The Super Bowl's Five Dark Years - The Pro Football Notebook

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JackSquirek.jpgIn recent years the Super Bowl has been a game that has lived up to his hype--at least much as it can realistically be expected to do. The last three games have been barnburners, coming down to a late drive. Not since 2002, when Tampa Bay blasted Oakland, have we had an honest-to-goodness rout. But this wasn't always the case. For a good while in the 1980s and early 1990s the Super Bowl had a bad reputation for being not just a ho-hum game, but a blowout of ridiculous proportions. No period brings that together than the Five Dark Years, of 1983-87. Here's a look at back...

1983: Washington and the then-Los Angeles Raiders came in Tampa for a game that was supposed to be a true showdown. Both were the top seeds in their respective conferences and had established clear superiority throughout the year. While the Redskins had a hair-raising escape in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, their high-powered offense still commanded enormous respect with Joe Theismann at the helm. The game went awry from the get-go. The Raiders blocked a punt for an early touchdown. Late in the first half, with the score 14-3, came the first of two plays for which this game is remembered. Theismann threw a little screen out to his left, unaware of Raider linebacker Jack Squirek, who picked off the pass and had a walk-in touchdown. If there was any doubt this game sealed the deal, Marcus Allen eliminated out with an outstanding 74-yard touchdown run, in which he reversed track and completely covered the width of the field as well as the length. Allen was game MVP and the Raiders won 38-9.

1984: Joe Montana and Dan Marino were the two hot quarterbacks on 1984, the latter having thrown 48 touchdown passes, a record that would stand until Peyton Manning and Tom Brady each took turns breaking it. Both teams cakewalked through their conference playoffs to punch their ticket to Palo Alto. Here again, the game was never close. San Francisco proved they were a complete team, while Miami was mostly a one-man band, on the way to a 38-16 win.

1985: Last week, the Notebook took a look back at New England's Cinderella run to get here as the first team to win three road playoff games. In New Orleans, the Chicago Bears had no sense of a happy ending for Cinderella. The ferocious Bear defense was run by coordinator Buddy Ryan, the patriarch of the Ryan family of defensive gurus today led up by son Rex. The front four was dominant and the D's on-field leader was recently deposed 49er coach Mike Singletary. Chicago's Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton fumbled early, but New England did a quick three-and-out and kicked a field goal. Then it was Chicago's time. The game ended 46-10 and the Bears had their only Super Bowl title.

1986: Some big names were on this stage for the first time in Pasadena. It was Bill Parcells' first trip to the Super Bowl as he coached the New York Giants, with his quarterback Phil Simms, known to us today for his work on CBS. John Elway made his first trip with Denver. New York came into the game a solid favorite thanks to a defense that observers felt rivaled--it not exceeded--the '85 Bears. Outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, today in the news for less savory reasons, was the lynchpin. Denver played well early and actually led 10-9 at half. But a goal-line stand shortly before intermission swung momentum and New York took over after halftime. Simms was in a zone, hitting 20-of-22 passes and the Giants won 39-20.

1987: Denver was back and this time the opponent was the Washington Redskins. The venue was San Diego and the theme all week long was Elway & Co's determination not to settle for just being here this time. When the quarterback hit Ricky Nattiel on a quick strike for a score and then followed it up with a drive for a field goal, it looked like Denver was on their way. Then the second quarter came. In a stunning turn of events, the Redskins physically manhandled the Broncos in every way possible, ringing up 35 points, the most prolific quarter in Super Bowl history. Other records fell--Doug Williams for most passing yards, Timmy Smith for most rushing yards and Ricky Sanders for most receiving yards. The final was 42-10.

It took a while for the Super Bowl to completely break free of the blowout spell that seemed to have been cast upon it. After a great game in 1988 with San Francisco beating Cincinnati, the Niners turned around and hung a 55-10 beating on poor Denver in '89. Buffalo won four straight AFC titles from 1990-93, but could never get the biggest crown, with two of those four being blowouts. San Francisco overwhelmed San Diego in 1994. But since that point, only Baltimore's win over the Giants in 2000 and Tampa Bay's 2002 win over Oakland really qualify as a one-sided blowout. The NFL seems to have finally escaped The Five Dark Years. 

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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Jon Leuer.JPGThe next two nights promise to be good ones on ESPN's college basketball coverage. Here's a rundown of what's ahead...

