CONTENTS

1947: Eagles @ Cardinals

1953: Iowa @ Notre Dame

1959: Oklahoma @ Northwestern

1966: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

1971: Nebraska @ Oklahoma

1967: Ice Bowl – I

1967: Ice Bowl – II

1967: Ice Bowl – III

1993: Houston @ Buffalo

 

Memorable Games III

Memorable Football Games Index

Football Magazine

Golden Rankings Home

Memorable Football Games – II
December 28, 1947 – Comiskey Park, Chicago: Cardinals' Only Crown

Both the Philadelphia Eagles, champions of the NFL Eastern Division, and the Chicago Cardinals, Western Division champions, made their first appearances in the NFL championship game. The star runner of the game was expected to be Philadelphia's Steve Van Buren from LSU, who became the first 1,000 yard rusher in the league in 13 years. Chicago was led all season by their "Million Dollar Backfield" (shown below). Coach Jim Conzelman installed the T-formation to take advantage of the quartet’s abilities.

Paul ChristmanPat HarderElmer AngsmanCharlie Trippi
QB Paul Christman, FB Pat Harder, HB Elmer Angsman, and HB Charlie Trippi

To get better traction on the frozen field, the Eagles sharpened their cleats. The officials opened the game with a series of penalties for this rules violation. The Cardinals wore tennis shoes. Van Buren was held to 26 yards in 18 carries. It was the home team's halfbacks who stole the show. Angsman scored on a pair of 70-yard runs up the middle of the Eagle defense in the second and fourth quarters to give Chicago a 28-21 victory. Trippi was another Cardinal hero, scoring on a 44-yard run and a 75-yard punt return. Van Buren did score on a 1-yard plunge for Philly, while one-eyed QB Tommy Thompson passed to Pat McHugh for a 53-yard score, and Russ Craft ended the scoring with a 1-yard run. Thompson set two playoff records with 297 yards on 27-of-44 passing. This was the only NFL championship ever won by the Cardinals franchise, now in its third home in Arizona after a layover in St. Louis (1960-1987).

As a follow-up to this story, the '47 Cardinals were finally presented with championship rings at a 50th anniversary reunion by Charles Bidwell, brother of current Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell, Jr. Bill Bidwell, Sr., owned the original Chicago Cardinals until his death on April 19, 1947. So he didn’t live to see his team win the championship. The ring pictured here is for Plato "Dee" Andros, a guard. He auctioned it for $1,948.72 on Lelands.com!

November 21, 1953: South Bend IN – Fainting Irish
Iowa vs. Notre Dame 1953

7-0 Notre Dame, ranked #1 the national polls, hosted a 5-3 Iowa Hawkeye team riding the momentum of consecutive shutouts over Purdue and Minnesota. Frank Leahy was in his eighth season at the helm of the Irish while Forrest Evashevski was completing his second year in Iowa City.

This game is memorable for what happened in the last seconds of each half. With Iowa ahead 7-0 and the clock ticking off the last minute of the first half, ND QB Ralph Guglielmi moved his team deep into Hawkeye territory. With no timeouts left, Guglielmi was sacked on third down and it looked like the clock would run out. But suddenly ND OT Frank Varrichione fell to the ground while standing in the huddle. Officials stopped the clock with :02 left while Varrichione was "helped" off the field. This allowed ND to line up and snap the ball just before time expired. Guglielmi threw to Dan Shannon in the end zone. The PAT with no time left tied the game.

The second half developed the same way as the first. Iowa's single wing offense scored on a pass with 2 minutes left to take a 14-7 lead. However, Guglielmi again passed his troops to the 9 yard line. This time not one but two ND linemen fell to the ground to stop the clock with :25 left. After two incompletions in the end zone stopped the clock legitimately, Guglielmi completed a TD pass to Shannon with :06 left. The extra point salvaged a 14-14 tie.

Listen to the Iowa radio broadcast of the last moments of each half. The announcers pull no punches in describing what ND was doing. Also hear Coach Evashevski's poetic response after the game. (Same link.)

Notre Dame's win-at-all-costs tactics brought condemnation from many quarters. Speaking to the New York Football Writers Association, the legendary Grantland Rice (who immortalized a good-but-not-great backfield as "The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame") said:

I considered it a complete violation of the spirit and ethics of the game and was sorry to see Notre Dame, of all teams, using this method. Why … was it allowed? If this violates neither the rules nor the coaching code, let's throw them both out the window. Some people are calling it smart playing. I think it was disgraceful playing.

The AP voters demoted ND to #2 and kept them behind 10-0 Maryland the rest of the season despite Irish routs of USC and SMU. (Iowa finished 10th.) Since no poll was taken after the bowl games, Maryland's loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl did not change the final rankings. Notre Dame, of course, did not play in bowls in that era.

Leahy, who had collapsed at halftime of the Georgia Tech victory that snapped Tech's 31-game winning streak, retired at the end of the season. (Watch video highlights of that game.) His 107-13-9 record gave him a winning percentage second only to Knute Rockne.

