Golden Football Magazine
NFL Championship Games
This series covers the history of the NFL through the prism of its yearly championship games.
Note: The gray boxes contain asides that provide interesting material but could be skipped without losing the continuity of the article.
Super Bowl XVII - Washington Redskins vs Miami Dolphins: 2nd Half
The Washington locker room was so calm at halftime that Mike Nelms took a nap.
told his squad: "We were down more than this at other times this year. I told them we had a good shot at it. Being the underdog time after time gave us competitive fire. ... The key has been that we play as a group."
Theismann wasn't worried. "It was only seven (point deficit). We were starting to run the football better. The game was settling into our kind of football game."
Jacoby: "We weren't that discouraged at the break. The way our defense was now dominating them, we didn't see how they could score again. Miami had a good defense, but before the first half was over, we began to wear them down with our size and strength. They didn't match up well against us. ... They hadn't really stopped us yet. We had stopped ourselves with silly mental mistakes and miscues. All we had to do was execute."
Starke: "The coaches were more shook than we were at halftime. We knew we were moving the ball in the first half. We just weren't scoring."

Quarter 3

The Dolphins had allowed only 10 points in the third quarter all season - a tribute to Bill Arnsparger's halftime adjustments. The Killer Bees started strong.
Otis Wonsley
returned von Schamann's kickoff 13y to the 28 with a 5y facemask penalty tacked on. Riggins lost a yard trying to turn left end. Then Baumhower burst through and sacked Theismann for a loss of nine. A long incompletion over the middle brought out the punt unit. The ball traveled only 31y to a fair catch. But Miami was penalized 15y for an illegal block to place the ball on the Dolphins 31.
Franklin burst through for 9y. It took two more runs to move the chains, Woodley sneaking to the 41 on third down. After an incompletion, Franklin gained four. Then, in an omen for a miserable half for him, David overthrew TE Joe Rose. Orosz punted only 31y to Nelms who took the ball on the run to the Washington 36. Little did the Dolphins know that they had just completed their longest series of the second half - seven plays.

David Woodley hands to Andra Franklin.
Theismann began with a screen pass to TE Don Warren for 7y and followed with a handoff to Riggins for a first down at the 47. Then Alvin Garrett took an inside reverse from Riggins through the left side for 44y to the nine.
Garrett on the reverse: "This is the first time it was successful. We practiced it all week."
LT Jacoby: "We wanted to throw them some misdirection to keep them off-balance so they couldn't just key on our basic running plays and crowd some secondary guys on the line of scrimmage. My job, with the tight end right there with me, was to fake like I was blocking on a play where John was going to run a dive off right tackle or a sweep to the right. Then, when we got the defense to chase John, he handed the ball to Garrett, the receiver coming back around in the opposite direction."
But the Bees dug in and held Riggins to two, then tackled Warren as soon as he caught a short pass at the three. On third down, Theismann lofted a pass to the back right corner of the end zone over Garrett's head. So the Redskins settled for a 20y field goal by Moseley. Dolphins 17 Redskins 13 (8:09) With the Redskins kicking away from Walker, Lyle Blackwood bobbled the short boot before returning it 15y to the 29. The Dolphins went nowhere as Tony Na­than gained zilch and the Redskins deflected two Woodley passes. Nelms took back Orosz's punt 12y to the Washington 48.
This time Riggins faked the reverse, keeping around right end for 2y. Then he gained two more at left tackle. Theismann threw to Brown, who dropped the ball. Vigorito fielded the punt at the six and returned 12y.
The defenses continued to prevail, the Redskins forcing the third straight three-and-out between the two sides. Nelms took the punt back 8y to the Washington 38.

Mike Nelms returns a punt.
Then A. J. Duhe struck again, batting Theismann's pass to himself at the 47 for the linebacker's fourth interception in two games.
After an offside penalty, Woodley couldn't find a receiver and ran for the first down at the 37. But after Franklin gained two, S Mark Murphy picked off a deflected pass intended for Cefalo at the five. It was the six-year veteran's 18th career inter­ception.

