I’m going to moving on and changing my blog focus, so this will be the only year for the Corridor. I’ve started The Sports Notebook, a series of four different blogs, and will expand to include baseball and pro football. The focus will shift away from being a fan, and into more objective commentary, but I’ve never believed objectivity meant denying your biases. In fact, I’ve believed it meant acknowledging them freely, so readers know where you’re coming from. The Bos-Wash Corridor will remain online as a testimony to one fan’s love of his teams.
I think back of two electric moments as a sports fan. One came in the summer of 2005. We had just returned from Ireland, where we buried my dad, and my mom, brother and I stopped over in Boston for two days on the way back. On a hot summer night, we went out to Fenway. The atmosphere was nothing short of incredible. I was prepared for it, but was still amazed. My family, used to the somewhat deadened atmosphere of Miller Park in Milwaukee, was taken aback by how much passion was poured into a regular season game, non-stop, right down to the enthusiastic singing of Sweet Caroline in the eighth inning. This on a night that was ridiculously humid and the Sox only got three hits off of Kevin Millwood in being shut out. It was a reminder of just how good Red Sox fans really are when we’re in our element—not imitating Yankee fans with a bunch of classless demands that we win the World Series every year or else—but simply loving Fenway Park, our team’s heritage and the greatest baseball tradition on earth.
The other moment came this past November, when I went to first Redskins home game, the one against Denver. I was wondering what the atmosphere would be like. During my high school and college years I knew RFK always rocked with enthusiasm, but after year after year of Snyder-induced depression, I wondered if that might not have taken its toll, the same way Peter Angelos eventually broke the back of Orioles fans here in Baltimore. Again I was amazed—the throngs of burgundy-and-gold tailgaters, as far as the eye could see, bubbling with real enthusiasm, even though no rational reason could be given, spoke volumes—this is a fan base that never quits. And just like with the Sox, I love being a part of it, even at 4-12.
My Redskins and Red Sox loyalties coalesced to create my all-time favorite sports memory in October 2004. My dad was sick at the time, and I was home in the Milwaukee area to visit him and catch up with friends while I was there. A good friend of mine, also a longtime ‘Skins fan, decided to drive down to Chicago to catch the Redskins-Bears game on Sunday. The previous Saturday night hadn’t gone well. The Red Sox had taken a 19-8 shellacking to the Yanks to fall behind three games to none in the ALCS. He picked me up early and I got into the car lamenting and moaning that it was over. He began to say, well hey, just calm down. Let’s say you win tonight, who goes tomorrow. “Pedro”, I replied.
“Pedro in Fenway makes you the favorite right there. So who goes Game 6?”
A light slowly dawned in my marble head, as I said “They’re not sure yet, but if he can go, they think it will be Schilling. Especially after the rainout the other night bought him an extra day.”
“Okay, so Schilling makes you the favorite there.”
“But what about Game 7, I countered. “We have no one left.”
He quickly reassured me. “At that point, the weight of the world’s going to be on their shoulders. Your focus as a fan tonight is simple—the Yanks either beat you tonight, or they have to do one of the following—beat Pedro, beat Schilling or win an all-the-pressure’s on them Game 7.”
I won’t say I was convinced a comeback was in the offing. In fact, I was sure the Yankees were going to batter Derek Lowe from pillar to post that night. I wasn’t even convinced the Red Sox would win the series if they got past Game 4. But I was convinced that we had a shot.
And so a great day was set in motion. We got into the Redskins-Bears game, and watched a football game that set the cause of offense back 100 years. In watching my DVDs of the Red Sox-Yankees games, I still laugh when I see the Fox broadcast of Game 4 and the NFL scores scroll through the bottom. And the highlight of the game is listed as Mark Brunnel passing for 95 yards. Yes, that was the highlight. But we won. And that’s all that matters.
On a beautiful afternoon, we drove back, got something to eat, caught a little bit of the Steelers-Cowboys late game, which Pittsburgh won, as well as the Cards-Astros in the NLCS. Finally we settled in back at my mom’s house to watch the ALCS. And as the game went into extra innings, and fatigue wore on us both, I still vividly recall thinking—“I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, the fact he conjured up this theory about the Red Sox rallying and winning it or the fact that I’ve actually bought into it. Indeed I had. What a day it was. The Redskins won. The Cowboys lost. A great day in the sunshine was had with a good friend. And the Red Sox began a comeback for the ages against the Yankees. It doesn’t get better than this.