ESPN's Ivan Maisel ranked the end of this game #29 in his list of 100 Moments That Have Defined College Football.

Personal note: A 12-year-old boy in faraway New Orleans listened to this game on the Notre Dame radio network. ND's antics added more fuel to his burning hatred of the Fighting Irish.

September 26 , 1959: Dyche Stadium, Evanston IL– Poisoned Sooners?

Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, a book by Steve Budin published in October 2007, attracted attention because it claims that the 1954 OklahomaOklahoma A&M game was fixed by mobsters, who allegedly used a horse laxative to poison some of the Sooners. OU defeated the Aggies by only 14-0, thereby not covering the spread of 20 points. The only problem with Budin's account is that not a single Oklahoma player from that team remembers anybody suffering from food poisoning nor did any contemporary accounts of the game mention any Sooners missing the game because of illness.

Such was not the case five years later when Bud Wilkinson's Sooners visited Chicago to play Northwestern, coached by Ara Parseghian. On the Thursday night before the game, 13 OU players were stricken with food poisoning while dining at the Chez Paree. When the team arrived at the restaurant, the waitress took them to meet an older gentlemen who was sitting with a good looking girl who asked the players their positions and whether they were starters. When the team was seated for the meal, waitresses served a fruit appetizer to particular individuals instead of straight down the line. Within 30 minutes, many players were in the bathroom vomiting.

The game was played in a driving rain. The Wildcats blocked a quick kick by Joe Abbatiello, and another Sooner punt went only 9 yards against the wind. In between, two good punts with the wind by QB-P Dick Thornton helped Northwestern to a 13-0 lead.

OU QB Bobby Boyd, one of the suffering players, lateraled to HB Dick Carpenter, who threw a 7-yard TD pass to HB Brewster Hobby to make it 13-7 in the second quarter. That was the high water mark for the nauseated visitors. Wildcat HB Ron Burton ran for TDs of 62 and 7 yards. E Paul Yanke caught 2 TD passes, and DE Elbert Kimbrough intercepted a Boyd lateral and ran 47 yards. The final score was 45-13, OU's worst defeat during Wilkinson's tenure, which began in 1947 and included a 47-game winning streak, still the longest in football history.

Reference: Fifty Years of College Football: Bob Boyles and Paul Guido

November 19, 1966: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI – Tie One for the Gipper

Notre Dame has faced Michigan State every season since 1948 (except for '53 and '58). This article recalls the most famous meeting between the two teams: The "Game of the Century" (1966 version).

Ara Parseghian's 8-0 Irish were ranked #1 in the AP poll and had beaten opponents by an average of 34 per game. #2 MSU under Duffy Daugherty was 9-0 and had won by a mere 22 per game. A crowd of 80,011 – still the largest in Spartan history – overflowed Spartan Stadium on a cold gray day.

At first, the "Luck of the Irish" didn't seem to be working.

  • HB Nick Eddy slipped on the icy steps getting off the train, reinjuring his bruised shoulder. He didn't play a down. (Perhaps coincidentally, this game was the last one that ND ever traveled to by train.)
  • The starting C separated his shoulder and left the game during the first series.
  • Then QB Terry Hanratty also separated his shoulder after being tackled running a draw play (which a confused messenger lineman had told Terry to run) by Bubba Smith and George Webster in the first quarter. Another sophomore, Coley O'Brien, replaced Hanratty at QB.

The home team scored first. QB Jimmy Raye got his offense out from the shadow of its own goal post with a 42-yard pass to Gene Washington. Then nine straight running plays culminated in a 4-yard TD by FB Regis Cavender early in the second quarter. On the next Spartan series, Raye ran 30 yards to set up a 47-yard FG by barefooted Dick Kenney. Irish luck had failed again as LB Jim Lynch intercepted a pass but fumbled it back during the return.

Dick Kenney Kicks FG for MSU
Dick Kenney kicks for Michigan State

Then the Irish offense finally came to life. O'Brien completed three straight passes, the last to HB Bob Gladieux for a 34-yard TD with 4:30 left in the half.

Late in the third quarter, ND finally caught a break. An offside call against Smith nullified a fumble recovery at the Spartan 25. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Joe Azzaro kicked a 28-yard FG to tie the game. Then the visitors created their own opportunity. DB Tom Schoen returned an interception to the MSU 18. However, an eight-yard loss caused ND to try a go-ahead FG. This time Azzaro's 41-yard try sailed wide right with 4:39 left.

1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State FG 
Joe Azzaro kicks for Notre Dame

MSU stayed conservative from its own 20, punting to ball to the ND 30 with 1:24 left. O'Brien had missed on his last six passes, causing Parseghian concern about his diabetic condition. So he called nothing but runs as MSU used its timeouts. The Spartan defenders called their foes "sissies" and "cowards." ND did gain a first down on a risky fourth down run, but the clock expired on an unsatisfying 10-10 tie.

