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As Good as It Gets

As Good as It Gets

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Published by Dean Hartwell
Collection of Stories about Professional Sports by Dean T. Hartwell
Collection of Stories about Professional Sports by Dean T. Hartwell

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Published by: Dean Hartwell on Sep 04, 2013
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As Good as It Gets: A Collection of Stories about Professional Sports

Dean T. Hartwell
Copyright 2013

TABLE OF CONTENTS
October 21, 1975: Game Six….2 January 4, 1976: The Greatest Football Game Ever Played…5 January 18, 1976: Why the Steelers Were Super…17 October 7, 1977: Dodgers Refused to Be Counted Out… 21 October 11, 1977: Baseball Worth Watching…23 October 18, 1977: A Poke in Their Eyes…25 January 1, 1978: Tragedy of Error and How We Can Learn from It…27 October 13, 1978: What Could Have Been…30 October 14, 1978: The Reggie Jackson Hip Play…32 January 20, 1980: The Best Super Bowl…35 January 20, 1991: Why the Bills Could Not Win the Super Bowl…37
Cover picture of Bernie Carbo (facing camera) greeted at home plate (ESPN)

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October 21, 1975 – “Game Six”

The game of baseball reached its peak on October 21, 1975 when the Cincinnati Reds played the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. Both teams challenged each other until exhaustion. No one caved in, quit or wilted under the pressure and when it was over the spectators probably cared less about who won than how well they played. The game starts with Luis Tiant, a man who came from Cuba to the United States before Castro but who could not return. He waited fourteen years, until the first game of the series in which he pitched a shutout, to see his parents (they came to Boston on a special visa). He pitches from a corkscrew wind up and challenges the “Big Red Machine.” He gets them out without allowing a run for four innings even though the Reds do not have an easy out. Pete Rose, to be known later as the all-time leader in base hits, pecks away at Tiant’s pitches. He faces Ken Griffey (Senior), Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, all of them stars and all of them headed for the Hall of Fame except for Griffey, who came pretty close to making it. While the Reds were having trouble with Tiant, the Red Sox gain the upper hand in the bottom of the first when Fred Lynn, the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player, drives a Gary Nolan pitch down over the wall in right field with two on. Red Sox 3, Reds 0. The Reds get untracked in the fifth inning. With two Reds on base, Griffey drives the ball to dead center. Lynn goes back and makes a leap…but just barely misses it. The ball bounces back toward the field and the runners round the bases. But forget about the score for a minute. Lynn does not get up. He would say later that he could not feel his legs and could not move. 1 Lynn would get injured a number of times attempting (and frequently making) spectacular catches. It probably curtailed his career. But no one who refuses to take risks can stake claim to be the best. Griffey winds up on third with a triple. He comes home when Bench gets a hit. Reds 3, Red Sox 3. Then the “lower” part of the Machine put the Reds ahead. In the seventh, George Foster drives home two runs with a double and Geronimo tags Tiant for a home run in the eighth. Bye, Tiant.
1

http://mlbnetwork-origin.mlb.com/network/games_airdates/

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The home town crowd roars, to pay tribute for Tiant’s World Series performance. The Red Sox go to bat in the bottom of the eighth six outs away from elimination. Lynn smashes a hit off the Reds’ pitcher, Pedro Borbon. Rico Petrocelli gets a walk. But then new Red pitcher Rawly Eastwick comes in to get two outs. Up comes Bernie Carbo. The great thing about the World Series is that not-so-well-known players have the chance to become part of folklore. This was Carbo’s chance. Eastwick looked like he had him down for the count. Carbo barely made contact with the ball. Then he swung the bat well. “Deep center field…way back…way back…we’re tied up,” yells announcer Joe Gariagiola. This is Carbo’s claim to fame. His fifteen minutes. But the game is not over yet. In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox load the bases with no one out. Lynn hits the ball down the foul line in left. Left fielder Foster makes the catch. Nine times out of ten, the outfielder fails to make a good throw, or the catcher drops it. Nine times out of ten, the base runner hears the third base coach telling him “Don’t go!” He goes. The throw arrives to Bench on a hop. Doyle tries to maneuver around the tag. But Bench catches the ball and tags Doyle. The Red Sox can’t score in the ninth. The game goes to extra innings. In the top of the eleventh inning, with Griffey on first, Joe Morgan slams a ball that looks sure to go over the short wall in right field. But Dwight Evans gets his fifteen minutes by leaping high to catch the ball. And then throwing to first to double up Griffey. Evans claims to this day that he has no idea how he caught the ball.2 Baseball games rarely end in ties and World Series Games really can’t. The series had been delayed three days due to rain and November was getting close. The only question left was who would be the hero. In the bottom of the twelfth, leadoff hitter Carlton Fisk took one pitch. Then he hit a ball directly down the left field line. All the questions of life can be stated so succinctly: yes or no, in or out, fair or foul. Fisk pleads with the ball to stay fair. The Reds are saying otherwise.
2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8XeTNH9P3A

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The ball smashes into the pole. Thirty-eight years later and it never has gotten any better than this.

Carlton Fisk (27) gets a hero’s welcome at home plate after his game winning home run – (Source: http://otr.blastmagazine.com/2011/10/31/no-27-love-it-or-leave-it/)

Watch a ten minute video of highlights from the 1975 World Series Games 6 and 7 here

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January 4, 1976 – “The Greatest Football Game Ever Played”

What was the greatest game in National Football history? It was a game with all of the reasons why we watch professional football. There are a lot of games in history that were exciting, or high scoring or great upsets but a really great game has the following: A game that is “win or go home” for both teams (i.e. the playoffs) A game between two bitter rivals A game decided on the final play One game clearly meets all three of these standards with flying colors:

The Game: January 4, 1976. The Oakland Raiders played the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was the second year in a row the two teams have played each other for the championship. The game time temperature of 20 degrees dipped to as low as 10 degrees. The 20 mile-perhour winds made things all the more miserable. But the most significant aspect of the weather conditions was the field itself. The groundskeepers had failed to put the tarp over the field properly the night before which left the field frozen solid in some areas.