Porter, you recall, was the same one who picked off Brett Favre at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship. Unlike that one, which was a horrid decision by Favre, this one was simply a great play by Porter. The blitz came at Manning, Porter made his break at precisely the right moment when the quarterback had to release it, and 78 yards later was in the end zone for the touchdown that sealed the championship.
Here in Redskin Nation, I know I’m just very happy for Gregg Williams. Once again, our former defensive guru did the job against a top quarterback, and his own gutsy call of the blitz, at a team when CBS analyst Phil Simms was warning against it, helped set up Porter’s heroics. And Brees’ performance adds to the postseason angst of San Diego general manager A.J. Smith, who traded him away to make room Philip Rivers. Put Brees in a Charger uniform and you are realistically looking at titles in 2006 and 2009. As it is, San Diego is still searching.
Ultimately, I think of what I wrote in the post below when picking the Saints. Indianapolis is a ruthlessly consistent football team, but they just don’t have a high ceiling when it comes to greatness. I don’t mean that as a knock. Really, I mean it as a compliment. Consistent excellence is the hardest thing in life—not in football, but in life—to achieve, and Indianapolis has done it over the last ten years. But they don’t have the extra notch to move to unstoppable, and are beatable by most other good teams in this league on a good night. And New Orleans had a good night.
*The Indianapolis pass rush has not been strength all year long, and now with Dwight Freeney’s status seriously up in the air, it’s even worse. Drew Brees is going to have time to throw the ball and neither quarterback is going to be stopped in this one by coverage alone.
*If both Brees and Manning have big games, make a default to who’s more likely to get running game support. While both teams have won with their quarterbacks all year long, New Orleans has shown a greater capacity to get it done on the ground as well.
*New Orleans can get to Manning—at minimum they have a better chance of doing so than Indy does of pressuring Brees. Gregg Williams’ defense has shown the ability to get sacks all year long, and they showcased their aggressive style against Brett Favre in the NFC championship game. Let’s bear in mind that with this game on grass, it will be harder than normal for opposing offenses to run quick slants to beat the blitzes. Not drastically harder, but just enough to create an edge in an evenly matched game. I believe the Saints are better suited to play on grass than is Indy.
*Indy’s just too dependent on Peyton. New Orleans is more complete. That’s ultimately what it all boils down too.
There are good arguments in the other direction. Indianapolis has been the more consistent team, and there’s no chance they’ll no-show. With New Orleans there does have to be at least be some trepidation that the team who nearly lost at Washington will show up. With the Colts, what you see is what you get, week-in and week-out. If we had to pick which team was more likely to advance through a three-round bracket before it started, I’d take Indy as the safe choice. But now that we’re down to one game, I’m more interested in the potential ceiling of each team. New Orleans’ is higher and I believe they will reach it.
Overall, I don’t think this game will be as high-scoring as the experts say, unless it comes from turnovers setting up easy points. This is two dome offenses moving outdoors and more important, teams don’t reach this level without playing some defense too. Let’s call this one 24-20 for the boys from the Bayou.
My impression of the Colts in following them week-by-week was that of a team that conducts itself with machine-like efficiency. I went back through all the box scores…and that’s exactly what they are. The running game here is adequate, although nothing spectacular. The defense kind of comes and goes, though there’s more coming than going. And the one constant is the guy behind center, who just churns out solid game after solid game. Indianapolis had no real highs or lows in the season—they just stayed consistent and kept winning football games.
Their first five wins, prior to the bye week, included a rout of Arizona and a road win at Tennessee, that decisively solidified the changing of the guard in the AFC South. Indy followed that up with five more wins that included their wild 35-34 win over New England. They scraped out a tough win in Baltimore the following week to get to 10-0. Then they rolled through four more games, including a win over a then-surging Tennessee squad and a collapsing Denver team. At 14-0, they made the controversial decision to forget perfection and pull the starters at the end of the Jets’ game and again in Buffalo the following week.