Parseghian was widely criticized for settling for a tie. Dan Jenkins coined the phrase "Tie one for the Gipper" to lead his Sports Illustrated article. However, Ara knew what he was doing, as the AP and UPI voters kept his Irish at the top and MSU #2. Their justification was that ND had tied the #2 team on the road without their starting QB and HB.

The next week ND flew to the West Coast and handed USC a 51-0 drubbing, the worst loss in Trojan history. O'Brien hit 21 of 31 for 255 yards and 3 TDs. Afterwards, Parseghian said, "I would say we went out to prove we are no. 1. And we did, didn't we?"

Neither ND nor MSU went to a bowl game – the Irish because of school policy and the Big Ten champions because of the conference's "No Repeat" rule for the Rose Bowl, which was the only bowl game a Big Ten school could play in. Neither the AP nor the UPI conducted another poll after the bowl games anyway.

In the meantime, Alabama finished 11-0 after trouncing Nebraska 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl. Nevertheless, the Tide finished #3 despite the fact that they were the defending champions from 1965. The Alabama QB was a hillbilly named Ken Stabler, whom the national media considered no match for Hanratty.

The 40th anniversary of this game was commemorated in 2006 when the schools played in East Lansing. MSU wore throwback jersies and helmets from the 1960s. However, ND refused to do the same. 45 members of the MSU squad attended, and Bubba Smith's number 95 jersey was retired at halftime, making him only the third player in Spartan history to be so honored. ND won 40-37, coming back from a 19-point deficit in the second half.

Personal follow-up to this game: After the 1966 season, Duffy Daugherty was quoted in Sports Illustrated as favoring a college football playoff. I wrote him with an idea for an eight-team playoff that would utilize the existing bowls. He wrote back praising my plan. I saved that letter for nearly 40 years, but it did not survive Katrina.

Michigan State-Notre Dame program cover

Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian
Ara Parseghian

Coach Duffy Daugherty and QB Jimmy Raye
Jimmy Raye and Duffy Daugherty

 

 

 

Bubba Smith chases Terry Hanratty
Bubba Smith chases Terry Hanratty

Coley O'Brian hands off to Larry Conjar
Coley O'Brian handing off to Larry Conjar against MSU

Notre Dame LB Jim Lynch
Jim Lynch

Sports Illustrated Cover for MSU-ND

November 25, 1971: Owen Field, Norman OK– "Game of the Century"

Beano Cooke (among others) has called it "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Thanksgiving. Two undefeated teams.

  • #1 Nebraska, the defending national champion. Coached by Bob Devaney. Blackshirt defense of coordinator Monte Kiffin #1 in country. Closest game was 31-7 win over Colorado.
  • #2 Oklahoma, its wishbone offense ranked #1 nationally. Coached by Chuck Fairbanks.

Sports Illustrated said "Irresistible Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska." The game lived up to its hype and then some.

The game's most famous play actually occurred early. Less than four minutes had expired when Johnny Rodgers broke loose on a 72-yard punt return to give the Cornhuskers a 7-0 lead. (Watch a video of Rodgers' run. Notice the obvious clip at the Nebraska 45. Also ESPN ranked it #4 in its 100 Moments That Have Defined College Football.)

Johnny Rodgers vs. Oklahoma

The game seesawed for four quarters. The OU offense, led by QB Jack Mildren and RB Greg Pruitt, moved the ball on the Blackshirts like no one had all season. (OU ended with an astounding 467 yards, NU with 362.) The Sooners led at halftime 17-14, the first time NU had trailed all season. By the end of the third quarter, the visitors had a 28-24 advantage.

Jeff Kinney vs. Oklahoma

After recovering a fumble by QB Jerry Tagge, OU drove 68 yards to take the lead again, 31-28, on a Mildren pass to Jon Harrison with 7:10 left. Nebraska then embarked on "the drive." 12 plays, 74 yards. Three third down conversions, including a diving catch by Rodgers. Jeff Kinney plunged two yards with 1:38 left for the winning TD.

Fortunately, the game was telecast nationally. "Fortunately" because the vast majority of the ABC schedule (including this game) was set before the season began. Beano says: "Of the 15 highest-rated regular season games on television at one point during the 1970's, 14 involved Notre Dame. The 15th was the '71 OU-NU classic. In fact, at that point, the Sooners and Cornhuskers was the highest-rated regular-season game."

Nebraska clobbered #2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl 38-6 to clinch its second straight national championship. Some rank the 1971 Nebraska team as one of the best ever, if not the best. If you can stomach it, watch a 6-minute video on Nebraska football, which includes Rodgers' run.

The Ice Bowl – I

December 31, 1967: NFL Championship – Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

Saturday, December 30, 1967, brought a "brilliant winter sun" and temperatures near 30 in Green Bay WI. The forecast for the big game the next day was more of the same.