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Start of the Game: The Steelers won the coin toss and elected to receive. After the kickoff, the Raiders stuffed the Steeler runs on the first two plays in the game. Then Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw tried the first pass of the game, to tight end Larry Brown, who caught it before getting pushed out of bounds by two Raiders a foot short of the first down. The Raiders got the ball after a Steeler punt and tried a run on their first play from scrimmage. Clarence Davis took the handoff from quarterback Ken Stabler, but stumbled on the snowy turf and did not get very far. The Raiders got a first down on a pass from Stabler to Mike Siani, but on the next set of downs, Clarence Davis again slipped on the turf and missed a third down pass from Stabler. It would not be the last time anyone would slip on the field that day. What Made This Game Unique? Turnovers The two teams combined for a total of thirteen turnovers! The winning team, the Steelers, turned the ball over a stunning eight times! How did the Steelers pull this game off with all of their fumbles and interceptions? The brilliant defensive play of Jack Lambert, linebacker, and Mel Blount, cornerback, explains a lot of the final score. Lambert, a perennial all-pro, recovered three Raider fumbles, all of which stopped Raider drives. Blount held Raider receiver Cliff Branch to only two catches the entire game and was the Steeler who brought Branch down on the game’s final play. Did the Raider turnovers prove more costly than their opponents? Some of the Raider turnovers stopped drives that would have ended in field goals or even touchdowns. But the Steelers let the Raiders back into the game late with a fumble by Franco Harris and another fumble by Reggie Harrison on an onside kick. How significant a factor was the weather in their turnovers? The players had trouble gripping the ball all day. Pete Banaszak dropped a ball after a catch even though no one touched him. The weather also caused a lot of dropped passes, especially by the Raiders, because the wind misdirected passes and receivers had trouble maintaining possession. Fantastic Finish The announcers and many of the fans started to write this game off when Pittsburgh took possession of the ball late in the game in Oakland territory with a nine point lead. Ninety-nine
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times out of one hundred, a game like this should have been settled at this point. But it wasn’t at all settled. How did the Raiders get back into the game? The game took on a new life when the Raiders’ Ted Hendricks recovered a fumble by star running back Franco Harris with 1:38 left to play. The Steelers had simply tried to run the clock out and another first down probably would have put the game away. The Steelers then went into a “prevent” defense and allowed the Raiders to catch passes over the middle. By doing so, they forced the Raiders to use all of their time outs to get to the Steeler 24-yard line. Raider coach John Madden then surprised the Steelers by going for a field goal on third down. Perhaps thinking Madden had a trick play in mind, the Steelers did not rush to attempt to block the kick by George Blanda, which split the uprights. What mistakes did the Steelers make that nearly cost them the win? The Steelers failed to send in eleven players to try to stop the onside kick on the following play. Though not a penalty, their use of ten players may have caused the kick to succeed. Reggie Garrett made the mistake of attempting to pick up the ball instead of falling on it. How close was the game? The Raiders had possession of the ball on the Steeler 15-yard line as time ran out. If Cliff Branch, who caught a long pass from Stabler, had managed to get out of bounds on time, the Raiders would have had one more chance from just fifteen yards out. Three Points in First Three Quarters After three quarters, the game looked like it would go down as a classic defensive struggle between the two teams. Only Pittsburgh scored on a second quarter field goal by Roy Gerela. Besides the weather, what caused the low score in the first three quarters? The defenses slugged it out well. The Raiders stopped Harris for three quarters and the Steelers stopped the Raider offense when they needed to. What players played exceptionally well? Besides Lambert and Blount, tight end Dave Casper played a great game, catching three consecutive passes in traffic to help set up a Stabler touchdown pass to receiver Mike Siani. Bradshaw completed sixty percent of his passes and his three interceptions did not prove costly. Many players underperformed. Poor play could best be attributed to the field conditions. The Key Plays of the Game First Quarter

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The Raiders outplayed the Steelers in the first quarter (more total yards, more first downs and fewer turnovers) but had nothing to show for it. They had two good chances. Late in the first quarter, Clarence Davis dropped a pass from Stabler that, had he caught it, he probably would have scored as no Steelers were near him. Not long afterwards, placekicker George Blanda missed a thirty-eight yard field goal (wide right) shortly after Jack Tatum picked off a Bradshaw pass for the second time. Second Quarter The first penalty of the game, against Steeler Glen Edwards for pass interference on Raider receiver Cliff Branch, was called in the second quarter. The Raiders had a drive going inside the Steeler 35, but Mike Wagner intercepted Stabler. Bradshaw then found receiver Lynn Swann for a long pass that went to the Raider 26. After the Raiders forced a fourth down, Gerela kicked a 36-yard field goal for the game’s first score. Davis dropped two more passes later on in the quarter in which he again would have made big gains. It must have been the weather bothering him. Just a year before, he had caught a pass in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins by wresting the ball from several defenders. The Raiders dominated the game in most statistics, but the Steelers led at the half time.

Third Quarter Oakland received the ball to start the second half. They tried to run the ball twice, but gained little. On third down Stabler was intercepted for the second time by Wagner, who returned the ball to the Raider 35.

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But the Raider defense tightened and stopped Harris on a third-and-two. Gerela came in to attempt a 44-yard field goal, but he hooked the ball to the left of the goal posts and the score remained 3-0 Steelers. Stabler found Bob Moore for a completion on the next drive, but it came with unforeseen consequences as Moore was injured and had to leave the game. Dave Casper went in to replace him. The Raider drive faltered and Guy punted for the fifth time. Finally Harris made some gains, including a 22-yard catch and run. The Steelers made it close to the Raider 20-yard line but on a third down play, Bradshaw misfired on a pass to Harris. On the next play, Ted Hendricks blocked a Gerela field goal attempt. The Raiders got nowhere on their drive and Guy had to punt again. Then began a series of turnovers the likes of which championship games rarely see. Mike Collier bobbled the punt and Jesse Phillips recovered on the Steeler 16. This was as far as the Raiders had gotten all game. On the second play after that, Pete Banaszak caught a Stabler pass and dropped the ball without having been hit by anyone. Jack Lambert made the recovery. Then the Steelers fumbled the ball back after Atkinson jarred the ball loose from Lynn Swann after a catch. Jack Tatum recovered for the Raiders. In yet another turnover, Clarence Davis fumbled the ball away soon after. Lambert again took the ball. The third quarter was a comedy of errors by both sides. But clearly the Steelers had awoken. Fourth Quarter With the help of outstanding blocks by Rocky Bleier and John Stallworth, Harris broke free and scored on a 25-yard run at the start of the quarter. Stallworth took out Jack Tatum and left Neal Colzie with the last chance to stop Harris. But the big running back went right through him. The Raiders finally moved decisively on offense. Stabler hit Casper with three consecutive passes before throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Siani. The six play drive, all passes, took less than two minutes off the clock. After a Steeler punt, the Raiders turned the ball over for their last time. Marv Hubbard took a handoff and fumbled the ball. Once again, Lambert recovered the ball. This set up perhaps the turning point of the game.

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On third down from the Raider 20, Bradshaw avoided a Raider rush and threw the ball toward the double-teamed John Stallworth. The defender in front, Colzie, was in position to make the interception. But he instead slipped on the ice, which allowed Stallworth to make the touchdown catch. The Steelers flubbed the extra point attempt when a bad snap landed the ball in Gerela’s hands. He tried to make a left-footed drop kick without any success. Still, the Steelers had what appeared to be an insurmountable nine point lead.

