NFL Films: Bob Ryan- How The Dallas Cowboys Became Americas Team

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Source: NFL Films

Source: This piece was originally posted at The Daily Review

At risk of stating the obvious, in a country over 200 million people back in the 1970s and in a major sports league like the NFL with 26 franchises by the time the NFL expanded to Tampa and Seattle in 1976, it’s hard to accurately say there was one Americas team in the NFL. America is not Jamaica or Iceland, we’re a huge country with a huge population.

Granted, the Dallas Cowboys were probably the most popular team in the NFL in the 1970s and a lot of that I believe had to do with their Hollywood pop culture appeal. Where a lot of their players looked like professional celebrities and entertainers perhaps as much or more as they looked like professional football players. But as one guy in this video said a lot of the promotion that was about the Cowboys in putting together the Americas Team film that was about the Cowboys was based on lies.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the team of the 1970s in the NFL and I would argue the team of pro sports in that decade. They won 4-6 Super Bowls from 1974-79. Had never been done before and hasn’t been done since and perhaps never will be done again with all the parity in the league today. And if you just look at personal and the fact that the Oakland Raiders are also in the AFC along with the Steelers and had to play the Steelers three times in the AFC Championship just to get to the Super Bowl and lost 2-3 of those games, you could certainly argue that the Oakland Raiders were just as good as the Cowboys in the 1970s.

Sure, the Cowboys won 2 Super Bowls and the Raiders only 1. And the Cowboys won five conference championships and the Raiders only 1. But who was the other great NFC franchise in the 1970s? The Minnesota Vikings who lost three Super Bowls? The Los Angeles Rams who only won one conference championship? The Rams, Vikings, and Redskins, were pretty good in the 1970s. But the Cowboys were the only great NFC team in the decade. Which is one reason why they won 5 NFC Championship’s. The Steelers had the Raiders and Dolphins that they had to worry about every year and probably beat in the AFC Playoffs just to get to the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys on paper were probably just as good or about as good as the Pittsburgh Steelers and you could argue they had a better team in 1978 than the Steelers and should have won Super Bowl 13, which I believe is still the best Super Bowl ever. But they didn’t and to be the best, you have to beat the best and be your best when it counts the most. Like not dropping TD passes when you’re wide-open in the end zone. Being the most popular team and being Americas Team are two different things. Which is why Dallas Cowboys came up short in the 1970s.

NFL Films: Bob Ryan- How The Dallas Cowboys Became Americas Team

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David Newman: NFL Films: The Story of The 1982 St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

Source: David Newman: NFL Films: The Story of The 1982 St. Louis Cardinals

I remember the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals pretty well, because I started watching football in the early and mid 1980s and even though the Cardinals are from St. Louis, they played in the NFC East with the Redskins. So I got to see the Cardinals twice a year for about six seasons. And I always remember them playing the Redskins very tough even though the Redskins were always better. The Redskins won two Super Bowls and won three NFC championships and the Cardinals made one playoff appearance, but they had three winning seasons. They were a very talented group that would win 8-9 games and barely miss the except 1982 under head coach Jim Hanifan. And I guess that is why I’m interested in a team that only made one playoff appearance in the 1980s.

The 1980s Cardinals, probably should have won more. They had an All-Pro quarterback in Neil Lomax. Who if his career wasn’t cut short due to injury is probably in the Hall of Fame today. If you look at their backfield they had OJ Anderson, who perhaps should be in the Hall of Fame today. Definitely one of the best tailbacks of the 1980s. Who had great size and power at 6’2 225 pounds, but was also fast and could run away from you. Very similar to OJ Simpson, Jim Brown, or Eric Dickerson. And they had Stump Mitchell behind OJ. Who was a great runner and receiver, similar to Joe Washington. And Neil Lomax had receivers Roy Green, Mel Gray and later JT Smith and tight end Pat Tilley. And a good offensive line with Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, Louis Sharpe and Joe Bostic. This was a team that had a lot of talent on offense and had good players on defense. Like defensive Freddie Joe Nunn and linebacker EJ Junior.

The 1980s St. Louis Cardinals, were very good and contended a lot, but they had a habit of putting scares into good winning teams that won consistently, but not enough to actually win the game. They would upset a very good team and then lose to a bad team. They either gave up on Jim Hanifan too soon, or replaced him with the wrong head coach in Gene Stallings. I think pretender is the best way to describe the Cardinals of this era. Seemed like every season they looked like they were good enough to win and would get back to the NFC Playoffs and maybe even win the NFC East. But they wouldn’t close the door and would lose at the last-minute. Make a key mistake when they couldn’t afford it. But similar to the New Orleans Saints pre-Jim Mora they were a fun team to watch. But only better than the Saints.