  • When Steve Sabol of NFL Films answered the wake-up call in his hotel room Sunday morning, the operator greeted him with, "It is 16 degrees below zero and the wind is out of the north. Have a nice day."
  • The owner of Paul's Standard Oil service station was busy that morning starting dead cars with his jumper cables. One of his clients was Willie Wood even though the Packer S from USC didn't think he'd need his car. "They're gonna call this game off. They're not going to play in this."
  • Sportswriter Dick Schaap came from New York to cover the game. As he and his wife drove to breakfast, he saw a temperature reading of -13 on a bank marquee. "Look, it's broken." Despite a lifetime spent in the north, he had never seen a negative temperature.

But it wasn't broken. The temperature had actually risen to -13º once the sun came up. The wind chill was given at the time as -46º but recalculated many years later with a revised formula at -38º.

  • Packer coach Vince Lombardi went to Mass early that morning as he did every Sunday. He said nothing to his family about the weather.
  • Steve Sabol and his father Ed, the founder of NFL Films, arrived at Lambeau Field early to position eleven cameras around the stadium. One of the cameramen didn't appear for the pregame meeting. He had taken a few swigs of bourbon from his flask to keep warm and passed out at his post behind the scoreboard. During the game, the focus wheel on the telephoto lens of Steve's camera froze, rendering it useless.
  • The parking lots began filling up by 11 am, two hours before kickoff. Not as many tailgaters are usual but a surprising number. Amazingly, hundreds of fans occupied their seats long before kickoff.
  • Lombardi had spent $80,000 the previous spring to install a General Electric heating system under the field. If ever the new device were needed, this was the day. Yet the head groundskeeper Chuck Lane learned from his assistants after they removed the tarp that the field was frozen. Telling that to Lombardi would be like "telling him that his wife had been unfaithful ..." But he did so anyway and was met with disbelief. The system had been tested Saturday and functioned fine when the two teams had worked out. But apparently the coil system had malfunctioned in the extreme conditions. The GE salesman, who just happened to be the nephew of Bears' owner George Halas, insisted afterwards that the controls had been mishandled, which probably led to the rumor that Lombardi had ordered the heat turned off. In any event, the field was hard as a rock in most places and slippery in spots where ice had melted.

For both teams, nature would be the primary opponent.

  • In the Packers locker room, Wood reluctantly changed into his uniform, still not convinced the game would be played. A trainer passed out long underwear to everyone, including the coaches. Lombardi had OKed wearing it but didn't want players to put on too much clothing to the point that they couldn't move freely. Several players requested gloves, but Vince vetoed the idea except for linemen who would not handle the ball. LB Dave Robinson got a pair of brown gloves and wore them without the boss noticing since they matched his skin color.
  • During warmups (a misnomer that day), players from both sides kept their hands tucked in their pants. Breathing actually hurt, burning the throat and lungs. Even the guys from the Big Ten and other northern schools had never played in conditions like these. Players likened the field to a stucco wall turned on its side or, in some spots, a glass surface.
  • Because of injuries to both Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski, Lombardi had signed FB Chuck Mercein in mid-season after he was cut by the Giants and Redskins. The Yale product, who would play a crucial role in the title game, looked at the Cowboys during the pregame ritual and thought they "looked like earthmen on Mars. ... Most of them had hooded sweatshirts on underneath their helmets, which looked silly as hell. And a kind of scarf thing around their faces with the eyes cut out. They looked like monsters in a grade B movie."
  • As the crowd filled in for the kickoff, a haze of breath covered the stands. As the game progressed, some broadcasters and reporters had increasing difficulty seeing through the fog outside and the condensation on the press box windows.
  • The officials' whistles froze quickly after the kickoff forcing them to rely on hand signals. They tried again after halftime, but line judge Bill Schliebaum had his whistle freeze to his lips and lost a layer of skin yanking it loose.
  • For most of the first half, one Cowboy's reaction to the cold would give the Packer D an advantage on every play. WR Bob Hayes would tuck his hands into his pants for running plays but pull them out if a pass was called.

For the first quarter and a half, it appeared the Cowboys had capitulated to the elements and simply wanted to go home.

Brave Ice Bowl Fans
Brave Ice Bowl Fans

Ice Bowl Breath Haze
Breath Haze

Dallas Warms Up for Ice Bowl
Cowboys Come Out for "Warmups"

Dallas Coach Tom Landry
Dallas Coach Tom Landry, not as nattily dressed as usual

Packer Coaches
Icy patches on field visible in this picture of Vince Lombardi and Packer Coaches

Bob Hayes, Cowboys
Bob Hayes

Reference: When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss
The Ice Bowl – II

December 31, 1967: NFL Championship – Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

Starr passes in Q1.
Starr passes in first quarter.

Boyd Dowler catches TD pass.
Dowler catches Starr's pass behind Renfro.

Starr being sacked by Cowboys.
Starr being sacked

As could be expected, the Packers adapted to the elements quicker than the visitors. The home team drove for a TD on its first possession.