The teams traded the ball back and forth. Bleier fumbled the ball to the Raiders who could not make anything happen and had to punt again. Bradshaw’s dive for a first down proved successful, but he had to leave the game with a head injury. Backup Terry Hanratty came in and handed the ball off to Harris, who fumbled the ball to the Raiders with just over a minuteand-a-half to go. The Steelers’ prevent defense drained the clock and Raider time -outs and put the Raiders on the Steeler twenty-four yard line with 24 seconds left. It was then the game took on an unexpected direction. The final four plays of the game showed the determination of the Raiders and the panic of the Steelers. John Madden never showed any signs of concern but instead used strategy to get the most he possibly could out of the time available. Here is a play-by-play description with issues likely going through the coach’s mind:

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0:24 – 2nd Down, 2 Yards to Go from Steeler 24 Yard Line. The last play ended in-bounds and the Raiders used their third and final time out. The Raiders had to consider whether to pass and how long to pass for. A pass could be thrown into the end zone, but it risks an interception which would end the game. Of course, the Raiders could get lucky and get a pass interference call against the Steelers! That would give the Raiders the ball at the Steeler one-yard line. A short pass will more likely be caught, but with no time outs, the receiver will have to get out of bounds in a hurry. The same problem happens if the pass is thrown over the middle as opposed to a sideline. A run would have to go the distance because if the runner is downed before the end zone there will not be enough time to get the teams lined up for another play. Speaking of, there were not many plays left in the game. A pass to the end zone from 24 yards out could take about seven seconds. The Call: After a conference with Coach John Madden, Raider quarterback Ken Stabler throws to wide receiver Morris Bradshaw in the right, deep corner of the end zone. The Play: The Steelers break up the pass. It looks as though Bradshaw made contact with a kid on the field just after the ball went by. Whether or not the kid distracted him is unclear. Result: INCOMPLETE PASS 0:17 - 3rd Down, 2 Yards to Go from Steeler 24 Yard Line. The Raiders had to decide whether to continue to try for a touchdown or instead go for a field goal. Going for a touchdown involves the same considerations mentioned above. But the time on the clock now plays a crucial role. If the Raiders score a touchdown, very little time will be left to do an onside kick and recover it and get the ball in position for a game-winning field goal. Few coaches would have considered a field goal. It is probably normal to think about the touchdown first. The kick would be 41 yards, which happens to have been placekicker George Blanda’s longest successful kick during the regular season. The chances are not much more than even, if at all. Blanda missed a shorter kick earlier by kicking long enough but wide to the right. He would kick from the left hash mark again. It should be remembered that Blanda is a 26-year NFL veteran who has handled numerous pressure kicks successfully in his Hall-of-Fame career.

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How much time will be left if is successful? A successful field goal stops the clock as soon as the ball clears the posts. Given the distance here, it would take about five seconds. If the kick crosses the line of scrimmage (where the teams line up) and misses, the ball goes to the Steelers despite the fact that it is third down. If the kick is blocked or the snap is bad, the Raiders would maintain the ball by recovering it. The Call: Madden sends in Blanda to attempt a 41-yard field goal. The Play: Blanda’s kick splits the uprights. Result: FIELD GOAL Score: Steelers 16, Raiders 10 0:12 – Kickoff from the Raider 35. The Raiders must kick off to the Steelers, but how? Their most realistic option would be to kick an onside kick and recover the ball. But there are still questions of how to manage that: Which way to kick the onside kick? There is a lot of ice on both sides of the field near the sidelines. Maybe someone, preferably a Steeler, will slip or mishandle the ball. At which Steeler should the Raiders aim the ball? These are the Steelers’ best players at holding onto the ball. Looking at the Steeler line of players, is there any one player who might be especially vulnerable? Should the Raiders try instead to kick the ball directly to a Raider player? If they choose this option, the ball must travel ten yards before a Raider could legally touch it. If a Steeler player touches the ball first, it does not matter how far the ball goes. What players do the Raiders put on the line to try to recover the kick? This team of players has already been identified by Madden before the game, but has any member of the “onside” team become injured during this game and need replacement? Because the Steelers know the onside is coming, the chances are low (less than one in four, according to studies) but there simply is no viable alternative. A long kickoff would only work if the Steeler player fumbled the ball and a Raider player could get down there fast enough to make a recovery. A major problem is that a long kick, or even a squib kick that bounces several times and goes about half the distance to the goal line, would give the Steelers time to react and to simply fall on the ball. Announcer Curt Gowdy said during the telecast that the Steelers only had ten players on the field at the time of the kick, which could have given the Raiders a slight advantage. The Call: Raider kickoff specialist Ray Guy kicks onside to the left at the Steelers.

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The Play: The ball skids across the icy field in the direction of Reggie Garrett. Garrett should have simply fallen on it. He instead reaches out with his hands. The ball glances off his hands and banks off his leg toward Raider Dave Casper. Th e “Ghost,” as he was known, falls on the ball at the Raider 44 yard line. Result: RAIDERS KEEP POSSESSION OF THE BALL

0:07 – 1st Down, 10 Yards to Go from Raider 44 yard line. How many plays are left? A play that takes less than seven seconds is unlikely to gain much yardage. Even if it stops the clock by going out of bounds or falling incomplete, the Raiders would have virtually the same circumstances again. To whom should the ball be thrown? There are typically five eligible receivers on a play. The possible receivers for this play include Cliff Branch, Ted Kwalick, Morris Bradshaw, Dave Casper, Clarence Davis and Pete Banaszak. The most sure-handed Raider receiver of this game, Casper, could be used. The speediest player for the Raiders is Branch, but he has been held to only one catch all game because of the excellent defensive play of Steeler Mel Blount. Do the running backs block? The Steeler defense must be anticipated. If the Steelers put on a heavy rush, this is a must. If they don’t, a running back (preferably Davis, who is fast) can swing out and catch a pass as a backup plan if the main receiver is covered. It should be recalled, though, that Davis has dropped at least three passes this game.
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How deep should a pass go? Going into the end zone risks maximum Steeler coverage but if the pass is caught, the Raiders score a touchdown. Of course, the rule on defensive pass interference noted above applies and even if time runs out, the Raiders would get a final play from the one yard line. Where on field should the pass go? The ice is hard to avoid, especially near the sidelines. Players on both teams have had trouble with slipping on offense and defense all day. If the pass does not go to the end zone, could the receiver lateral the ball to a second player who could then run for the goal line? This is sometimes called the “hook and lateral play” and could catch the Steelers by surprise. Would a trick play work here, or perhaps a play totally unexpected, like a draw play to Davis? He would have to get good blocks and avoid the Steelers for 56 yards. The Call: Stabler throws a pass intended for wide receiver Cliff Branch at the Steeler 15 yard line near the left sideline. The Play: Branch catches the ball but Blount tackles Branch in-bounds as time runs out. Result: GAME OVER Final Score: Steelers 16, Raiders 10

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Comments: Al Davis remembers a play Jack Lambert made in the '75 season's AFC championship game against the Raiders. "There were seven seconds left and we were down 16-10," he says. "We hit Cliff Branch deep down the sideline and he was going to lateral to Ted Kwalick, our tight end. Lambert read it and positioned himself on Kwalick to take the lateral away, and Mel Blount tackled Branch on the 15-yard line. It was a great play by Lambert, a great read, and it never showed up in the stats."3 Note: the picture above shows Kwalick (#89) near Branch (#21) at the end of the play Questions I have for John Madden: Were there any other plays you considered for the last one? When did you consider going for the field goal before the touchdown? What was Stabler’s input? How confident were you that Blanda could make the 41-yard field goal attempt? Did it concern you that Blount had held Branch to only one catch all game (before the last play)? Did you consider kicking the field goal the play before you actually did? How often did the Raiders practice the onside kick? Did the ice on the field influence any play calls? Did Stabler have the ability to throw into the end zone 54 yards away? Did you consider putting in Blanda to throw it into the end zone?

