Old-Timer Football: An All-Star Lineup
By Glenn Guzzo
Strat-O-Matic’s forthcoming trio of old-timer pro football seasons recaptures some of the sport’s most memorable teams and games.
The 1969 season marks the final season of the decade-long American Football League and the year it achieved true parity with the National Football League – through Kansas City’s Super Bowl victory that gave the rival leagues a 2-2 record in the pre-merger period.
The 1978 season reproduces one of the greatest Super Bowls ever, Pittsburgh’s 35-31 victory over Dallas. This was the Steelers at the height of its dynasty, winning because of one of the most memorable dropped passes – Dallas tight end Jackie Smith’s bobble while wide open in the end zone.
The 1992 season brings to life a Cowboys team that not only won the Super Bowl in decisive fashion over the star-crossed Buffalo Bills, but one of Strat-O-Matic’s greatest teams ever. More historical significance: Pittsburgh had rookie coach Bill Cowher, whose final season as Steelers coach was the 2006 season, which Strat-O-Matic will release at the same time. And New Orleans had a strong playoff team, one of its few prior to its 2006 crowd-pleasers.
As usual, Strat-O-Matic will release six top teams from each season in card form. The computer games will have complete sets of teams.
Before evening the score with the NFL on behalf of its upstart league, Kansas City (11-3) had to prevail in a classic AFL-championship rematch against arch-rival Oakland (12-1-1), a team that had beaten the Chiefs twice during the season by a total of seven points.
Then the Chiefs, big and stylish, manhandled the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings (12-2), 23-7.
The six carded teams in this set were impressive in different ways.
Kansas City (11-3): RBs Mike Garrett, Robert Holmes and Warren McVea combined for more than 1,800 yards rushing behind C E. J. Holub, G Ed Budde and OT Jim Tyrer. QB Len Dawson had big-play WR Otis Taylor. PK Jan Stenerud was the best in the game. And the Chiefs’ all-star defense (DT Buck Buchanan, DE Jerry Mays, LBs Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier and Jim Lynch, plus DBs Johnny Robinson and Emmitt Thomas) held seven season foes and all three of its post-season opponents to 10 points or less.
Oakland (12-1-1): New coach John Madden led bombing MVP QB Daryle Lamonica (34 TDs), a protective offensive line (12 sacks), a big pass rush (47 sacks) and a secondary led by Willie Brown that intercepted 26 passes. WRs Warren Wells (14 TDs, 27 yds per catch) and Fred Biletnikoff (12 TDs, 15-yd avg) were great targets.
The Raiders had beaten Kansas City twice in the final four weeks of the season, 27-24 and 10-6. The second game was the regular-season finale, with the AFL’s Western Division championship on the line. Then Oakland dismantled Houston in the playoffs, 56-7 while Kansas City edged the Jets, 13-6. But in the AFL championship, Lamonica hurt his hand early in the second half of a 7-7 game. Replacement QB George Blanda threw an interception in the end zone and missed three field goals. KC won, 17-7.
Minnesota (12-2): The Vikings thrived on their amazing defense, which held 13 foes to 14 points or fewer. Led by the Purple People Eaters up front – Carl Eller, Alan Page and Jim Marshall – the Vikings defense led the NFL in interceptions (30), fewest yards per completion (9.8) and fewest yards per rush (3.2). It provided field position that permitted a pedestrian Vikings offense to lead the NFL in scoring. Joe Kapp was merely the 10th-ranked QB in the NFL. Dave Osborn led the running game with 643 yards and a 3.5 average. No receiver caught 40 balls. Fittingly, Minnesota wrapped up its 23-20 playoff victory over the Los Angeles Rams with a safety.
Los Angeles (11-3): The Rams won their first 11 games by dominating field position. The Fearsome-Foursome-inspired defense (Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen et al) yielded little running or passing. The defense, PR Alvin Haymond (NFL best 13 yds per return) and the Rams’ ball-control offense (just 18 turnovers) helped LA win the field-position wars. QB Roman Gabriel threw 24 TD passes against a 2-percent interception rate. WRs Jack Snow (49 rec, 15 ypc) and Wendell Tucker (38 rec, 17 ypc) lead a half dozen decent receiving targets. The running game is unspectacular, but will get extra yards behind a superior line (Ts Bob Brown and Charlie Cowan and G Tom Mack).
Dallas (11-2-1) might have had the best team of all. Its defense had 55 sacks, the most in football, and yielded only 3.4 yards per rush. DTs Bob Lilly and Jethroe Pugh, LBs Lee Roy Jordan and Chuck Howley and DBs Mel Renfro and Cornell Green gave the Cowboys stalwarts at every level.
QB Craig Morton gained 8.7 yards per pass with a team full of deep threats, most of all WRs Lance Rentzel (22 ypc) and Bob Hayes (19 ypc). RBs Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison (both 4.6 avg) gained nearly 1,800 yards. But the Cowboys couldn’t contend with Cleveland, either in the regular season (42-10 Browns) or in the playoffs (38-14).