  • After receiving a punt on the 18, Starr directed an efficient 16-play drive. He threw six passes, called eight running plays, and was helped by two penalties on the Cowboys, one for interference, the other for holding. WR Boyd Dowler caught an 8-yd TD pass.
  • In Q2, Starr struck again. Facing 3rd-and-1 on the Dallas 43, Bart did what the opponent should have expected him to do on third-and-short – go for broke. He faked to FB Ben Wilson, then fired a perfect pass to Dowler breaking past S Ray Renfro into the EZ.
  • Shoftly afterwards, the Packers wasted a Herb Adderley INT.

Down 14-0 under extreme duress from the conditions, the Cowboys needed a break. They got it with four minutes left to halftime.

  • The Packers had first-and-10 on their own 26. Starr dropped back to pass, but the Doomsday Front Four broke through, causing him to retreat away from Bob Lilly into the arms of Willie Townes.
  • His bare hands numb, Bart dropped the ball, which George Andrie scooped up and carried into the EZ.
  • As it would turn out, Green Bay would not regain the momentum until it was almost too late.
Andrie Picks Up Starr's Fumble
George Andrie picks up Starr's fumble.
DB Willie Wood
Willie Wood

Cowboys QB Don Meredith
Don Meredith

Packer LB Ray Nitchske
Ray Nitschke

One of Lombardi's gloveless ball-handlers gave Dallas still another gift before halftime.
  • Wood, who had fumbled a punt only once in eight seasons – and that in a driving rain, watched Danny Villanueva's punt fade away from him. Willie signaled for a fair catch but muffed it. Frank Clarke pounced on the pigskin at the 17.
  • After failing to gain a first, the Cowboys called on Villanueva for a 21-yd FG to trail only 14-10 heading to the locker room despite the fact that they had managed only three first downs – none in Q2 – and only 42 yd for the half.

Contrary to reports that he gave the team a tongue-lashing, Lombardi had little to say at halftime.

  • The assistants met with their subgroups. One coach told Starr that the LBs were dropping straight back on pass plays to double team the WRs, opening up short completions to backs. Bart would remember the suggestion late in the game.
  • The Cowboys changed some blocking patterns to confuse the Packer D.
  • QB Don Meredith, who had missed open receivers because his hands were so cold, cut a hole in his jersey where he could tuck his right hand between plays.

The weather won the third quarter.

  • One of the chain gang had to pull off his ski mask after part of it froze to his mouth.
  • Ray Nitschke, the Packers all-star MLB, lived up to his tough guy image by refusing to stand near the sideline heaters. Instead, he knelt on one knee near the coach as was his custom. But this day he began to get frostbite in one of his toes.
  • Chuck Mercein's left tricep still felt numb from a hard hit in Q2.
  • Reporters in the first row of the press box battled freezing typewriters.
  • Ray Scott, one of the announcers for CBS-TV, insisted on keeping a window open in the broadcast booth, much to the consternation of cohorts Jack Buck and Frank Gifford. "You don't have the feel of the game otherwise," he told them. Gifford made a comment on-air that epitomizes the afternoon: "I think I'll take another bite of my coffee."
References: When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss
"The Old Pro Goes in For Six," Tex Maule, Sports Illustrated, January 8, 1968

The Ice Bowl – III

December 31, 1967: NFL Championship – Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

QB Don Meredith fumbles in Q3.
Meredith fumbles in Q3.

Although neither team scored in Q3, the Cowboys' momentum carried over from the last few minutes of the first half.

  • The Doomsday Defense held the Packers to a mere 10y in the period.
  • On its first possession of the half, Dallas marched to the 13 where LB Lee Roy Caffey caused a Meredith fumble to end the threat.
  • The Cowboys threw Starr for a 16y loss and got the ball back in good field position after the punt. But that drive ended on a missed FG from the 47.
Ice Bowl: Cowboys Offense
Cowboys on offense

Packer QB Bart Starrr
Bart Starr

Packer HB Donny Anderson
Donny Anderson

Packer FB Chuck Mercein
Chuck Mercein

Packer G Jerry Kramer
Jerry Kramer

As the final period began, Dallas had second-and-5 at the 50 after a short punt.

  • Meredith handed to RB Dan Reeves. The former South Carolina QB started a LE sweep but stopped and fired a TD pass over S Tom Brown to WR Lance Rentzel. After the PAT, Dallas led 17-14.
  • The tables had turned completely. Now Green Bay's prospects seemed as bleak as those of the visitors midway through Q2.
  • On their next two possessions, the Packers gained only 21y, 14 coming on an interference penalty. Don Chandler's FG try from the 40 missed badly.
  • Dallas picked up two first downs to run off 5 minutes before punting to the 31 with 4:50 left.

Starr led his troops onto the field for what might be their last chance.

  • Before trotting out, Bart talked to Lombardi. Vince cautioned against anything fancy. "Just try to keep moving the ball."
  • As Nitchske left the field, his feet numb and his voice almost gone, he yelled, "Don't let me down!" as he passed the offense.
  • Donny Anderson, Paul Hornung's replacement at HB, told his QB: "If you dump me the ball, I can get 8 or 10y every play." This advice reinforced what Starr had heard at halftime.
  • According to the Packers, everyone was calm in the huddle, especially the Field General. "We're going in," he said.