Acknowledgements: Pictures courtesy of http://jwparrott11.com/Classic%20Games%20%20football/1975%20AFC%20title%20Raiders%20at%20Steelers.htm

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http://bbs.hoopchina.com/simple/259871.html

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January 18, 1976 – “Why the Steelers Were Super”

Roger Staubach’s interception on the final play of Super Bowl X was not a strategy. Staubach, his coach Tom Landry and his teammates had little, if any, time to decide what play to choose. And there wasn’t much of a choice, anyway. The team had to move the ball thirty-nine yards in three seconds. The “Hail Mary” pass, which had worked so well weeks earlier in the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings, failed here not because the Cowboys chose to throw deep, but because the Steelers knew it was coming and effectively handled the play as would be expected. On the other hand, Staubach’s decision about time management upon getting the ball back from the Steelers late in the game and down by 4 points WAS a strategy. The Cowboys had time to decide how to manage the clock (1 minute, 22 seconds), the yardage (61 yards) and time outs (none) to get the necessary points to win the game. On first-and-ten, Staubach could not find a receiver and ran with the ball. He had a chance to go to the sidelines to stop the clock but instead ran further upfield.

Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach lines up against the Steelers in Super Bowl X. (Source: http://steelersonly.com/super_bowl_X.htm) He got ten yards on the play but gave up precious time and probably the game in the process.
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Here is a chart of the game's final plays, all offensive plays by the Cowboys. Note the field at the far right hand side, the Yards Needed/Second. As the series of plays starts, this number is a little more than .74. In short, the Cowboys needed to make an average of three yards per four seconds to win the game. PLAY YDS SEC 61 QB run Pass RB Long P Long P 10 10 0 0 30 30 9 10 Y/S .74 0.33 0.33 0 0 STOGO 82 52 22 13 3 YTOGO 61 51 41 41 41 YND/SEC 0.74 0.98 1.86 3.15 13.66

Long P interception After each play, the Yards Needed/Second statistic moved UP, a showing that the plays were not effective in achieving the goal. By the time Staubach began to throw his "hail Mary" pass, the Cowboys needed to make over thirteen yards per second. The statistics show that the Cowboy play strategy was a disaster. Here is a different strategy, based on frequent stoppage of the clock: PLAY YDS 82 QB run Pass pass pass pass QB run 5 0 15 31 0 5 SEC 61 10 6 15 30 1 10 Y/S 0.74 .5 7 1 1 0 .5 STOGO 82 72 72 52 22 21 11 YTOGO 61 56 56 41 10 10 5 YND/SEC 2 0.777778 0.835821 inc 0.788462 got 1st d 0.454545 got 1st d 0.47619 spiked ball 0.454545 out of bounds

As this hypothetical series of play stands, the Cowboys have the ball on the Steeler 5 yard line with 11 seconds left. At this point, the Cowboys have an outstanding chance of scoring the game winning touchdown. Because of the new strategy, they have more options here, a run by Staubach, a pass to one of five eligible receivers, even a draw play, all of which outnumber the lone choice of a Hail Mary Pass. Of course, the circumstances which led to the final series of play and the strategy on how to attempt to score were set in place earlier. If we look at this game backward, we can best
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determine earlier strategies that might have averted the situation the Cowboys found themselves in. Below I have re-printed the last four series, two by each team. This will enable us to look backward to the point where Dallas strategy cost them the game. PITTSBURGH: 4:25 1-10 P30 F.Harris 4 rush up middle (J.Pugh). 2-6 P34 F.Harris 2 rush off right tackle (E.Jones, C.Harris). 3-4 P36 T.Bradshaw 64 pass to L.Swann deep middle (catch at D5), touchdown (11:58). R.Gerela's extra point attempt hit the left upright, no good. PITTSBURGH 21, DALLAS 10 R.Gerela kicked into end zone, touchback. DALLAS: 3:02 1-10 D20 R.Staubach 7 pass to C.Young middle (A.Russell). 2-3 D27 R.Staubach 30 pass to D.Pearson deep right (J.T.Thomas). 1-10 P43 R.Staubach 11 pass to P.Pearson left (A.Russell). 1-10 P32 R.Staubach sacked, loss of 2 (D.White). TIMEOUT: Two-Minute Warning. 2-12 P34 R.Staubach 34 pass to P.Howard left end zone, touchdown (13:12). T.Fritsch kicked extra point. PITTSBURGH 21, DALLAS 17 T.Fritsch onside kicked to D42, recovered by G.Mullins, no return. PITTSBURGH: 1:48 1-10 D42 F.Harris rush left, loss of 2. TIMEOUT: Dallas (1st). 2-12 D44 F.Harris 2 rush left. TIMEOUT: Dallas (1:33-2nd). 3-10 D42 R.Bleier 1 rush left. TIMEOUT: Dallas (1:28-3rd). 4-9 D41 R.Bleier 2 rush right tackle (E.Jones).
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DALLAS: 1:22 1-10 D39 R.Staubach 11 keeper left. 1-10 50 R.Staubach 12 pass to P.Pearson (M.Kellum). 1-10 P38 R.Staubach recovered own fumble, pass to D.Pearson overthrown. 2-10 P38 R.Staubach pass to P.Howard right end zone broken up (J.Lambert). 3-10 P38 R.Staubach pass to D.Pearson deep intercepted two yards into end zone, G.Edwards 35 return to P33. Right before Dallas took over on its own 39 yard line with 1:22 remaining in the game, Pittsburgh had run the ball on a 4th down and 9 from the Dallas 41 yard line. To this day, some question the call that Steeler head coach Chuck Noll made because it almost ensured that Dallas would get the ball in good field position. In fact, Rocky Bleier took a handoff for two yards, well short of the first down. Why didn’t Noll order a punt? A smart coach who would end up winning what is still a record four Super Bowls, he undoubtedly considered the option of punting. But earlier in the game, his punter Bob Walden dropped a snap from center, which led to a Dallas touchdown and 7-0 lead. If Walden again dropped the ball, or the Cowboys blocked the punt or made a good return, Dallas would have an excellent opportunity to win the game. Instead Bleier held on to the ball and the Steelers gave the ball to the Cowboys on the Cowboy 39 yard line. Noll estimated correctly that Staubach and Company could not make the winning score. A better question has to do with strategy before the Steeler set of downs. With 1:48 to go in the game, Staubach threw deep to Percy Howard in the Steeler end zone for a touchdown. The extra point made the game Steelers 21, Cowboys 17. Dallas had all three of its time outs left. So, provided that they could hold the Steelers without a first down, they could use the time outs and get the ball back with plenty of time to go. And, given that Steeler starting quarterback Terry Bradshaw had left the game (for good) due to an injury moments earlier, the Steelers chances of making a first down seemed fairly slim. In fact, backup quarterback Terry Hanratty, sent into the game as a replacement, had not thrown a single pass all season! The Cowboys should have known that Hanratty would turn around and hand the ball off to either Franco Harris or Bleier. They could have counted on getting the ball back. The real strategy decision, then, should have been one that ensured good field position. Instead of an onside kick, which works at best about one time in four when the other team (as in this
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case) expects it, Dallas should have kicked off deep. A touchback, followed by three carries for one yard, would have put the Steelers on their own 21 with a 4th and 9. Then the Steelers would have to punt. This is the essence of strategy: make the other side do something they do not wish to do! Walden punted four times on the day. The first three punts went for 32, 34 and 34 yards and each time the Cowboys took a fair catch. Walden boomed the fourth punt for 59 yards after which Cowboy Golden Richards returned it five yards. Now the odds are three in four in FAVOR of the Cowboys and even better if there were a problem with the snap or a blocked kick. A 34 yard Walden punt with a fair catch would put the ball on the Dallas 45, which happens to be the same place Dallas would get the ball with a successful onside kick! In short, the only difference between what the Cowboys tried to accomplish with poor strategy and what they could have accomplished with better strategy was twenty-six seconds, time that they would not need, anyway.

