game, but few will get that chance to see this game under today’s TV contract. It won’t be the equal of any of those Chiefs-Raiders games of the late 1960’s, but it should still be a great one if you can watch it.
This Week’s PiRate Ratings
|Current NFL PiRate Ratings|
|A F C|
|N. Y. Jets||101.1||99.3||102.1||100.8||60||41|
|N F C|
This Week’s Spreads
|N. Y. Giants||Baltimore||2.2||-0.3||2.5||52|
|Arizona||N. Y. Jets||6.8||6.7||6.3||48|