What transpired was arguably the finest clutch drive in NFL history.

  • Starr starts with a short pass to Anderson for 6 after faking it to the HB. Then Mercein angles at RE for 7 and a first down.
  • Starr hits Dowler for 13. First-and-ten at the Dallas 43.
  • Townes throws Anderson for a 9y loss on a sweep.
  • Starr, finding no one open downfield, lobs to Anderson for 12 and hits him again for 9. Donny does an excellent job of keeping his footing as he picks his way through defenders. 2nd-and-19 has become 1st-and-10 at the 31. Two minutes left.
  • With Anderson attracting attention, Mercein tells Starr he's open on the left. As Starr drops to pass, he sees Dowler and Anderson covered but, as promised, Mercein is available. So Bart floats the ball to his FB who catches it while backpedaling, then runs past the LB and CB before careening out on the 11 to stop the clock.
  • For years to come, Starr will consider the next play his best call of the game: GIVE 54 or the "sucker play." During the week, Lombardi told him to pick a good spot to use it. The formation and start of the play shout sweep, with the LG pulling to influence All-Pro T Bob Lilly to move laterally. Starr fakes the pitch but hands to Mercein, who bursts through the hole Lilly vacated to the 3.
  • Anderson dives ahead for first-and-goal less than a yd from the goal line. If instant replay had been available, he might have been given a TD, which would have obviated the drama to come. The Packers call their second timeout of the half with 0:20 remaining.
  • Anderson tries the middle again but slips as he takes the handoff, losing his momentum. No gain. Starr uses his final timeout with 16 seconds left.

Starr jogs to the sideline for one of the most famous coach-QB dialogs in football history.

  • Neither suggests kicking a FG. After nine years, Starr thinks like his coach, which is why Vince gives his QB so much latitude.
  • Starr wants to go with a wedge play, the RB knifing between C and G. But he needs RG Jerry Kramer to get good footing to drive Jethro Pugh backward. The Packers have noticed from films that Pugh stands high in his down position, making him the easiest defender to cut down.
  • On the field, Mercein is "100% positive" his number will be called for an old-fashioned dive play.
  • "Run it, and let's get the hell out of here," yells Lombardi, just as frozen as everyone else. After Starr returns to the huddle, Director of Player Personnel Pat Peppler walks over to Lombardi and asks what Starr will call. "Damned if I know," snaps Vince.
Dallas DT Jethro Pugh
Jethro Pugh

Starr scores winning TD.
Starr(15) sneaks over as Mercein (30) raises his hands. Kramer (64) has Pugh (75) down.

That sets the stage for another historic play.

  • In the huddle, Kramer assures Starr he can get good footing.
  • So Bart calls "Brown right, 31 wedge." Brown right is the formation, 3 means the FB, and 1 means the hole between C and RG.
  • As the team lines up, Starr remembers Anderson's slip on the earlier play and decides not to risk a handoff. Even though the Packers have no QB sneak in their playbook to audible to, he will follow Kramer himself.
  • Pugh and the other D linemen kick at the frozen field like batters digging in at the plate. Kramer does the same next to C Ken Bowman and finds a patch of relatively soft turf for his right (pushoff) foot.
  • On the sideline, Wood and Willie Davis can't bear to watch. Out of timeouts, Lombardi wonders if there'll be enough time to run the FG unit on if the play fails.
  • Kramer gets off the snap so quickly some think he was offside. He cuts Pugh down and back as ordered.
  • Mercein starts forward expecting the ball only to see Bart drive into the EZ. As Chuck falls onto the pile, he throws his hands up to make sure the officials don't call him for aiding the ball carrier. Spectators interpret his gesture as the TD signal.
  • As Tex Maule wrote in his SI article: "Suddenly, for 50,000 people, spring came."

Players, media, and spectators all sensed they had just witnessed one of the greatest sporting events ever.

  • Maule on the final drive: "For the next 4 minutes the Packers burrowed deep into that reservoir of experience and determination that has accumlated in their unequaled three-year reign as champions of the world."
  • OT Bob Skoronski, his face "marked and bloody," commented in the locker room: "This game was our mark of distinction."
  • Of the last play, Lombardi remarked, tongue in cheek, "I was thinking of the fans. I couldn't stand to think of them sitting in those cold stands for an OT period."
  • Kramer attracted a larger-than-usual contingent of reporters and used the occasion to talk about Lombardi: "Many things have been said about Coach. And he is not always understood by those who quote him. The players understand. This is one beautiful man."

Two weeks later, in balmy Miami, the Packers easily dispatched the AFL champion Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, 33-14. It was the last game Lombardi coached for Green Bay.