Purdue-Wisconsin (Tuesday, 7 ET, ESPN): The Boilermakers backs are to the wall in the conference race right now, trailing Ohio State by two games and now having to go to the hostile Kohl Center. But Wisconsin may be a collapse waiting to happen. They're 4-3 in the league, but this will be the first time they play either of the league's top two teams and they've yet to win a game on the road. Both teams are well-coached and both have two great players that balance each other inside and out. Purdue was E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. Wisconsin has Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer. Both teams have had problems getting support for their key players. Wisconsin's Keaton Nankivil has started to step it up consistently, but on the flip side Purdue is more experienced and Johnson's shotblocking capabilities are a dimension Wisconsin can't match. Overall, perhaps my partisan Badger loyalties getting in the way, I lean UW to escape at home.

Syracuse-UConn (Wednesday, 7 ET, ESPN): If Wisconsin might be a collapse waiting to happen, Syracuse is one that's actually transpiring. Last week they were blown out at home by Seton Hall and lost on the road to Marquette. While UConn split two games, they're showing signs of getting other players to consistently help Kemba Walker out, both in the starting lineup and off the bench. Working in Syracuse's favor is that UConn's production has been guard-oriented, especially recently and the Orange forward tandem of Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson could have a big night. Even if they do, it's not happening in Storrs against an improving, well-coached team coming off a tough loss.

Duke-Maryland (9 ET, ESPN): Maybe it's because I live in ACC country right in the heart of this rivalry that I see this game as marquee. The typical fan probably sees it as a night for Duke to re-assert themselves after a rough go of it in the Garden on Sunday. IAnd they're probably right. Maryland's Jordan Williams is one of the best players in the country, but he's young and his supporting cast is too. Playing at home, I expect they give Duke a game for a while, but I'm looking to see the Blue Devils' inside people--Mason & Miles Plumlee along with Ryan Kelly--start to control the boards consistently and make Coach K's team more than just one of the latest guard-heavy outfits. Duke pulls away in the second half.

Those are the three that should move your TV dial. Others to keep an eye on Tuesday include North Carolina-Boston College in the ACC, as the Tar Heels try and get a key road win and keep pace with Duke in the league race. Penn State is suddenly knocking off everybody at home in the Big Ten and now goes to Illinois to try and get it done on the road. On Wednesday, Marquette goes to Villanova and San Diego State travels to face improving Colorado State.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

The Case For Curtis - 200 Miles From the Citi

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Martin_To_Hall.jpgAs much of a sports fan as I am, one of the hardest things for me to figure out is who should or should not be a Hall of Famer.

If it's not a clear-cut decision, I struggle categorizing players.

A guy like Derek Jeter?  He'll get his 3,000th hit this year and cement his Hall of Fame credentials.  That seems obvious to me.  Bert Blyleven?  Um, OK.  If that's what's been decided.

It all seems so arbitrary and subjective to me.

But with the NFL vote for the 2011 Hall of Fame class coming this weekend, I need to weigh in:

Curtis Martin is a Hall of Famer.

Super Bowl Media Hype - The Pro Football Notebook

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SSuperBowlMedia.jpguper Bowl Week kicks off today and the Notebook begins with a look at what major national media outlets are saying about this came.

Mike Freeman at CBS Sports has a good piece that places the potential achievements of Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger in proper historical perspective. A win on Sunday gives them their second title together and given the youth of both and the quality of their organization, they'll certainly be in the hunt for more. How will Tomlin and Big Ben stand up to other great coaching/QB duos, including the modern standard of Belichick & Brady? Freeman rolls through several other combos, including Bill Walsh/Joe Montana, Jimmy Johnson/Troy Aikman and Don Shula/Bob Griese. I'd like to take this moment and say the emphasis on QB/coach continuity makes the achievement of Washington Redskins' head coach Joe Gibbs even more amazing. Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks at the helm. Joe Theisman won for the 'Skins in 1982, Doug Williams in 1987 and Mark Rypien in 1991. And in '87, Williams was splitting time with Jay Schroeder most of the year, so it's really three titles with four different quarterbacks.

A similar theme is hit over Fox Sports by Adam Caplan, who notes that the common denominators of success are stability at head coach, stability at quarterback and drafting well. I have to say I was a little disappointed with this article. The teaser to click on it said we were going to find out what Green Bay and Pittsburgh had in common to get here. I guess it was true enough, but I thought we might get an examination of how both use 3-4 schemes and have superb playmakers at linebacker--something that makes them stand in contrast to New England, who runs a 3-4, plays a great system, but lacks really elite playmakers on defense. Perhaps we could have drawn a lesson that playoff football is different from regular season football. The latter emphasizes consistency, something New England excels at. Winning one-and-done games means you need players who can turn a game on a dime. Green Bay and Pittsburgh have a lot of those, including on the defensive side. That's my thought anyway. But in the end I'll never argue too much with a column that says teams aren't going to benefit from running head coaches in and out constantly. And I'll also take Caplan's emphasis on stability at quarterback to reiterate my call for Gibbs' acknowledgement as the greatest coach ever--yes, I'm a Redskins fan and maybe the frustration of having never seen the troops only win one playoff game without Gibbs (1999 vs. Detroit) is boiling over right now.