Franklin carries the mail as Darryl Grant tries to escape a block.
Riggins ran for nine and four to move the chains. Then Theismann made a touch­down-saving play. As he rolled back to pass, RDE Bokamper batted the ball into the air. As the pigskin came down to the big end inside the 5y line, Theismann reached in and knocked the ball away. Instead of being down by 11, the Redskins stayed within four. They could continue their game plan of running Riggins to wear down the Killer Bees.
Jacoby: "We had the ball on our 18 when Theismann tried to pass. The play was called Charlie-Ten-Hitch and it was basically a short dropback, two to three steps, and Joe was supposed to throw it to the right. Doug Betters, who was George Starke's man, was 6'7", and when he jumped into the air, Joe didn't have any­where to throw the ball. So Joe pulled it down and was going to throw it to the left. I had cut down Kim Bokamper on that side, but by this time he'd recovered and gotten back up. This is when Bokamper tipped the pass up in the air."
: "I thought, 'Oh my god!' I felt like my feet were in cement. You could read Pete Rozelle's name on the ball, and you could see all the laces. It spun very slowly. I knew I couldn't get to the ball; so at the last minute, I figured I should dive and try to get my arm up in between Bokamper's hands and try to knock it away."
Bokamper: "You felt you were watching one of the NFL Films in slow motion. The ball was up in the air and just hanging there. You didn't think it was ever going to come down. The ball hit my hands, and he stripped it from my hands. If I had dropped the ball, it probably would have been more painful, but the guy made a good play on the ball."
Gibbs: "I had my heart in my mouth when I saw the ball come out. Joe made a great play to knock it out of Bokamper's hands."
Shula: "It was an incredible play for a quarterback to make ... a great reaction ... It really hurt."
Jacoby: "We were very relieved in the huddle to still have the ball, and we were all saying, 'Good job, Joe,' because they would have gone ahead 24-13 if Joe hadn't reacted so quickly. So we regained our composure."
Theismann later reflected on what would have happened if Bokamper had scored. "There was no way we would have won the game. We would have had to abandon our game plan. We would have had to throw the football."
Harmon then bolted for 12y and a first down. Riggins gained two, and Joe threw a 4y flanker screen to Brown.
End Q3: Dolphins 17 Redskins 13
Quarter 4