10 minute video of game highlights - includes the 2 Q2 TDs
This 3-minute video shows the three plays right before Starr's sneak
NFL Films: #1 Worst Weather Game of All Time

References: When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, David Maraniss
"The Old Pro Goes in For Six," Tex Maule, Sports Illustrated, January 8, 1968
Houston @ Buffalo AFC Playoff January 3, 1993

The Houston Oilers defeated the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the 1992 sea­son, 27-3, then started the playoffs at Buffalo.

  • At halftime of the playoff game, Houston had outscored the Bills 55-6 in the last six quarters.
  • Oilers QB Warren Moon put on an incredible display, sparking a 28-3 first half by completing 19 of 22 passes for 218y and four TDs against a proud but injury-riddled Buffalo D.
  • After the game, Bills LB Darryl Talley said, "Warren was like a surgeon. He could've done plastic surgery and given 9,000 face lifts."
  • Walt Corey, Buffalo's usually soft-spoken D coordinator, lit into his unit at halftime.

I gave them my Lincoln Gettysburg Address. It's not me, but we had to get something straight. I didn't spare anybody. Hit 'em right between the eyes. I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field. I can't repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren't going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you're afraid to make things hap­pen or afraid to make a mistake.

  • Nose T Jeff Wright recalled:

With every word that came out of Walt's mouth, he reached a new temp­erature level until he finally exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. You'd damn well better have reason to feel good about your­selves, regardless of how this game turns out.

  • Head coach Marv Levy didn't have much to say to his Bills.

There was no great pep talk like you'd see in the movies. Halftime is only twelve minutes long. I really had only three minutes to make adjust­ments. The only thing I recall saying to our players was, "You are two- time defending AFC champions. When you walk off the field thirty minutes from now, don't let anybody say that you quit or gave up."

The fans' hope that their boys would come out strong to start the second half were quickly dashed.

  • On the Bills' first possession, DB Bubba McDowell intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of TE Keith McKellar and returned it 58y to pay dirt to make the score 35-3.
  • Many fans left the stadium, and countless TV viewers changed the channel.
  • Even Levy almost lost hope, as he admitted after the game.

I said to myself, "This is a humiliating day." Did I think we still had a chance? Well, there was a lot of time left and a glimmer of hope. But it was about the same chance as winning the New York Lottery.

  • The Buffalo radio announcers commented during the first half as their team fell behind that they had worried whether the Bills would be able to get up for the game after reaching the Super Bowl two straight seasons. Also, they played without QB Jim Kelly and LB Cornelius Bennett. Hobbled RB Thur­man Thomas gave it a go in the first half but never left the sidelines the second 30 minutes.
  • After McDowell's INT, one of the Bills' broadcasters, tacitly conceding defeat, talked about Houston playing Pittsburgh in the next round and how the Steelers had been the Oilers' nemesis for many years.
  • A member of the Houston radio team made a statement he would later re­gret.

The lights are on here at Rich Stadium. They've been on since this morn­ing. You could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now.

Then a miracle happened. In the next 11:19, the Bills scored four unanswered TDs.

  • The comeback was led by backup QB Frank Reich, who just happened to be the signal-caller for the largest comeback in college football history at that time - Maryland's 42-40 victory over Miami after trailing 31-0 at the half.
  • The Bills got their first break on the kickoff following McDowell's TD. The wind blew the ball slightly on the tee just as Al Del Greco kicked it. The re­sult was an unintentional squib kick that hit one of the Bills' front five and bounced back toward the Oilers. Somehow, the Bills recovered in the scram­ble at midfield.
  • Reich led a 10-play drive that included a completion to Pete Metzelaars that went right through the hands of LB Eddie Robinson (a graduate of Brother Martin High School, New Orleans). Facing fourth and 2, the Bills eschewed the FG, and RB Kenneth Davis gained 5. He scored from the 1 two plays later to cut the lead to 35-10.
  • Levy decided to go for the onside kick, which K Steve Christie recovered himself. It took only four plays this time thanks to Reich's 38y TD pass to WR Don Beebe. The Bills got a break on the play because replays showed that Beebe's foot went out of bounds before he made the catch, but none of the officials caught it. So with 7:46 left in Q3, the score was 35-17.

The Buffalo D responded to their halftime tongue-lashing.

  • They forced Houston to punt for the first time all day. Greg Montgomery's 25y boot into the strong wind gave the Bills excellent field position again at their own 41.
  • Now in a groove, Reich connected with WR James Lofton for 18. Then Davis gained 20 on a screen pass before Reich fired a 26y TD strike to WR Andre Reed to cut the lead to 35-24.
  • In a span of ten minutes, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176y, and scored 21 points while holding the visitors to three plays for 3y.

Events continued to spiral downward for Houston.

