Today is Jackie Robinson’s birthday. Had he lived, he would be 89 today.
For those of you who’ve been in the far reaches of China for six months, you might not know that there’s a Super Bowl coming up on Sunday. And anyone who didn’t know it should not be on this website.
I hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. New England has a habit of winning the Super Bowl by exactly three points; they did so in 2002, 2004 and 2005. They were favored in those last two wins and did not cover the line. However, I see the Patriots beating the Giants and covering the spread on Sunday. (At this writing, the line is 12.) But to reiterate, I really want New York to win; the operative word here is “really.” I’m vacillating on the 54 over-under which means I wouldn’t play it, but if I had to, I'd go over.
The above is merely my opinion; I’m not responsible for your losses if you’re crazy enough to follow my lead as the last time I won a football bet was in 1908.
Story of the Week
RANK THE NFL RIVALRIES
Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com wrote a rather interesting and debatable article on October 31. To be sure, others could make the list ala Chicago-Green Bay since the beginning of time, but I’m printing this article because I agree with it.
1. Cowboys-Redskins (1970-83)
Games played: 29
Cowboys wins: 16
Redskins wins: 13
1972 NFC Champ. (Was, 26-3)
1982 NFC Champ. (Was, 31-17)
Overall series (since 1960):
Cowboys lead, 55-37-2
How big was this rivalry? American Express even made a commercial tied to it. A Redskins-Cowboys game not only fired up the most laid-back fans of both teams, it also captured the attention of the rest of the NFL during its heyday. After all, you're talking about two marquee franchises and a rivalry that dates all the way back to when former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall opposed the proposal of an expansion team in Texas in the late 1950s. Marshall eventually backed down -- with the Cowboys finally entering the league in 1960 -- but these teams were destined to despise each other ever since.
There actually is so much history between Dallas and Washington that it's hard to pin down a time frame that stands above all others. However, these 13 years will suffice. There were great coaches (Tom Landry for Dallas, George Allen and Joe Gibbs for Washington). Great players and interesting personalities (including Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, John Riggins and Joe Theismann). And above all else, great moments from two teams that combined to win three Super Bowls during this time.
Take the 1974 Thanksgiving game that featured Clint Longley, an obscure backup quarterback, leading Dallas to a 24-23 comeback win. Five years later, the man Longley replaced on that day, Roger Staubach, led the Cowboys back from a 13-point deficit in a regular-season victory that knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs. Of course, Washington has its favorite memories, as well, including blowout victories in the 1972 and 1982 NFC Championship Games. That's what made this series so compelling. Sooner or later, both teams landed their best blows.
• Signature moment: On Dec. 12, 1979, Staubach threw two touchdown passes in the final 140 seconds to erase a 13-point deficit and give host Dallas a 35-34 win. The Redskins missed the playoffs with that defeat, and former Washington coach Jack Pardee said later, "The Lord giveth and He can take it away in a hurry; that's the only way to understand what took place here."
2. Raiders-Steelers (1972-77)
Games played: 10
Raiders wins: 5
Steelers wins: 5
1972 AFC Div. (Pitt, 13-7)
1973 AFC Div. (Oak, 33-14)
1974 AFC Champ. (Pitt, 24-13)
1975 AFC Champ. (Pitt, 16-10)
1976 AFC Champ. (Oak, 24-7)
Overall series (since 1970):
Raiders lead, 12-11
It's an understatement to call this a rivalry. These games were so vicious that they easily could've been staged in a back alley. On one side stood the Raiders, a team that openly embraced a desire to intimidate any opponent that lined up across from it. On the other side were the Steelers, the most dominant team of the 1970s, a blue-collar bunch that backed down to nobody. When it came down to it, these two squads couldn't stand each other.
To understand how serious this rivalry was, just consider that it actually spilled into a courtroom battle in 1976. Steelers coach Chuck Noll became so infuriated by a blow that Raiders safety George Atkinson laid on Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann -- a forearm to the head that knocked the unsuspecting Swann unconscious -- that Noll claimed Atkinson brought "a criminal element" to the NFL. Atkinson responded by suing the coach for slander and a heavily publicized trial ensued. Noll eventually was found not liable of the charges, but you get the point. These were ugly times.