HBO: Inside the NFL, Featuring the New Orleans Saints 12/10/87: Goodbye to The New Orleans Aints

Nick Buoniconti & Bobby Hebert
Nick Buoniconti & Bobby Hebert

Source: HBO: Inside the NFL, Featuring the New Orleans Saints 12/10/87: Goodbye to The New Orleans Aints

The New Orleans Saints finally not just make the playoffs in 1987, but had their first winning season as well. But several of those players that played for the 87 Saints were also there before Jim Mora got there. Like their great outside rush end Rickey Jackson, their great inside linebacker Sam Mills, their great halfback Rueben Mays, safety Dave Waymer, tight end Hobey Brenner and many others. The Saints under Bum Phillips and later Jim Finks and Jim Mora, drafted very well for the Saints for about five years in the 1980s. What Jim Mora brought to the Saints was teaching them how to win. He won championships in the USFL with the Baltimore Stars and that is the only reason why he went to the NFL which was to win. But he inherited a talented team and added to that.

If you look at the Saints of the early 1980s and then later in the late eighties and early nineties they were basically the same team on both sides of the ball as far as their philosophy, they were just better. But run they ran the ball real well and got big pass plays off of their running game and could put together long ball-control drives. And then on defense they could take away your running game and attack your quarterback with their 3-4 blitz pressure defense. Their 3-4 blitz defense was called the Dome Patrol. Where you had Rickey Jackson on one side and Pat Swilling on the other side. Both linebackers the essentially the size of smaller defensive ends with great speed. Where you would need an offensive tackle to block them. And then your three down lineman are there to eat up blocks and space to free up your linebackers to rush the quarterback and attack the runners.

As I mentioned in the piece about the 1983 Saints, Jim Finks and Jim Mora, didn’t inherit a bad 2-14 football team. The were 5-11 in 85 and 6-10 in 86, the first season under Mora. Mora, inherited good players on defense and offense and what he did with that was added to that and bring in more players on defense and offense. Like quarterback Bobby Hebert, who gave them a consistent passing game. And wide receiver Eric Martin, who gave them a very good possession receiver on the outside with good speed. And then they had Dalton Hilliard to go with Rueben Mays in the backfield. It took the Saints 21 seasons to become winners, but it didn’t happen overnight. They were building their good team for several years and finally put it all together in 1987.

NFL Films: 1987 Minnesota Vikings- Making a Move

Joey Browner & Anthony Carter
Joey Browner & Anthony Carter

Source: NFL Films: 1987 Minnesota Vikings- Making a Move

1987 was a big season for the Minnesota Vikings for several reasons. Their first playoff appearance since 1982 and they were stuck in mediocrity from 1983-86 with 7-9 and 8-8 records. Actually their 1987 8-7 record wasn’t much better, but they did finally get back to the NFC Playoffs. 1987 was also the Vikings first trip back to the NFC Championship since their last Super Bowl team which was 1976. The Vikings became winners again in 1987 and won a couple playoff games and one play away from getting back to the Super Bowl. The 87 Vikings, were good, but certainly not great. Perhaps could’ve won a few more games. But this is a team that got hot in the playoffs after struggling just to get there and came together at the right time.

If you look at the good Vikings teams from the 1970s on offense, they were very similar to the Vikings of the 1980s. A finesse possession passing pass first team that ran the ball off of their passing game and ran the ball by committee. But also threw the ball to several different receivers. Instead of having one or two great receivers they had several good receivers that they could throw the ball to. Anthony Carter, was a great big play receiver and you team him a Chris Carter, Jerry Rice, Art Monk, or another great possession go to receiver on the other side and he would’ve had a great career, because he never would have been double teamed. But he never had that great receiver on the other side that the quarterback could always go to. So the 87 Vikings instead spread the ball around to several different people. Like TE Steve Jordan and halfback Darin Nelson.

The 87 Vikings defense, again very similar to the Purple People Eaters of the 1970s. Not a big blitz team, because they didn’t have to. They could attack the quarterback with just their front four. With defensive end Chris Dolman, who should be in the Hall of Fame, defensive tackle Keith Millard, who was a Pro Bowler for them, defensive tackle Henry Thomas, who perhaps should be in the Hall of Fame as well. Defensive end Doug Martin, was a solid pass rusher for them. And when you can get to the quarterback with your defensive line, it allows for you to drop your linebackers and defensive backs back into coverage and knock passes down, break up big plays, attack receivers with big hits and pick off passes. Which the Vikings were good at with their coverage.