The Redskins drove to the Miami 43 before the turnover bug bit again. Theis­mann hit Warren for 10 and a first down at the 46. Consecutive Riggins runs of nine and two moved the chains again. Then the Skins tried another flea flicker that backfired. Theismann handed to Riggins, who pitched it back to him. Joe threw a long pass for Garrett that was intercepted by Lyle Blackwood at the one. The play temporarily stymied the Redskins but would help them on their next possession.
Miami could not move very far from its goal line. Two Franklin runs gained three before Woodley threw long from his end zone for Nat Moore incomplete against double coverage. Orosz punted from the end zone to Nelms at the 45. Flags flew on the return, and Washington started from its 48 after another illegal block penalty.
Riggins slashed through left tackle for seven and then one. Harmon gained only one of the two remaining yards needed for the first down. Gibbs elected to go for it on fourth and about a foot at the Dolphins 43. Expecting a punt, Miami called timeout. That set up the play of the game.
Washington offensive coordinator Dan Henning said, "The question was, Are we going to go for it? There really wasn't any decision on the play. It was the best play we had under those conditions, going to the best side we had." The play was "70-Chip," the same play that Gibbs was going to run before the timeout.
His gamble paid off in spades. After a Miami timeout, Riggins took a handoff into his favorite left tackle hole. Just beyond the line of scrimmage, Big John ran through the attempted tackle of RCB Don McNeal and sprinted down the left sideline to pay dirt, pulling away from fleet S Glenn Blackwood the last ten yards. Redskins 20 Dolphins 17 (10:01)
McNeal had followed TE Clint Didier as he went in motion across the formation to the defense's left. As Theismann handed off to Riggins heading for the defense's right side, Don slipped as he tried to turn back to his right. As a result, he was a step too late when he tried to tackle the 250lb bulldozer. "I wanted to make him bounce outside, but I never did get my arms all the way around him. I couldn't hold him. I had no idea he was going to be that tough. He was like a train, but I was confident I could tackle him. ... You can watch a guy on film, but you never really know until you hit him."
McNeal carried the weight of the missed tackle on his shoulders for years. "I slipped, but that's no excuse," he said decades later. "I've seen the picture a million times, and I've even got the picture on my wall at home. Why? I don't dwell on it, but it's part of my career."
Riggins on the TD run: "It was a basic play, 70 Chip. We had already run it seven or eight times in short-yardage situations. I told Joe we were on the verge of breaking it. This time, everybody blocked his man, and only one guy had a shot at me ... He couldn't hold on." The guy who twice won the Kansas high school 100y dash championship at 9.8, added, "I could talk about my speed, but no one would believe me. I guess I was just fast enough to get to the end zone before anybody could catch me."
Jacoby: "70 Chip was one of our short-yardage goal-line plays. It was supposed to go to the left, outside with myself and a tight end over there blocking. One tight end, Clint Didier was supposed to come back in motion and then to kick out. Our "I" back, Otis Wonsley, was supposed to lead up and chip into the line and take anybody on. Everybody did their job. Wonsley gave a wicked block and Riggins had a lean little seam to run through. ... I didn't watch John run down the field for the go-ahead touchdown because I was covered up by then. But I heard all the horns and I knew what John had done. Needless to say, that was a very big moment, probably the biggest of the game."
Theismann: "I've got the best seat in the house. ... I get to see all the blocking up front, and I get to see John run. Clint Didier comes in motion and Clint's outside of John. As John breaks to the outside, I'm yelling at Clint, 'Don't clip anybody!' Don hits him, and it's just like watching butter melt in a frying pan. He just sort of slid down him and off, and then Big John started that gallop towards the end zone."
Gibbs on his decision to go for it on fourth down: "John said before the playoffs that he wanted the ball. He said, 'Just hitch me up to that wagon, and I'll pull it.' I sure wasn't going to stop giving him the ball now." On the play call: "Basically, it's a play that goes right at the tight end's rear, and John reads it. It's really an op­tion play for him, and it's a play that he runs very well." Finally, "There comes a time in a game there's a gut decision. You have to make it and live with it. If we lost the game, I wanted to lose it by being physical."
Theismann on Riggins: "Nobody practiced harder, nobody had a better feel for the game. John's a real intelligent guy. Were we close? No, not at all. John was mostly by himself. What did we have in common? Going out to win."
T George Starke: "Riggins' touchdown run was on a play we have run at least 100 times, and I know they had seen it 100 times. We block everybody but one man, and he has to tackle Riggins."
G Russ Grimm: "We're leaving one DB for John. If we block it right, we know we're going to get a first down. Very seldom did we ever break that play for a long gain. Usually, that was a play that would give us a two or three yard gain, and we would be good to go."
Miami S Lyle Blackwood on Riggins: "When you hit him, it hurt."
Baumhower on Riggins: "He picks and reads so well, he doesn't need much of a hole."

Riggins begins his touchdown run.

Don McNeal (28) takes aim at Riggins.

Riggins escapes McNeal.
The fired up Redskins stopped Walker at the 22 on the kickoff. Miami needed Woodley to get hot, but David had yet to complete a pass in the second half in seven tries. Franklin gained three, and Harris could get only one on a reverse. A false start penalty negated the next play, and put the Dolphins in a 3rd-and-11 situation. Woodley tried a down and out to Harris at the right sideline to no avail. So Orosz punted to Nelms, who returned 12y to the Miami 41.
Dolphins backup QB Don Strock began warming up on the sideline.
Jacoby on the Skins' mentality when they took the lead for the first time. "We knew what we had to do to milk this game out for the final 10 minutes. ... By this time, our constant beating on their defensive guys had just worn them out. It wasn't easy for 250lb defensive players taking on 300lb lineman by that time. ... Now we could get 4, 5, 6, 7 yards at a crack and that kind of running further wears on a defense. Their secondary was now making the tackles, and that's something you don't want if you're on defense."
Getting stronger as the game progressed as usual, Riggins toted the leather on five straight plays for a total of 18y to make it third-and-three at the 23 and set a Super Bowl record for rushing yardage. After a Redskins timeout, Harmon replaced John and gained the first down by a yard. John returned but slipped as he got a yard. Harmon got nothing to make it 3rd-and-nine. The Killer Bees' task was straight­forward. Stop the next play short of a first down and force a field goal to stay within six points. But they couldn't do it. Theismann rolled left and threw to Brown at the sideline on the nine. Riggins gained three, then none. On the latter play, the Red­skins got a big break when John lost the ball as he went down, but the side judge ruled his knee was down. But TV replay proved the call was incorrect. So the burden fell on Theismann again, and he came through on 3rd-and-goal from the six. After the two-minute warning, Joe rolled right and fired to Brown at the edge of the end zone for the clinching touchdown. Redskins 27 Dolphins 17 (1:55)

Theismann throws on the run.