Indy secured the city its second AFC championship by beating Baltimore and the Jets at home. And it was the same story of the season. Just enough running offense to survive. The defense had its high and low points. And Peyton Manning was ruthlessly efficient. Is this the kind of machine destined to roll through everyone to a Super Bowl victory? Or is it a machine more akin to the 1990s Atlanta Braves, one that will always come up a little bit short. Check in tomorrow, where I’ll weigh in with my thoughts.
The Saints’ season started at home against Detroit and it was an appropriate beginning, as Drew Brees lit up the Superdome with six touchdown passes. It was the beginning of a 5-0 run that included a victory at Philadelphia (albeit with Donovan McNabb on the bench), and ended with a thumping home win over the Giants, where Brees threw for 369 yards. At the time, NYG was undefeated and it looked like a huge win. In retrospect, a Week 4 win over the “other” New York team, the boys in green was more meaningful. Throughout this six week period encompassing five games, New Orleans showed a very good ability to get to the quarterback and to defend the run.
A trip to Miami started the second sequence that saw New Orleans push its record to 11-0. There were some problems that started to show up in this stretch of games that included a big Monday Night home win over Atlanta that all but wrapped up the NFC South and easy road games at St. Louis and Tampa Bay. Namely, the rush defense showed serious holes, as teams routinely piled up over 100 yards on the ground. But it ended with another big statement win at home—this one over New England, as Brees came up big again, throwing for 371 yards, five touchdowns and zero picks, in completely outplaying Tom Brady.
Three more games saw New Orleans hit the skids. It started in FedEx Field, a game the Saints richly deserved to lose, but the ‘Skins did everything possible to hand the game over and ultimately succeeded. A narrow escape at Atlanta followed and finally the undefeated string came to an end at 13-0, when Dallas won a Saturday night affair in the Bayou. New Orleans did not get much in the way of ground support for Brees and their pass defense was poor. The season ended with losses to Tampa Bay and on the road at Carolina, although by that point everything was clinched and the team was clearly mailing it in and resting up for the playoffs.
New Orleans then blew out Arizona and nipped Minnesota at home to win the NFC crown. They have shown vulnerability to the ground game in the postseason, but they are holding a huge edge in taking care of the ball, winning the turnover battle 7-1. Credit Brees, who is playing like a championship-hardened veteran and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has turned his defense loose to force the action. It got them their first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl, and now they can bring their home city and state its first pro championship of any kind.
Today let's wrap up our look at Super Bowl history, with the five great years the Redskins made it...
1972: Miami 14 Washington 7
It was the year the Dolphins went undefeated, and the offense just couldn't get anything untracked. Miami got the lead on an early touchdown pass by Bob Griese. The 'Skins offense never got anything going, and our only points came very late in the game on a bizarre play on a flubbed Miami field goal when kicker Garo Yepremian threw an ill-advised pass into the hands of Mike Bass who took it back the other way.
1982: Washington 27 Miami 17
The Lombardi Trophy finally comes to the nation's capital. Trailing 17-13 and facing fourth-and-one just past midfield, Joe Gibbs called John Riggins' number. And big #44 took it to the house for a fourth quarter lead. A late touchdown pass from Theismann to Charlie Brown locked up the win.
1983: LA Raiders 38 Washington 9
A horrid game to end a great season. The 'Skins were 14-2, with both losses by one point. But there was nothing working for them this day. Marcus Allen had a huge day, and a horrid interception on a screen pass deep in our own territory with only 12 seconds before halftime gave the Raiders a gift touchdown.
1987: Washington 42 Denver 10
When the Broncos scored the first ten points, no one had any idea what was coming. What was coming was a record-setting second quarter with 35 points. Timmy Smith set a rushing record. RIcky Sanders set a receiving record. Doug Williams set a passing record. Williams became the first (and still only) African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
1991: Washington 37 Buffalo 24
Don't be fooled by the score. This was a blowout. It was 37-10 in the second half, before the Bills' made the final score respectable. Mark Rypien was dominant, and the greatest team in Redskin history ended its season on a fitting note.
That wraps up our look at Super Bowl history. On Thursday it will be time to dig into this year's game. The preview will run in a three-day segment. Thursday we look at Indianapolis, Friday will be New Orleans and Saturday a final analysis and prediction.