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October 7, 1977 – “Dodgers Refuse to Be Counted Out”

The Los Angeles Dodgers were down to their last out On the road In Philadelphia The best of five series was tied one game each

The Phillies led 5-3 Relief ace Gene Garber was pitching The Dodgers sent Vic Davalillo to pinch hit As Garber threw the ball, Davalillo prepared to catch it with his bat The ball bounced between first and second base By the time a surprised Ted Sizemore got to it, Davalillo was already at first

Manny Mota went to bat as a pinch hitter Garber had two strikes on him Then Mota golfed a low pitch deep to left Greg Luzinski went back and got a glove on the ball But could not catch it Then his throw to Sizemore went astray By the time the play ended, Davalillo had scored and Mota was on third

Davey Lopes slammed a chopper to third base The ball bounced off Schmidt’s glove to shortstop Larry Bowa

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Who in one motion caught the ball and whirled it to first The umpire calls Lopes safe Tie game!

Some Phillies fans are still upset about this call and call this game “Black Friday” But after watching the game on DVD, I am not convinced it was a bad call. Earlier in the game there were worse calls than this one against both teams. Anyway, the game went on. Garber tried to pick Lopes off, but he threw it away and Lopes got to second. Bill Russell then lined a single up the middle to bring home Lopes.

The Dodgers got the Phillies out without any runs in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5. The Dodgers beat the Phillies again the next day and went on to the World Series.

A collage of Los Angeles Dodgers who starred in the 1977 playoffs (Source: Union 76)
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October 11, 1977 – “Baseball Worth Watching”

As an avid fan of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball in the 1970s, I enjoyed watching a DVD of the first game of the 1977 World Series. The Dodgers took on the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The game resembled a boxing match between two evenly matched fighters. The Dodgers punched, then the Yankees punched back. They traded blows until they wore each other out. There’s no tying in baseball. Or at least not that often. The Yankees finally prevail in the bottom of the twelfth. But it was not the end of the game that makes this contest memorable. In the top of the first, Bill Russell hits a triple to deep left-center to drive in a run and comes home on a fly ball hit by Ron Cey. In the Yankee half, Chris Chambliss singles home a run. Then the game turns into a pitcher’s duel between Don Gullett of the Yankees and Don Sutton of the Dodgers. Gullett was starting the first game of the World Series for the third year in a row! Neither he nor Sutton seems perturbed by the early runs. With two outs in the top of the sixth, Steve Garvey takes off from first as Glenn Burke hits a ground ball between first and second base. The ball trickles so slowly to the outfield that when center fielder Mickey Rivers picks up the ball, he realizes the play will be not at third base, but home plate! He throws to Thurman Munson, who catches it and reaches to tag Garvey. OUT! Garvey jumps up and protests the call. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda joins the argument. Replays appear to show Garvey’s foot touching the plate before Munson’s tag. The picture below shows the play at the plate. But the call, right or wrong, prevails. Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph opens the bottom of the sixth with a home run down the left field line to tie the score at two. In the eighth, Randolph walks and scored on a double by Munson. This gives the Dodgers one last inning to produce at least a run to keep the game going. Dusty Baker leads off with a single. Then came the kind of play that makes the game unpredictable and worth watching. Pinch hitter Manny Mota fakes a bunt and then swings and misses at the pitch from Gullett. Baker, apparently on a hit and run, is on his way to second when he finds himself staring at a

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Yankee with the ball in front of him. Baker doubles back as the ball is thrown to first baseman Chambliss. Ordinarily, the first baseman then tags the runner out. But Baker dives away from Chambliss AND the base! A confused Chambliss hesitates for a split second while Baker lunges again, this time for the base. SAFE! Baker’s play helped the Dodgers to tie the game. After Mota flew out, Steve Yeager walks. Then pinch hitter Lee Lacy singles to left to bring Baker home. Watching this game again reminds me how much this rivalry and the three World Series that these two teams played in during my youth helped me to appreciate baseball.

Steve Garvey slides into home as Thurman Munson (15) tags him (Source: Sporting News)

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October 18, 1977 – “A Poke in Their Eyes”