Cleveland (10-3-1): The Browns thrived on RB Leroy Kelly’s running behind OT Dick Schafrath and G Gene Hickerson, and on deep-threat WRs Gary Collins (15 ypc, 11 TDs) and Paul Warfield (21 ypc, 10 TDs). TE Milt Morin (37 rec, 13 ypc) and Kelly (13 ypc) are receiving threats, too. QB Bill Nelson’s 7.8 yards per pass was fourth best in the NFL.
Pittsburgh and Dallas, both two-time Super Bowl winners and clearly the class of the AFC and NFC, traded touchdown punches like prize-fighters in one of the most exciting Super Bowls.
Terry Bradshaw threw four TD passes and Roger Staubach threw three. But the sure touchdown that Cowboys TE Jackie Smith dropped while wide open in the end zone forced Dallas to settle for a field goal on that drive. And the Steelers won, 35-31.
The card set also features the potent defenses of Los Angeles (12-4), which was good enough to beat Pittsburgh, and Denver (10-6), which yielded more than 17 points just three times and held eight foes to 7 or fewer.
It has New England (11-5), which won its first 10 games behind the NFL’s top ground game, big-play WRs Harold Jackson (20 ypc) and Stanley Morgan (24 ypc) and a turnover-happy defense.
It has Miami (11-5), the AFC’s highest-scoring team with QB Bob Griese, 1,258-yard RB Del Williams and a defense that shut out three teams.
Foremost, it has 14-2 Pittsburgh and the 12-4 Dallas, which won their final six games (five by rout).
Pittsburgh’s Bradshaw was the AFC’s No.1 passer, throwing 28 TDs, mostly to WRs Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, while FB Franco Harris ran for 1,082 yards. The Steel Curtain defense, led by DT Mean Joe Greene, LBs Jack Lambert and Jack Ham and DB Mel Blount, had 48 turnovers, 44 sacks and gave up more than 17 points only twice. (And get this: the Steelers’ secondary included Tony Dungy, who intercepted six passes. Dungy, of course, is the coach of the 2007 Super Bowl winners, Indianapolis.)
Dallas QB Staubach was the No. 1 passer in the NFC with conference leading 25 TD passes and 7.7 yards per pass. All five of his starting receivers had impressive yards per catch. RB Tony Dorsett gained 1,325 yards to lead the NFC’s best ground attack, but FB Robert Newhouse’s 4.2 averages kept defenses honest. With DT Randy White andDEs Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin, the Cowboys had an NFL-best 58 sacks, and yielded fewer points than all but Pittsburgh, holding 10 foes to 10 points or fewer.
How timely. Strat-O-Matic releases a card set with a rare New Orleans playoff team at the same time as its 2006 team advanced to the NFC title game for the first time. The set also has Pittsburgh with rookie coach Bill Cowher, who has just retired after coaching the 2006 Steelers.
Can you resist playing the 1992 teams against their 2006 counterparts?
There’s no resisting Dallas (13-3), which won its first Super Bowl since 1977 and was just three years removed from a 1-15 embarrassment. This is one of the deadliest SOM teams, with QB Troy Aikman (3,445 yds, 23 TDs), RB Emmitt Smith (1,713 yds, 4.6 avg, 18 TDs), WR Michael Irvin (1,396 yds), two-TD PR Kelvin Martin and a run-stuffing defense that held eight opponents to 10 points or fewer.
In the Super Bowl, Dallas’ 52-17 conquest belittled a Buffalo (11-5) team that boasted QB Jim Kelly (3,457yds, 23 TDs), RB Thurman Thomas (1,487 yds, 4.8 avg) and a versatile receiver corps.
San Francisco (14-2) had the best record, outscored Dallas and yielded fewer points. QB Steve Young passed (66.7% complete, 25 TDs) and ran (7.1 avg) for 4,000 yards. RB Ricky Watters (1,013 yds, 4.9 avg) and WR Jerry Rice (1,201 yds) had some fun.
New Orleans (12-4) led the NFL in sacks (57), sent an unprecedented four linebackers to the Pro Bowl and never yielded more than 21 points.
Pittsburgh (11-5) had the AFC’s leading runner in Barry Foster (1,690 yds, 11 TDs) and the AFC’s stingiest defense.
Philadelphia (11-5) RB Herschel Walker ran for 1,070 yds, QB Randall Cunningham passed and ran (6.3 avg) for 3,300 and WR Fred Barnett caught 67 for 1,083 yards. The Eagles had the NFC’s No. 1 pass defense and recovered the most fumbles. PR Vai Sikahema had a TD..
The top-heavy season features three more 11-5 teams on the computer: Minnesota, Miami and San Diego.
Also on computer: Detroit RB Barry Sanders (1,352 yards rushing) leads eight 1,000-yard runners.