The Pro Football Notebook

February 1, 2011 8:01 AM

The Super Bowl's Five Dark Years

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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