Charley Brown catches the clinching TD pass as he is driven out of bounds.
Theismann: "Charlie went up and got knocked out of bounds before his feet came down. We were waiting for the official to signal, but he turned toward the press box. He didn't signal touchdown while looking at the play. Instead, he turned toward the press box and made the signal." Joe attributed the passing touchdown to the success of the running attack. "It forces the defense out of things they want to do. The linebackers have to come up a little more. It puts the corners on islands, and that's basically what we wanted."
Duhe on the Miami defense's plight: "We had no possessions. Our offense was going three and out, and they were doing those sustained drives. We probably were getting a little worn out. It was kind of the early stages of the 300lb men coming at you."
After Walker's 36y return to the 35, backup QB Don Strock, a nine-year veteran, replaced Woodley, who finished 4-for-14 for 97y, 76 of which came on one play.
G Bob Kuechenberg: "Shula waited too long to go to Don Strock. Hindsight is 20/20, and I certainly don't want to criticize Don Shula. But in my opinion, when you have a guy like Don Strock sitting on the bench, it's like having Earl Morrall on the bench behind Bob Griese. Shula always had a masterful backup quarterback behind his starter, but he waited too long to go to him."
He handed to Vigorito for a gain of four. Then he threw three straight incomple­tions. Miami ended with only two first downs in the second half.
Washington took over at the 39 and ran Harmon three times to move the chains and enable Theismann to take a knee as time expired.
Theismann: "The last play I called was, 'Winning Super Bowl formation on two.' I barely got the words out of my mouth because I began to tear up. It was truly a dream come true for a kid from new Jersey who only wanted to play football and how had reached the top of the mountain." After taking a knee, Joe ran off the field holding the football in one hand and extending his index finger with the other. "The emotions just flow out of you. I always remember Terry Bradshaw running off the field holding the football up after one of his Super Bowl wins. I always remembered Joe Namath running off the field waving the one finger. As I left the football field, it was really, in my mind, a split image. I don't even remember touching the ground."
Jacoby: "Before the final play of the game in which Joe put his knee down, we were all ... hugging each other. The strike that we had gone through and all the work that we had done and all the games that we had won had culminated in our winning the Super Bowl. What we had just experienced was something that I never thought would happen when I was a kid growing up. Just to be in this game was amazing, and then all of a sudden you're a Super Bowl champion. ... It was a great feeling, especially in just my second year. To win it in Pasadena, and to win it rushing the ball and with our defense playing great, was just a very big thrill."
John Riggins was voted the game's MVP after gaining 166y on an incredible 38 carries - both Super Bowl records.

Final statistics

  • Time of possession: Redskins 36:15 Dolphins 23:45
  • First downs: Redskins 24 Dolphins 9
  • Rushing: Redskins 52-276 Dolphins 29-96
  • Passing: Redskins 23-15-2/124 Dolphins 17-4-1/80
  • Return yardage: Redskins 12-151 Dolphins 10-244
  • Fumbles-Lost: Redskins 0-0 Dolphins 2-1
  • Penalties: Redskins 5-36 Dolphins 4-55
  • Punting average: Redskins 4-42.0 Dolphins 6-37.8
  • Attendance: 103,667

The payouts to the winners and losers were more significant at the end of a season when players lost seven game checks because of the strike. Each Redskin received $70,000, which for most of them was more than they would have made if they had played the full season.