I ran across a video of the sixth game of the 1977 World Series. This game is better known as the game in which Reggie Jackson hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches to help the New York Yankees finish off the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 2. That the Dodgers were and are my favorite team probably accounts for why I have not seen this game in thirty-six years! But watching the last half-inning reminded me of how I felt watching the game live. Yankee Stadium was near pandemonium. The team and their fans had waited fifteen years to win the World Series and all they needed were three more outs. The Yankees led the game handily, by a score of 8-3. Five of those runs had come in by way of Jackson’s long drives into the stands. Some of those fans now sat on the outfield wall so as to be prepared to jump onto the field and celebrate upon the last out. Some of them threw things at Jackson, who went into the dugout to get a batting helmet! (Why the Yankees did not simply put another player in right field for this last inning is beyond me. They should have known Jackson would be mobbed later.) The YouTube reminded me of some of the details I had forgotten. Ron Cey starts off the inning and takes a called third strike. Steve Garvey then bounces it to Bucky Dent at shortstop and beats the throw to first base. Dent had fielded the ball, but slipped trying to plant his foot to make a throw. The official scorer sa ys “single.” Dusty Baker follows by driving a ball into left field for a hit that sends Garvey to second base. Rick Monday, my favorite player, attempts but fails to bunt the ball. Then he sends a long drive to right field. For a second it looks like a home run, but the ball comes down in Jackson’s glove near the wall. Garvey tags second and goes to third base while Baker remains at first. Two outs. Then the part I will never forget. The Dodgers send Vic Davalillo to pinch hit. Davalillo, at about five foot seven one of the shortest players in the game and at forty-one one of the oldest, stands at the plate. On the first pitch, he releases his bat at just the right moment and lays down a bunt that catches the Yankees by surprise. Graig Nettles, the brilliant third baseman for the Yankees, finally gets to the ball and throws it to a surprised Thurman Munson, the catcher, at home plate. For a moment, the Yankees look…ticked. After Jackson used a sledgehammer to knock out the Dodgers, Davalillo picks the Dodgers up and pokes the Yankees in the eyes! I couldn’t help but laugh again as I saw the bunt single!
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Those poor Yankee fans had their celebration delayed by about two minutes. The next batter, Lee Lacy, pops the ball up on a bunt of his own. The pitcher, Mike Torrez, catches the ball and the big celebration commences. The Yankees all hug each other, then they get out of the way of hundreds of fans who pour onto the field. Inning over. Game over. Series over. But the memories never end!

Yankee Reggie Jackson fights to get off the field after the Yankees won the 1977 World Series (Source: chud.com)

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January 1, 1978 – “The Tragedy of Error and How We Learn from It”

I still watch the Rob Lytle play over and over. The Raiders, in white, are on the left side across their own goal line. Then Bronco quarterback Craig Morton hands the ball off to #41, Lytle, who takes two quick steps before a chain of events takes place. 1. Raider Jack Tatum moves straight to Lytle and delivers a hit. (See photo above – Source: oregonlive.com) 2. Lytle moves backwards in response to the collision. 3. Whistles start to blow. 4. The Raiders signal they have the ball. 5. The referees call it back and then penalize the Raiders for arguing. I know what happens next. After the confusion and the arguments subside, the Broncos get the ball first and goal. Morton pitches the ball to running back John Keyworth, who scores a touchdown to give the Broncos a 14-3 lead in this 1977 AFC Championship Game. Instant replay, available to the television audience (but not allowed to the referees) showed a crucial detail: Immediately after the Tatum-Lytle collision, the football pops loose, hits a Bronco player and falls toward the ground, long before whistles are heard. The officials’ reaction to this play decided which of the two teams would go to the Super Bowl to face the Dallas Cowboys. At the time I was furious because I thought my team had been robbed. Since then I have learned something even more important about how this play (and other events in sports) symbolizes frustrations we face in life. Referees make mistakes, just like the rest of us do. In this case, the referees compounded their failure to observe the loose ball and their premature use of the whistle to call the play dead with a far worse error: they did not meet with one another to discuss the play. The officials could have huddled and asked one another if anyone saw the ball come free from Lytle. Someone should have seen it, given that several of them focused on a very short portion of the field and should have known a running play was coming. Instead, the head referee penalized the whole Raider defense for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” a meaningless penalty because the Broncos got all of one-half of a yard for it due to the National Football League rule of assessing a penalty close to the goal line as half the distance to the goal line.

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Later in the game, a representative for the referees sent a message to Dick Enberg to read. The referees wanted it to be known that they blew the whistle to call the play dead for Lytle’s “lack of forward progress.” Len Dawson, Enberg’s partner in the broadcast booth, commented that it must have been a quick whistle! Indeed, the message was disingenuous at best. Taken at face value, it means the referees, as Dawson suggested, called the play over right when Tatum hit Lytle. But to make such a quick judgment, the referees must have believed the play was over at that point. They would have to ignore the possibility, among other things, that Lytle did not have the ball! (Consider another possibility: Lytle bounces off Tatum, goes backwards with the ball and then runs in for a touchdown!) So, several years later, Art McNally, the head of NFL referees, acknowledged that the referees had made a mistake. Too late for the Raiders to make it to the Super Bowl, but not too late to illustrate that the imperfections of life can be used to motivate us. The game did not end after the Lytle play. The teams traded touchdowns and with the missed extra point by the Broncos, Denver led 20-10 in the fourth quarter. The Raiders battled for another touchdown to close the score to three points with under four minutes to play. But the Broncos held on to the ball the rest of the way to win the game 20-17. Neither team could control what the referees did. So they did the best they could with what they could control. The Raiders refused to give up and gave it their best. The Broncos kept possession of the ball by calling plays that kept the ball in bounds. The botched call notwithstanding, the teams played an even game and excited the audience. After the game, Raider coach John Madden congratulated his opponents. But he did not skirt the question about the fumble, either. “Hell yes, it was a fumble.” With so little we can control in life itself, the game shows us that all we can do is continue to play. Our relationships with others sometimes turn upon misunderstandings. Our status at work sometimes gets decided by politics rather than merit. Other situations do not develop based on our skills. We cannot judge ourselves based upon those results if we want to know who we really are. We should simply give it our best shot and hope the ball takes a good bounce.

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In the 1977 AFC Championship Game, the Denver Broncos (in red) and the Oakland Raiders fought it out in a close contest (Source: YouTube)

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October 13, 1978 – “What Could Have Been”

1978 World Series Game 3. The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the first two games over the New York Yankees. Top of the fifth inning. Yankees lead 2-1. Dodgers at bat. Two outs. Steve Yeager on second. Davey Lopes on first. Reggie Smith smashes a ground ball down the third base line. It looks like it is headed for the left field corner. Yeager should score and the speedy Lopes should as well… But wait. Third baseman Graig Nettles gets his glove on the ball to stop it. It is too late to get a force out or to get Smith at first so the bases are loaded for Steve Garvey. Garvey slams the ball down the third base line on a hop. Nettles manages to back hand the ball and then whirls to fire it to Brian Doyle to force Smith at second. By this point, the game could easily be 4-2 for the Dodgers. In fact, in reviewing the statistics of this game, it is hard to believe the Yankees would go on to win by a score of 5-1. Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry, who averaged a little more than two walks per nine innings that season, gave up seven in this one. He also gave up eight hits. In the next inning, the Dodgers got two more hits and a walk to load the bases with two outs. Lopes smashes the ball down the third base line. It could have been good for as many as three runs… But Nettles again makes a sensational play to stop the ball. Then he throws to Doyle for another force play to end the inning. With these three plays, Nettles saved as many as six runs. The game doesn’t always end up the way it should or the way it could. That is why we watch.