We'll conclude with's latest update on the main soap opera story of this year, which is Green Bay's refusal to let injured players join in the team photo, including men like linebacker Nick Barnett, who've been key to the team's success in the past. What quite frankly shocked me was that Aaron Rodgers came out and was a company man, implying that the players who chose to rehab somewhere else than Green Bay had essentially separated themselves from the team to such a degree that excluding them was justified. I didn't expect Rodgers to rip the hand that feeds him and took huge risks to get him on the field in 2008, but let's not act as though players rehabbing elsewhere is some incredibly unusual circumstance. For those who would defend Rodgers' statements, let me ask--if Brett Favre made a similar dissing remark about his injured teammates, what would you say?

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

Xavier Makes A Statement - The College Basketball Notebook

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TuHolloway.jpgThere were a lot of newsworthy games around the country this weekend, starting with St. John's rolling over Duke yesterday and several Top 25 teams falling by the wayside. But in the race for conference titles, no one made a bigger statement than the Xavier Musketeers in the Atlantic 10. They went into Richmond, where the Spiders were one game back and brought dynamic point guard Kevin Anderson to the house. Xavier hung an 85-62 whipping on the hosts, in spite of Richmond knocking down 10 three-point shots. The Musketeers were an astonishing 29-of-30 from the foul line, with Tu Holloway hitting all 17 of his free throws. Holloway hung 33 points on the board and asserted clearly just who the best player in the A-10 is. Jamel McLean cleaned up the glass with 12 rebounds, leading a decisive Xavier edge here. Anderson was held to 10 points and while his key mate Justin Harper scored 20, there was no real rebounding threat.

Xavier sent a message about who the best player is and they are probably the best team, but Duquesne made a statement of its own. The Dukes kept pace by beating Dayton 82-64 and going to 7-0 in the conference. Dayton turned the ball over twenty times and Duquesen had four starters score between 15-19 points. The Flyers are certainly one of this season's big disappointments as this game, along with a home loss to Richmond loss earlier in the week all but knock them out of the conference race and they are likely NIT bound this year. Who would have thought that one of the best conference races in the country this year would be Xavier and Duquesne in the Atlantic 10?


In the SEC, the woeful Western Division stepped up and reclaimed some self-respect on Saturday, as Arkansas beat Vanderbilt and Mississippi State beat Florida. The Hogs got 36 points from Rotnei Clark, while the Bulldogs got 24 from Dee Bost. The loss by Florida opened the door for Kentucky to pull even in the conference race with a clutch 66-60 win over Georgia. Most noteworthy was the way the Wildcats contained Georga power forward Trey Thompkins, holding him to nine points. Tennessee was one SEC East team that took care of business against the other division, rolling past Ole Miss. The Vols, Gators and Wildcats are all tied with two conference losses apiece, and Vanderbilt is one game back in the loss column.

And out in the Pac-10, Washington State delivered an 87-80 win over frontrunning Washington, already the second time the Huskies have lost in league play. The big problem was turnovers--they coughed it up 24 teams and the starting backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Scott Suggs was responsible for half of those. Cougar guard Klay Thompson had 25, kept his team in the conference race and put himself at the top tier of discussion for Player of the Year honors, along with Arizona forward Derrick Williams.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

Brett Who? is Very Possible - Baseline Shorks

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I had a wonderful 3 1/2 day weekend for my birthday last week, one that began Friday with playing poker until 2 am, getting some quality cajun wings plus buying a shot for a newly minted legal drinker cutie on Saturday night, and then wrapping two championship football games (with beers and cigars) around a terrific grilled steak and birthday cake at my brother's house Sunday before having the perfect 'to just chill' Monday off.

The point of all that is, as good as I felt, Aaron Rodgers must have been 1,000 miles higher on the Satisfaction Scale after putting Green Bay into the Super Bowl. That Rodgers came out slinging against the Bears shouldn't have surprised anyone after the tour de force he laid on Atlanta the week before, but the Packer defense pounding the Bears down to their third string QB (and a surprised yay! for what's-his-names effort) was great stuff. Rodgers ascendency to the ranks of supreme commander/legend is just about complete now, and Brett Who? is only a short step away from that. Not only haven't you heard almost zero about Favre since that slap on the wrist $50,000 fine for not cooperating (oh my!), but Rodgers tagged a semi-macho bloody (if pretty much inadvertent) shot to the mouth from the Bears Julius Peppers to the notion Green Bay management was right about not begging ol' Brett to stay around a couple years ago because they HAD to play a guy capable of getting 4,000 yards a season without throwing a bunch of crucial picks along the way.