  • Moon's pass bounced off the hands of WR Webster Slaughter into the clutches of S Henry Jones who returned it 15y to the Oiler 23.
  • Three plays gained only 5y. So Levy called time-out and asked Reich and O-coordinator Jim Shofner to pick a play likely to gain the first down. When other coaches disagreed with their choice, Levy supported his QB and Shof­ner. "If that's the play you want, that's the play we're using."
  • The play was successful beyond their intent. Reich threw to Reed for a TD.
  • Levy recalled years later:

I told the other coaches, "If we hit a fourth down, we're going for it if it's anywhere near reasonable distance for the first down." I didn't know that we'd get a TD on the play, but the reasoning was that, if we made a FG, we were still down by eight. The quarter was nearly over, and we'd be go­ing into the wind, and you'd have to get very close to try a FG in the fourth quarter.

  • The Bills had now trimmed the deficit from 32 to 4. Some of the spectators who had departed tried to come back. When stadium attendants wouldn't let them in the gates, they climbed the fences.

The Bills' D continued its solid second half while the Oilers' special teams misfired again.

  • Talley sacked Moon, forcing a fumble. Houston recovered but had to punt.
  • Montgomery got off only a 24-yarder, putting Buffalo in business again at their own 48. However, the Bills went nowhere and had to punt.

For the first time in the second half, Moon's O showed some life.

  • A roughing the passer penalty on DT Bruce Smith negated LB Carlton Bai­ley's INT and continued a drive into Q4.
  • Despite two sacks by Wright, Houston reached the Buffalo 14 before bog­ging down.
  • Then the Bills got another break. Montgomery, who was having a decidedly bad day, fumbled the snap on Del Greco's FG attempt. Talley grabbed the ball and ran 74y to the EZ, but officials ruled Darryl down by contact at the point of the recovery. Botching the easy three-point try would hurt Houston dearly.
  • With the Oilers expecting a pass on third-and-4, Reich gave the ball to Da­vis who roared to a 35y gain. A diving tackle by DB Steve Jackson prevented a TD.
  • On third and 2, Reich hit Reed to move the chains. The same duo struck again for a 17y TD to put Buffalo in front 38-35 with 3:08 left in the game.
 Reed Scores Go-Ahead TD
Andre Reed scores go-ahead TD.

Although the Bills appeared to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Moon didn't give up.

  • He led a 63y march to the 16. The key play was an 18y completion to Slaughter on fourth-and-4 from the Bills' 34.
  • Del Greco booted the FG with just 0:12 left to send the game into OT.
  • In 2004, Levy recalled:

One of the least-remembered plays of the game was made by DE Phil Hansen. They threw a screen pass that looked like it would go for a TD. Hansen had rushed the passer, was chop-blocked, and hit the ground. But Hansen got back onto his feet in the blink of an eye, somehow got downfield, and dove to make a game-saving, shoestring tackle at the 7y line. That forced the Oilers to settle for a score-tying FG ...

Houston won the toss and started on its 20.

  • After completing two short passes for 7y, Warren threw his 50th and last pass of the game.
  • Covered closely by Talley, the intended receiver, Ernest Givens, couldn't catch the ball, which sailed over his head to DB Nate Odomes, who returned it to the 35. A face mask penalty moved the ball to the 20. Many Oilers claim to this day that Talley should have been called for holding on the play.
  • After two runs, Christie booted a 32y FG to culminate the greatest comeback in NFL history. As a commemoration, Steve's kicking shoe was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton OH.

Afterwards, reporters and the players debated the question: "Did Buffalo stage the greatest comeback or was Houston guilty of the greatest choke job the league has ever seen?"

  • Oilers CB Chris Dishman, when asked how it felt to be part of the greatest "collapse," didn't flinch: The greatest "choke"' in history. "Collapse" is just being nice.
  • WR Haywood Jeffires agreed.

Everybody choked at 35-3. It's gone. We lost. Tomorrow's not going to make it better. Sure, we're embarrassed. But what do you want us to do, put a gun up to our heads and shoot ourselves?

  • Hometown hero Reich views the game differently.

I guess there have been a couple of times when my wife and I would look at each other and say, "Did that really happen?" We had to shut them down on every count. I don't look at it like a choke. I look at it as a miracle from God.

Houston wasted no time cleaning house, firing D coordinator Jim Eddy and DB coach Pat Thomas the very next day. The club hired Buddy Ryan to replace Eddy. Head coach Jack Pardee survived.

The Bills won two more playoff games to gain their third straight Super Bowl berth, losing to the Cowboys 52-17.

References: "Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!":
The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History
, Jonathan Rand (2007)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories,
selected by Chris McDonell (2004)

Oilers QB Warren Moon
Warren Moon

Bills LB Darryl Talley
Darryl Talley

Buffalo D-Coordinator Walt Corey
Walt Corey

Buffalo Coach Marv Levy
Marv Levy

Oilers K Al Del Greco
Al Del Greco

Bills QB Frank Reich
Frank Reich

Bills RB Kenneth Davis
Kenneth Davis

Bills WR Don Beebe
Don Beebe

Oilers WR Webster Slaughter
Webster Slaughter

Bills Winning FG
Christie after winning FG

Oilers WR Hayward Jeffires
Hayward Jeffires