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Graig Nettles stars defensively in the 1978 World Series (Source: Bleacher Report)

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October 14, 1978 – “The Reggie Jackson Hip Play”

The Los Angeles Dodgers led the New York Yankees two games to one in the 1978 World Series. In game four at Yankee Stadium, Dodger outfielder Reggie Smith smashed a three run home run in the top half of the fifth inning to open the scoring. But the Yankees responded in the bottom of the sixth when Yankee outfielder Reggie Jackson singled home Roy White with a one-out single, which moved catcher Thurman Munson to second base. Lou Pinella then scorched a line drive at Dodger shortstop Bill Russell, who dropped the ball. Russell then picked up the ball, stepped on second base to force Jackson out and threw the ball toward teammate Steve Garvey at first base. The ball never arrived there. Jackson, WHO WAS ALREADY OUT, stayed put between first and second base. As the ball neared him, he stuck out his hip, which the struck the ball, causing the ball to carom into right field. Munson crossed home plate to make the score Dodgers 3, Yankees 2. Russell was charged with an error for this throw.

The ball hits Reggie Jackson (44) before first baseman Steve Garvey can catch it. (Source: YouTube) Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda went on to the field to argue with the umpires that Pinella should be called out for Jackson’s interference. The umpires disagreed. After Lasorda returned to the dugout, Dodger pitcher Tommy John retired the next batter, Graig Nettles, to end the inning.
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The unearned run came back to haunt the Dodgers. In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees scored another run to tie the game. When the score remained tied after nine innings, the game went into extra innings, where the Yankees won it in the bottom half of the tenth, 4-3. Having tied the Series, the Yankees went on to win games five and six to win it all. Dodger fans still complain about this call and believe it cost the Dodgers the World Series. Without question, the play cost the Dodgers game four (the World Series is a best-of-seven competition). So, as I have done with the Immaculate Reception, I will ask the necessary questions to arrive at the answer that best fits the facts. Were any rules broken on this play? To answer this question, we need to first know which of two rules applies to this situation. One rule 6.05(l) governs the outcome of a play where the fielder deliberately drops a line drive, while another rule 7.09(d) decides whether a base runner has interfered with a play. So, the first question is whether Bill Russell deliberately dropped the line drive. The rule 7.09(d) states that a “batter is out when…an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners should return to their original base or bases.” The question of intent is left up to the umpires. Much as in law, baseball rules generally understand intent to be a matter of purpose or knowledge. What would be the purpose of Russell deliberately dropping the ball? If anything, it made it harder to complete a double play. Had he caught the ball, he would only need step on second base to force out Munson, or, alternatively, throw the ball to first to double up Jackson. However, the umpires did not rule Pinella out and the play continued. It appears, then, that rule 6.05(l) does not apply. Had the umpires invoked the rule, Pinella would have been out and Jackson and Munson would have been sent back to first and second base, respectively with two outs. The wording of rule 7.09(d) reads: “It is interference by a batter or runner who has just been put out [Jackson] hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner [Pinella]. Such runner [Pinella] shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate [Jackson].” (Brackets added for clarification). There is no mention of the base runner (Jackson) having to act intentionally for this rule to be invoked. But the umpire in question, Frank Pulli, told reporters the following day that “after watching the replay, I’d have to say that Reggie Jackson did not intentionally interfere with the ball.” According to Dictionary.com, “hinder” means “to cause delay, interruption or difficulty in” and “impede” means “to retard in movement or progress by means of obstacles or hindrances.”
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From these facts and rules, it appears to me that the umpire misinterpreted rule 7.09(d). It does not matter whether Reggie Jackson acted intentionally to interfere with the ball. Of course, if Jackson had no opportunity to get out of the way of the ball, the umpires would have been wise to use discretion in deciding not to invoke the rule. But Jackson not only had a chance to get out of the way, he appears also to have stuck his hip out in the direction in which he knew or should have known the ball would be. I purchased a copy of a DVD of the fourth game of the 1978 World Series. As soon as I got it in my hands, I made some popcorn and put it into the DVD player and watched the Jackson base running play. And again and again from different angles available. I looked closely at the actions of Bill Russell. Lou Pinella hit a hard, sinking line drive that Russell gets a glove on. Russell does not appear to deliberately drop the ball. Also, it was in his interest to catch the ball because all he had to do to get a double play was to step on second base. He would have put out Munson, who had wandered off second base. As for Jackson, he had plenty of time to make his decision about what to do. He was a veteran of numerous professional baseball games. I played Little League and high school baseball for ten years and know from experience that base runners get used to the fact that plays happen quickly and learn to adjust the decision on where to run as the action develops. I didn’t quite catch the turn of Reggie’s hip on normal speed, although I sensed something was wrong. The slow motion replays leave no doubt that he moved into the ball, which was on a true line from Russell to Garvey. On any speed, there is no question that Jackson just stood there long after he knew that he was out. So I was puzzled when I watched a segment of this game in which Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda argues with the umpires as to the non-interference call. The audio allows us to hear not only Lasorda’s words (in which he pleads for interference on Jackson) but also the response of the umpires. The umpires, including Pulli, tell Lasorda that Jackson was “confused” as to what to do because Russell had dropped the ball. What did the confusion of a base runner have to do with anything? The point advanced by Lasorda is that Jackson had the opportunity to move out of the way and failed to do so. The DVD also makes it clear that the announcers, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek and Tom Seaver, agree that Jackson intentionally got in the way of the ball. There was no excuse for Jackson’s hip deflection. He had plenty of time to cal culate an illegal way to bring in a run for the Yankees. The Dodgers wuz robbed!

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January 20, 1980 – “The Best Super Bowl!”

The best Super Bowl I ever saw was played between the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 20, 1980. The Pittsburgh Steelers had won the Super Bowl three times. Their all-star cast included future Hall of Famers such as quarterback Terry Bradshaw, wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, running back Franco Harris, defensive end “Mean” Joe Greene and lineba cker Jack Lambert. The Los Angeles Rams were the first team to make it to the Super Bowl with fewer than ten regular season wins. They had lost their owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, in a drowning accident in early 1979 and his widow, Georgia Rosenbloom had won a power struggle with Carroll’s son Steven. The team’s starting quarterback, Pat Haden, broke his finger in the middle of the season and was replaced by Vince Ferragamo. Few gave the Rams much of a chance. I sat down to watch the game hoping they could keep it close. As predicted, the Steelers ran and passed their way to several scores. Bradshaw connected with Swann and Stallworth for touchdowns. Harris pounded away for yards and for two touchdowns. But what I will never forget was that the Rams, the underdog, matched the Steelers score for score. Running back Wendell Tyler took off with the ball in the first quarter for a 39 yard run. On third-and-goal a few plays later, Cullen Bryant plowed his way into the end zone. When the first half ended with the Rams ahead 13-10, I started to think they could actually win it. When Ferragamo responded to a subsequent Steeler touchdown with a 50 yard pass to receiver Billy Waddy, I realized both teams were fighting it out and the ending would not be predictable. The play of the game took place next. Ferragamo handed the ball off to Lawrence McCutcheon, who then shocked the Steelers by passing to Ron Smith for a touchdown. I can still see the Steeler defender inadvertently knocking Smith into the end zone. See the Ferragamo pass to Waddy and the McCutcheon touchdown pass here The see-saw nature of this game and the story line of the underdog against the heavy favorite made it the essence of football. Anything could have happened after this point and that is what makes watching games like this so exciting.