Redskins Locker Room

  • Gibbs addressed the media after taking a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan. "This is one of the happiest days of my life. The thing I'm most happy is the way we won." He was asked about his prize 33-year-old running back hinting that he might retire. "I don't know what John will do, but I know he'll make the right decision. I think he'll play as long as he enjoys football, and I think he still enjoys it." Asked if Don Shula had made a mistake sticking with Woodley so long in the second half, Joe replied, "He (Woodley) had gotten them the lead at the half. I would have done the same thing Shula did."
  • Theismann: "This is everything I ever wanted. Today I'm part of the best team in the world. ... People talk about Riggo's day and the play I made on Bokamper, but what won the game was our defense." Joe added: "The greatest sin ever was that Riggins was left off the all-pro. His greatest asset is his power. He runs low. He doesn't give you much to hit."
  • Riggins on his record-setting performance: "Yes, it's a little amazing. I was just thinking about it this morning. Two years ago, I was camping out in my car some place in Kansas. If you had told me then that 24 months later, I would be in the Super Bowl. Well, I would have been surprised."
    John explained, "We like to play against 3-4 teams because there are two natural cavities you can run in. If you line gets off the ball and really gets into them, you have some room to run. Our line did a great job. The Hogs were magnificent. I might have to take them out to dinner or something."
    He asked, "How many times did I carry the ball? 38? That's on the verge of being too many. I'm tired. I'll tell you that. Their safeties hit me hard on every play."
    A final word: "But it feels good. Ron (Reagan) may be the president but, for tonight at least, I'm the king."
  • C Jeff Bostic: "John's touchdown run broke their back. It wasn't so much what it did for our ball club as what it did against their team. ... It put us up in the game and took a lot of emotion out of their team. I could feel their tempo drop some."
  • S Tony Peters summarized the defensive plan: "If they didn't change anything during the game, we felt we could really manhandle them. They just weren't that compllicated on offense. If we could force Woodley to pass, it was all over."
  • Dexter Manley on the Redskins' success: "We played together as a team. We probably w.. Joe Gibbs and his staff outworked our opponents."

Dolphins Locker Room

  • Shula: "It could have been a great story, but now it will only be on the Redskins. ... We had a fine season, and we have to turn this loss into a learning experience, which is the only positive thing I can possibly say about it. This team has accomplished a lot of things, and it took a successful season to reach Super Bowl XVII. But we just couldn't get it done in the second half. Washington beat us every way you can beat a team in the third and fourth quarters. ... You have to give a lot of the credit to the Washington offense and John Riggins. He was a dominant force, and the Redskins' offensive line had a great surge in the second half." Don admitted he started thinking about yanking starting QB David Woodley much sooner than he did. "I started thinking about making a change late in the third quarter. When Strock finally got into the game, he really didn't get a chance because they controlled the ball and utilized the clock.
    Their scheme, and it's something I'm sure Gibbs brought from San Diego and Don Coryell, has been constant movement. I thought we were prepared for it. The bottom line is that, despite the fancy things they tried, it was the pounding, the old-fashioned stuff, that did us in. "
  • Woodley, the youngest player (23) to start at quarterback in the Super Bowl, lamented, "They were able to shut down our short passing game. We just couldn't get anything going. I don't remember that ever happening before, when nothing worked. When it would look like we would complete a pass, one of their guys would come in and knock it down. They were able to shut down our backs (Woodley's favorite targets) because they blitzed, and we had to keep the back in to block. They used a lot of tough man-to-man coverage and played very aggressively. We couldn't even get a first down, and we hadn't been in that situation often this year. They really didn't do anything differently in the second half. They were blitzing us a lot and shut down our running game. It seemed we were always inches away from the big play."
  • Don McNeal: "We just didn't have the answers to Theismann's roll out and scrambling. In the second half, our defense wasn't ready to play the run. We needed better solutions to be the best. We didn't have them."
  • The wizened Dolphin veteran, G Bob Kuechenberg, summed up the game this way: "Washington did to us what we did to other teams - keep the ball and put points on the board. They were onto our rhythm. Everything we tried, they were onto. Every time we zigged, they zigged; and every time we zagged, they zagged. They were excellently prepared." Asked to compare Riggins to former Miami great Larry Csonka, Bob replied, "It's hard to make a comparison. John Riggins ... doesn't have as much power as Csonka did, but he's got more breakaway speed."
  • LB A. J. Duhe was out of the locker room quickly. "They challenged us, and we challenged them. Today they won the challenge. I'm going to go find my wife and cry."


Bill Arnsparger talks to his defense.

Otis Wonsley

Uwe von Schamann

Joe Rose

Lyle Blackwood tries to tackle Joe Theismann.

Kim Bokamper tackles John Riggins.

Franklin tries to find an opening.

Mark Murphy

Lyle Blackburn looks like the receiver as he intercepts a pass intended for Charlie Brown.

Bill Baumhower chases Joe Theismann.

Theismann knocks the ball away from Bokamper to save a touchdown.

Clarence Harmon

Don Warren

Nat Moore

Lyle Blackwood tries to corral Riggins.

Clint Didier

Don McNeal

Riggins stiff arms McNeal on his touchdown run.

Don Strock

Charlie Brown









Theismann triumphant.

The quarterbacks embrace.