The main reason there was so much bitterness is that these teams were both blessed with insane talent (19 players who competed in these games have been inducted into the Hall of Fame) and they were constantly battling for the right to reach the Super Bowl. They met in three straight AFC Championship Games during 1974-76, with the Steelers winning the first two contests. Of course, their most memorable meeting came in a 1972 playoff game, when Steelers running back Franco Harris turned what seemed like an innocent deflected pass into The Immaculate Reception. You still can find former Raiders who claim the officials cheated them on that play. That's how deep the wounds ran in this rivalry. And that's what made it great.
• Signature moment: The Immaculate Reception. On Dec. 23, 1972, Harris' miracle 60-yard catch-and-run on a deflected Terry Bradshaw pass beat the Raiders 13-7 in an AFC divisional playoff game. The Raiders contended that the Steelers' John (Frenchy) Fuqua had batted the ball to Harris, in violation of a rule prohibiting two offensive players from touching a pass in succession. But officials ruled the ball had deflected off Raiders safety Jack Tatum, who collided with Fuqua and the pass at the same time. The final-minute touchdown gave the Steelers franchise its first playoff victory.
3. Cowboys-49ers (1992-96)
Games played: 7
Cowboys wins: 4
49ers wins: 3
1992 NFC Champ. (Dal, 30-20)
1993 NFC Champ. (Dal, 38-21)
1994 NFC Champ. (SF, 38-28)
Overall series (since 1960):
49ers lead, 16-14-1
Former San Francisco wide receiver Dwight Clark heated up this rivalry with The Catch back in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, but it wasn't until the early 1990s that Cowboys-49ers reached an unforgettable level. What made this rivalry so intense was the history of both clubs. The 49ers had dominated the 1980s ever since Clark's catch, winning four Super Bowls between 1981 and 1989. Dallas, on the other hand, went through a down period before emerging with a swagger that emanated from coach Jimmy Johnson. The Cowboys' desire to claim what the 49ers owned ultimately raised the stakes of this series.
Dallas first shocked the 49ers in the 1992 NFC Championship Game, upsetting a San Francisco team that many favored to win the Super Bowl that season. The following year proved even sweeter for the Cowboys. They didn't just beat San Francisco in the NFC title game -- they routed the 49ers 38-21 in a victory that Johnson predicted prior to the contest. By the time the 49ers finally beat Dallas in the 1994 NFC Championship Game, these teams had set themselves apart from all others in the NFL.
The Cowboys and 49ers battled in three consecutive NFC Championship Games in the early 1990s. It helped that both teams were loaded with talent (the games featured future Hall of Famers such as Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Steve Young and Jerry Rice) and the subplots were just as attractive. There was Young trying to overcome the shadow of succeeding Joe Montana. Deion Sanders altering the fortunes of both teams by swapping sides in 1995. And Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones re-establishing the Cowboys' dominance before egos and jealousy led to their heavily publicized split. In retrospect, this was the last time we saw two legitimate powerhouses tussling on an annual basis.
• Signature moment: Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a slant pass that turned into a 70-yard catch-and-run late in the 1992 NFC Championship Game. That play set up the game-clinching touchdown in the Cowboys' 30-20 win, setting up the Cowboys' first of three Super Bowl wins in the decade.
Last Week’s Trivia
On February 26, 1981, at Boston, the Minnesota North Stars and the Boston Bruins combined for a mind-boggling 67 penalties in just one period. In the 1st period, Minnesota received 15 minors, 8 majors, 4 10-minute misconducts and 7 game misconducts, a total of 34 penalties. Boston received 16 minors, 8 majors, 3 10-minute misconducts and 6 game misconducts, a total of 33 penalties.
Trivia Question of the Week
My thanks to Larry Shuemate, Jr. for this one. It’s tricky. There are seven teams in the four major sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) that do not have the name of a city or state in their name. Name them. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.