The Super Bowl long had a bad reputation for not living up to its billing, but the game has had its share of barnburners, and as you'll see that has an especially recent flavor...
1970: Baltimore 16 Dallas 13
It was a sloppy game, but the Colts finally won it on Jim O'Brien's field goal with five seconds left. It marked a Baltimore sweep of the big events, as the Orioles won the World Series.
1975: Pittsburgh 21 Dallas 17
A 64-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann just as he was being knocked flat on a blitz was the play that turned the tide for the Steelers.
1988: San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16
Joe Montana led an 88-yard drive in the closing moments, hitting John Taylor with the winning touchdown pass.
1990: NY Giants 20 Buffalo 19
The Giants controlled the ball for forty minutes, but the Bills still had a shot. Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal hooked wide right on the final play.
1997: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
John Elway got his first ring in a back-and-forth game when the Broncos finally broke the tie with a late fourth quarter touchdown.
1999: St. Louis 23 Tennessee 16
The Rams won their first and only Super Bowl when the Titans final play ended up one yard short of the tying touchdown.
2001: New England 20 St. Louis 17
New England starts a new dynasty by preventing one. The Rams and Kurt Warner were heavy favorites, but unknown quarterback Tom Brady played a game-managing style and ultimately set up Adam Vinateri's field goal on the last play.
2003: New England 32 Carolina 29
Brady was no unknown this time and his performance here was well above game managing. The end result was the same as '01--a last-play field goal by Vinateri.
2007: NY Giants 17 New England 14
Perhaps the most historic Super Bowl, as the Patriots' bid for a 19-0 season is denied, when the Giants mount a late drive for the winning touchdown.
2008: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
A thrilling fourth quarter, with Arizona rallying for the lead, ultimately saw Pittsburgh take it back, with a terrific catch by Santonio Holmes giving the Steelers the winning score and their record sixth Super Bowl victory.
Today we'll look at the Super Bowl games that fell into the broad middle class. They weren't memorable routs or thrilling barnburners. To some degree or another, they were interesting games, but you had a good sense of who was going to win in the fourth quarter. Some of these games lean closer to blowout, some lean close to barnburner, others are straight in the middle. Remember, these don't include the four Redskin Super Bowls, who will be covered in the final post in this series.
1974: Pittsburgh 16 Minnesota 6
Modern fans, schooled on offense, see this as a close game. But in a defensive era, this one was decisive. Minnesota blocked a punt to get on the board after it was 16-0, but couldn't get any closer. This game was played in Tulane Stadium, not exactly the place you'd expect the Super Bowl to be played in this day and age.
1978: Pittsburgh 35 Dallas 31
Fans who saw this game are howling that I didn't classify it as a barnburner. But the Steelers pulled to a 35-17 lead, before the Cowboys rallied. But Pittsburgh covered the onside kick with 22 seconds left and Dallas never got a chance to even threaten to take the lead, a core tenet of a barnburner game.
1979: Pittsburgh 31 LA Rams 19
A good game for three quarters, as the Rams held the lead. Pittsburgh scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by John Stallworth on a 73-yard play.
1981: San Francisco 26 Cincinnati 21
Another one that's close to a barnburner. Frisco led 20-0, before the Bengals closed to 20-14. In between Cincy's touchdowns they were stopped four straight times from the 1-yard line. San Fran controlled the fourth quarter and added two insurance field goals, then recovered the final onside kick.
1993: Dallas 30 Buffalo 13
Buffalo came out ready to play in this one for a half, but the Cowboys gradually pulled away behind the power running of Emmitt Smith, winning their second straight. It was the fourth straight Super Bowl loss for the Bills.
1995: Dallas 27 Pittsburgh 17
Definitely an upper-middle class game. Pittsburgh might have won it had there not been some type of miscommunication between Steeler quarterback Neil O'Donnell and his receivers, resulting in two passes going directly into the hands of Dallas corner Larry Brown.
1996: Green Bay 35 New England 21
The Patriots had the lead in the second half, before a kickoff return by Desmond Howard turned the tide. It was the peak of Brett Favre's career, one that ranks higher than another game in the New Orleans Superdome played thirteen years later.