When you have an 8-7 team that barely makes the playoffs and you upset two teams on the road just to get to the conference championship, you by definition are not a great team. But a team that struggled through the season and then got hot in the playoffs. Which is what the 87 Minnesota Vikings were, but they had very good talent on both sides of the ball. That came together at the time and almost beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship. And then you look at where the Vikings were the previous four seasons before the 87 season where they would just miss the playoffs and finish 8-8, or 7-9, the Vikings did have a great year in 87, became winners again and very close to even getting back to the Super Bowl.

NFL Films: New Orleans Saints 1983 Highlights: A Little Bit More

New Orleans Saints

Source: NFL Films: New Orleans Saints 1983 Highlights: A Little Bit More

Jim Mora, gets a lot of credit for turning the New Orleans Saints into winners and a consistent playoff team for the first time in their franchise history in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And he and Jim Finks deserve a lot of credit for that, because of how the drafted and the teams that Coach Mora brought to New Orleans. That played great defense and ran the ball well with solid quarterbacking. But the Saints had been very close to becoming a very competitive team and even a playoff team and flirting with the playoffs in the late 1970s, in 78 and 79. And just missed the NFC Playoffs in 1983 under Bum Phillips. Bum, inherited a 1-15 team from 1980 and they just barely missed the playoffs in 1982 and 83. Fell back a little in 1984 finishing 7-9 and then Bum retires at the end of the 85 season.

It was not like Jim Finks and Jim Mora inherited an awful 2-14 team, or something that had almost no talent on either offense and defense. And most the talent that they did have were past their primes. Which is what Jimmy Johnson inherited with the 1989 Dallas Cowboys. Bum Phillips built the Houston Oilers into a consistent winning and playoff team that came within one game of the Super Bowl both in 78 and 79, by putting together strong tough defenses and a power running game with Earl Campbell, with a strong offensive line. Which is what he did in New Orleans by putting together the best pass defense in the NFL in 1983 that had a very good pass rush as well. With defensive end Frank Warren and rush end Rickey Jackson. And a strong power running game with George Rogers and Wayne Wilson.

The theme of the 1983 Saints was, “A Little Bit More.” Which is exactly what they needed finishing the season with an 8-8 record and coming within one game of making their first playoff appearance and having their first winning record ever. From about 1978-84 or so, they were consistently flirting with having both a winning season and making the NFC Playoffs. 1980 and 81, would be exceptions to that. They had a strong pass defense and pass rush, but gave up a lot of yards on the ground. Great power running game averaging 150 yards a game rushing, but didn’t have any great receivers. And needed to run the ball the lot to move the ball and score points. This was a team was very close, but needed “A Little Bit More.” Needed more weapons in the passing game and a stronger run defense. But the Saints under Bum Phillips improved real fast and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

Lee Estrada: NY Giants Chronicles: The 1960s and 1970s

Y.A. Tittle
Y.A. Tittle

Source: Lee Estrada: NY Giants Chronicles: The 1960s and 1970s

I believe Bob Papa had the best line when he said that the New York Giants by 1964 were in transition. The great teams and success that they had in the 1950s and early 1960s was gone by 1964. And Giants running back Alex Webster (not Barney Rubble) had a great line as well when he said in 64 that the Giants had a bunch of players who played a year too long. They were an aging team that was carrying a lot of aging veterans who were past their primes and should’ve retired after the 62 or 63 seasons and simply no longer had it in 64 and the Giants collapsed and finished in last place in 64. And guys like Y.A. Tittle, Frank Gifford and Alex Webster, all retire after the 64 season. Leaving the Giants being forced to start rebuilding in 65.

To give you an idea of how good the Giants were from 1964-80. They never made the playoffs and had I believe had two winning seasons. The worst team in the NFC East in the 1970s. Again one winning season and year after year competing with their arch-rival the Philadelphia Eagles for last place in the NFC East. Two of the biggest markets and cities in the country and two of the most storied franchises in the NFL and yet they were consistently competing for last place in the NFC East. I think the problem with the Giants of this era was that they fired Allie Sherman too soon after the 68 season and then not finding a good head coach for them until Ray Perkins in 1979. They had several different head coaches during this period that all had one thing in common. Losing season after losing season.

As great as Wellington Mara was for the New York Giants franchise he made a lot of mistakes in the 1960s and 70s. Not having the right general manager and head coach in the 1970s and poor drafting set this franchise way back. Also not finding a replacement for Yankee Stadium which was really a baseball park that the Giants shared with the guess who. All of these things that contributed to the Giants essentially being asleep as a franchise especially in the 1970s. Even the Chicago Bears who were pretty bad in this period as well-managed a couple of winning seasons and made the playoffs in the 1970s. But they did make a few good draft picks in the mid and late 1970s like Harry Carson, George Martin and Phil Simms that set them up well for the 1980s. But by in large the 1970s was a bad decade for the New York Giants.