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In the end, it was the Steelers who pulled off the big plays when they needed them the most. Bradshaw hit Stallworth with a long touchdown pass to put the Steelers ahead 24-19. The Rams had a chance to go ahead when Ferragamo drove the team well into Steeler territory, but Lambert intercepted him to end the last serious Ram threat. So there was no big upset here. But that was one more reason to keep watching the game.

Vince Ferragamo (15) and the Rams line up near the Steeler goal line (Source: ESPN)

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January 20, 1991 - “Why the Buffalo Bills Could Not Win the Super Bowl”

While Super Bowl XXV between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills ended with a Scott Norwood kick “wide right” of the goal posts, the dénouement was foretold on the television screen moments earlier. ABC-TV ran a message about Norwood that read: “FG Attempts of 40+ yards on grass fields – 1 for 5.” Surely the Bills knew this fact. But the Bills’ strategy only got them to the 29 yard line for a 47-yard field goal attempt. They needed about ten more yards.

Bill placekicker Scott Norwood (11) and holder Frank Reich watch the kick sail wide right (Source: Image Slides)

Here are the plays the Bills ran during this final drive:
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BUFFALO: 2:16 1-10 B10 J.Kelly 8 scramble middle (P.Johnson). TIMEOUT: Two-minute Warning. 2-2 B18 J.Kelly 1 scramble middle (E.Howard). 3-1 B19 T.Thomas 22 yard shotgun draw middle, then left (E.Walls). 1-10 B41 J.Kelly 4 pass to A.Reed middle (C.Banks). 2-6 B45 J.Kelly 9 scramble middle (C.Banks). TIMEOUT: Buffalo-3rd (0:48). 1-10 NY46 J.Kelly 6 pass to K.McKeller right (shoestring catch)(R.Thompson). 2-4 NY40 T.Thomas 11 shotgun draw right (M.Collins). 1-10 NY29 J.Kelly spiked ball to stop clock (0:08). TIMEOUT: New York-3rd (0:08). 2-10 NY29 S.Norwood 47-yard FG wide right, no good.

They had two minutes and sixteen seconds, or 136 seconds, to go from their own 10 yard line to the Giant 20, a span of 70 yards. That works out to about a half yard per second, an easier feat than the one the Dallas Cowboys attempted in Super Bowl X. They also had one time out and the 2-minute warning available to stop the clock. The Giants also had one last time out available. The last set of plays show heavy use of the running game. Quarterback Jim Kelly faced a threeman Giant rush but could not find available receivers on three of the plays. Each time he ran the ball and the three runs totaled 18 yards and one first down. He gave the ball to Thurman Thomas twice for a total of 33 yards and two first downs. Kelly also completed two short passes. Looking at the plays backwards, Thomas’ 11 yard run to the Giant 29 was not enough. It wasn’t Thomas’ fault; he battled for the yards and had no opportunity to get out of bounds. The Bills simply needed better strategy to get the ball further. The play prior to the Thomas run was a pass from Kelly to McKeller that gained six yards and ended in-bounds. So the clock continued with the ball on the Giant 40. The teams lined up and

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were ready for the next play 19 seconds after the play had started. The play gained less than one-third of a yard per second, well behind the half-yard they needed. So, this pass was not especially efficient but the next play certainly was. The clock was at 29 seconds and counting down. Thomas took the ball at the 25 second mark and was tackled with 20 seconds to go. The Bills sure needed a time out here! Instead, they let the clock run until the teams lined up and then Kelly spiked the ball to stop the clock with 8 seconds left. They used their last time out right before the pass to McKeller. With one minute to go, Kelly took the snap, could not find an open receiver and ran with the ball for nine yards and a first down. Upon being tackled, Kelly signaled to a referee for a time out with 48 seconds left and the ball on the Giant 46. At this point, the Bills should have been willing to trade a down to save the clock. Had Kelly summoned his team to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball. This would have cost about twelve seconds but would have preserved a time out. But I am getting ahead of myself. Something was happening on the field that apparently no Bills coach or player noticed in time to make a difference. Giant pass rusher Eric Howard limped during most of the play and had actually walked toward the Giant sideline AND PULLED HIS HELMET OFF before Kelly asked for the time out! In fact, when the referees called time out, Giant coach Bill Parcells asked a referee near him which team was charged for it! Perhaps that was the difference between Parcells and Bills’ coach Marv Levy: Parcells was aware of the situation (and has two Super Bowl rings to his name) and Levy was unaware (and has no Super Bowl rings in four tries). The best strategy is to make the other team do something it does not want to do. There was no need for Kelly to call a time out because, as noted above, plenty of time remained for the Bills to gain more yards and the spike option was available. All the Bills had to do was get up to the line of scrimmage and (a) call the play and force the Giants to use 10 players or (b) watch the Giants stop the clock for the Bills. The Giants abhorred either choice, which is why Parcells appears so relieved when someone tells him the Bills were charged for their final time out. Without the awareness of Howard’s slow departure from the field, the Bills languished on. Their failure to get the game winning field goal was sealed. Had the time out been available, the Bills could tease the Giants into thinking they were willing to throw medium range passes over the middle, but now all the Giants had to do was stop a short pass and an eleven yard Thomas run in-bounds. Game over.
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PLAY

YDS 70

SEC 136 16 19 21 20 12 19 21

Y/S .5 .5 .05 1.05 .20 0.75 0.32 0.52

STOGO 136 120 101 80 60 48 29 8

YTOGO YND/SEC 70 62 61 39 35 26 20 9 0.51 0.52 0.60 0.49 0.58 0.54 0.69 1.13

QB run QB run RB run Pass WR QB run Pass TE RB run FG att Missed

8 1 22 4 9 6 11

I cannot fault their strategy in their first five plays. The runs succeeded and the pass did not do much to help, but the Bills could not run every play or the Giants would have adjusted their defense accordingly. With the time out available and with no pass rush, Kelly could have stood in the pocket as long as necessary to find Andre Reed down the middle at the 20 yard line. Or, if he saw no such opportunity, he could have thrown the ball away and tried again until he found an open man down the field. The odds of Kelly throwing for these yards was much higher than the one-in-five chance of Norwood making the field goal.

PLAY

YDS 70

SEC 136 16 19 21 20 12 26

Y/S STOGO YTOGO YND/SEC 0.50 0.50 0.05 1.05 0.20 0.75 1.00 136 120 101 80 60 48 22 70 62 61 39 35 26 0 0.51 0.52 0.60 0.49 0.58 0.54

QB run QB run RB run Pass WR QB run Pass WR

8 1 22 4 9 26

Dean T. Hartwell – As Good As It Gets 40

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