1998: Denver 34 Atlanta 19
To show how middle class this game was, I watched the entire thing with friends and was stone sober. But I don't remember a thing about it. Just that my brother won our in-game pool by guessing the exact ending time of the game. It was Denver's second straight Super Bowl win. It was John Elway's last game. As Redskins' fans, we're hoping Mike Shanahan has another run left in him.
2004: New England 24 Philadelphia 21
The score says barnburner, but in reality the Patriots had the Eagles at arms-length in the fourth quarter. Philly got a late TD against the prevent and then failed to get the onside kick. The win was the Patriots' third and this one completed the city of Boston's triumphant run through the World Series and Super Bowl.
2005: Pittsburgh 21 Seattle 10
This one was very close to a barnburner, but four very tough calls went against the Seahawks. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this, thinking Seattle was robbed. But the calls were close, not bad. On a personal note, I watched this game in an Irish club in Pittsburgh with old-timers who knew the Rooney kids back from their days in the neighborhood and drove back to my apartment amid throngs of cheering fans.
2006: Indianapolis 29 Chicago 17
The game was played in a monsoon in Miami, and the Bears ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. But Indy gradually got control and got Peyton and Tony Dungy over the top for a ring.
1971: Dallas 24 Miami 3
Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley became the first defensive player to be named game MVP, and the Cowboys rebounded from a tough loss in this game the previous year. The game still marked the return of Don Shula to prominence after being run out of Baltimore for the upset loss in 1968.
1973: Miami 24 Minnesota 7
This one was nowhere near as close as even the decisive final score makes it sound. It was 24-0 late in the game before the Vikings got on the board. And can you imagine a Super Bowl being played in Rice Stadium? This one was.
1976: Oakland 32 Minnesota 14
Bud Grant continued to have his problems in the big game, while John Madden finally got his first ring. And after their five turnovers against the Saints on Sunday, it's still Minnesota's last trip to the Super Bowl.
1977: Dallas 27 Denver 10
The Broncos made their first Super Bowl, but the Dallas defense was too much. D-Lineman Randy White & Harvey Martin were game MVPs. On a personal note, it's the first Super Bowl I remember watching start to finish.
1980: Oakland 27 Philadelphia 10
Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett completed his rise from the NFL scrap heap. It was the Eagles' first appearance in the Super Bowl, with current Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski at quarterback.
1984: San Francisco 38 Miami 16
It was the showdown of quarterbacks, Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino. But the second-year Marino was under pressure and ineffective from the start. To everyone's surprise, he never made it back to the biggest stage.
1985: Chicago 46 New England 10
The Bears lived up to their midseason rap video, "The Super Bowl Shuffle." With flamboyant quarterback Jim McMahon, classy running back Walter Payton and mouthy defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the Bears just overwhelmed everyone all year long and finished the job in New Orleans.
1986: NY Giants 39 Denver 20
John Elway and the Broncos were playing well early and led 10-9 at halftime. But Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells' Giants dominated the second half. It was one of five straight Super Bowl routs, with the above three games bracketed by 'Skins games in 1983 & 1987.
1989: San Francisco 55 Denver 10
The score tells it all on this one. It was the second straight crown for the 49ers, their fourth in the 1980s and the first under rookie head coach George Seifert.
1992: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
Dallas spotted the Bills a 7-0 lead after a blocked punt and then took the game over. Although this one's more remembered for Cowboy lineman Leon Lett prematurely celebrating a fumble return for a touchdown and being stripped of the ball by husting Bill receiver Don Beebe.
1994: San Francisco 49 San Diego 26
Steve Young hit Jerry Rice on a post pattern on the first possession and it was all Niners all the way, as Young showed he could lead a team to the ultimate win.
2000: Baltimore 34 NY Giants 7
In the sixth year that Baltimore had football back, the most dominating defense since the 1985 Bears or 1986 Giants, led the Ravens to a title. After a 5-4 start to the season, they didn't lose the rest of the way.
2002: Tampa Bay 48 Oakland 21
The Buccaneers were another team with an aggressive defense and they intercepted Rich Gannon five times.
During the 1980s and part of the 1990s it seemed as though every game was a blowout. But not since '02 have we had an honest-to-goodness rout in the season's final game. The Middle Class games will be up next.