The Mets Are A Financial Mess - 200 Miles From the Citi

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Sunday Paper (Year 3, Volume V)

There are probably a zillion articles I'd rather write for this Sunday Paper than one about the financial situation of the New York Mets.

The last thing I want to do is read about finances and lawsuits involving hundreds of millions of dollars when spring training is right around the corner.

But the situation in which the Mets find themselves is one where I have to do all that reading and draw those conclusions.

And the bottom line is this:  The Mets are really screwed.

PackerFans.jpgYesterday the Notebook looked at what a Steeler win would mean to the good people of Pittsburgh within the context of what their other teams are doing. Today we do the same for Green Bay. With the Packers being the only major pro sports franchise to play in such a small market, they're truly the state's team, so the "local market" is really the state market in this case.

MLB (Brewers): The Brewers have picked it up in recent years after a long stretch of uncompetitive baseball from 1992-2005. They began to move to around the .500 level in 2006-07, then picked up C.C. Sabathia for a four-month stint in 2008. Sabathia put on an epic performance down the stretch and put the franchise in the playoffs. After a couple seasons back at the .500 level, Milwaukee's made an offseason splash with the acquisition of Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Can he become the second-most loved right arm in this market behind Aaron Rodgers?

NBA (Bucks): It's been a long time since the Bucks were really good. In the late 1980s when I was a high school student in the western suburbs of Milwaukee, this team was in the almost-not-quite-good-enough category as they couldn't get past the Celtics. They made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 before losing in seven games. After more time in the wilderness they gave the Atlanta Hawks a spirited seven-game fight in last year's playoffs. But this year's been tough and if they make the playoffs it will only be because the East only has 4-5 teams really worthy of playing in late April.

College Football (Wisconsin): A great year for the Badgers, going 11-1, making the Rose Bowl and only coming up a play short against unbeaten TCU. It's been the latest of what has been some very successful college football played in Madison dating back to Barry Alvarez's arrival in the early 1990s. They've gone to four Rose Bowls over the past eighteen years and won three of them. If you're at Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State that gets you fired. At Wisconsin, a state without the huge reserves of high school talent those other states have, it's an amazing achievement. I'm biased, but I think Wisconsin's sustained success is one of the genuinely great stories in college football.

College Basketball (Wisconsin & Marquette): A lot of good college hoops is played in this state and we can add that UW-Milwaukee and UW-Green Bay, right in the Packers' backyard are consistent contenders at the midmajor level. The Badgers and Golden Eagles are consistent NCAA Tournament teams and each has made a Final Four relatively recently (Wisconsin in 2000, Marquette in 2003). It's not going to be mistaken for North Carolina-Duke, but the rivalry is good and both programs are competitive.

If Green Bay were just any other team we can say there shouldn't be any abnormal hunger for a championship--I say "abnormal" because even normal hunger is going to be high, given how hard it is for a team to reach this level. But in the state of Wisconsin, the Packers are still the Packers. In the state of Vince Lombardi and Curley Lambeau (and one day we will again freely put Brett Favre in that list), it's God, Country and the Green Bay Packers.

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

Kris Joseph head rub.jpgIt was a magical run. They won game after game. The wins kept racking up. There was the opening win off NCAA tournament darling Northern Iowa, winning the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, the brutal beatdown of Colgate, the crushing win over Michigan State, and beginning Big East play 5-0. This team was young and wasn't supposed to be anywhere near as good as last year's squad. And yet, they vaulted up to as high as No. 3 in the rankings.

And now? Now that magical run seems like more of an illusion. We look back and see that the Michigan State win doesn't mean nearly as much, we remember squeaking out wins over the likes of William & Mary and Iona, and that team that seemed to be able to do no wrong and was exceeding all expectations is now crashing and burning.

A loss at Pittsburgh without Kris Joseph? Alright. A loss at home to Villanova? Disappointing but games like that happen. An epic failure against Seton Hall at home followed by its first loss to Marquette in Big East play? If it isn't quite panic time, it's certainly not far away.

Kosar to Miami? - Dolphins Watch

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KOSAR.bmpA juicy rumor has made the rounds here in South Florida the last few days, as it was reported that former Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar met with the Dolphins to talk about an offensive assistant position.

Kosar, 47, has fallen on hard times recently, as he is in the midst of a divorce and has filed for bankruptcy.

But I remember him as one of the smartest QBs of his day, a man who had one of the lowest career interception percentages during his era. He was a backup in Miami for his final three seasons from 1994-96, and it was actually he who suggested the stop clock play to Dan Marino in that infamous game against the Jets.

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