Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Monday, January 23, 2006

Team of Destiny ... Or Just Plain Lucky?

Talking with a friend about the Pittsburgh Steelers' heart-stopping victory over Indianapolis two weeks ago, we thought that such a dramatic victory made them seem like a team of destiny. Then my friend pointed out that the week after the Immaculate Reception in 1972, Pittsburgh lost to Miami. (Granted, it was the 17-0 Dolphins, who will be quick to remind you they're the only team ever to go unbeaten.) So I started thinking about how such miraculous teams fared later on in the playoffs.

Following is the result of a scientific study, in which I looked at teams since the Divisional Playoffs began in 1970 who escaped with a dramatic victory in that round, and how they fared the rest of the way. I'm focusing on divisional playoffs only, so you'll see no discussion of The Music City Miracle, Frank Reich, or The Fumble, and only tangential reference to The Drive. That's because teams that win the Divisional Playoff need to win two more games to win it all. Three games seems too many, and one game too few, to really evaluate them.

Team: 1971 Dolphins
What Happened: Beat Kansas City 27-24 in double overtime on Christmas Day, when Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud missed two game-winning kicks.
What Happened Next: Shut out the Colts in the AFC Championship, lost to Dallas 24-3 in Super Bowl VI.

Team: 1972 Steelers
What Happened: Franco Harris caught a pass, and, you know, took it to the house, beating Oakland 13-7.
What Happened Next: Lost 21-17 to the aforementioned Dolphins in the AFC Championship.

Team: 1972 Cowboys
What Happened: Scored the last 17 points of the game to beat San Francisco 30-28.
What Happened Next: Hammered 26-3 by archrival Washington in the NFC Championship.

Team: 1974 Raiders
What Happened: Ken Stabler's dramatic "Sea of Hands" touchdown pass to Clarence Davis beat two-time defending champion Miami 28-26.
What Happened Next: Lost to the Steelers 24-13 in the AFC Championship.

Team: 1975 Cowboys
What Happened: Roger Staubach completed "Hail Mary" pass to Drew Pearson, who somehow wasn't called for pass interference, beating the Vikings 17-14.
What Happened Next: Crushed the Rams 37-7 before losing Super Bowl X to Pittsburgh.

Team: 1976 Raiders
What Happened: In a veeeeery suspicious call, New England's Sugar Bear Hamilton is called for roughing Ken Stabler on 4th down, giving the Raiders a second chance to pull out a 24-21 victory.
What Happened Next: Beat Pittsburgh 24-7 and Minnesota 32-14 to win Super Bowl XI.

Team: 1977 Raiders
What Happened: After tying game on field goal in final seconds, beat Baltimore 37-31 on Stabler-to-Dave Casper touchdown in double overtime.
What Happened Next: Lost to Denver 20-17 in AFC Championship.

Team: 1979 Rams
What Happened: Vince Ferragamo threw 50-yard touchdown pass to Billy Waddy with 2 minutes remaining to beat Dallas 21-19.
What Happened Next: Shut out Tampa Bay 9-0 and hung in Super Bowl XIV with Pittsburgh before losing 31-19.

Team: 1980 Raiders
What Happened: Mike Davis picked off Brian Sipe with the Browns in range for the winning field goal, preserving 14-12 victory.
What Happened Next: Became the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl, beating San Diego and Philadelphia.

Team: 1980 Cowboys
What Happened: Scored 20 fourth-quarter points to beat Atlanta 30-27.
What Happened Next: Lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship, 20-7.

Team: 1981 Chargers
What Happened: Outlasted Miami 41-38 in overtime, with Kellen Winslow blocking a potential game-winning Dolphins field goal while battling heat exhaustion in the Orange Bowl.
What Happened Next: Went from the oven to the freezer, losing AFC Championship 27-7 to Cincinnati in minus-59 degree wind chills.

Team: 1983 49ers
What Happened: Detroit kicker Eddie Murray just missed a game-winning field goal, allowing the Niners to escape, 24-23.
What Happened Next: Rallied from 21-0 deficit to tie at Washington but lost 24-21 in NFC Championship.

Team: 1984 Steelers
What Happened: Eric Williams ran a John Elway interception back to the 2-yard line in the final minutes, setting up the winning touchdown in a 24-17 victory at Denver.
What Happened Next: Blown away by Dan Marino and the Dolphins, 45-28, in the AFC Championship.

Team: 1986 Browns
What Happened: Scored 10 points in the final five minutes to tie the Jets, won in double overtime on Mark Moseley's field goal, 23-20.
What Happened Next: Lost to the Broncos by the same score the next week, thanks to "The Drive."

Team: 1989 Browns
What Happened: Thurman Thomas dropped a potential game-winning touchdown, and Cleveland intercepts Jim Kelly on the next play to beat Buffalo, 34-30.
What Happened Next: Lost to Denver for the third time in four years, 37-21, in the AFC Championship.

Team: 1989 Rams
What Happened: Flipper Anderson hauled in Jim Everett's winning touchdown, then ran straight to the locker room in a 19-13 overtime victory against the Giants.
What Happened Next: Lost 30-3 at San Francisco in NFC Championship.

Team: 1991 Broncos
What Happened: John Elway led an 87-yard drive in the final two minutes, setting up David Treadwell's winning field goal in a 26-24 win over Houston.
What Happened Next: Missed three field goals, lost Elway to injury and gave up a defensive touchdown, yet still only lost 10-7 at Buffalo in the AFC Championship.

Team: 1994 Chargers
What Happened: Rallied from 21-6 down, beat Miami 22-21 when Pete Stoyanovich missed a game-winning field goal.
What Happened Next: Stunned Pittsburgh 17-13 in AFC Championship. Run over by the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX, 49-26.

Team: 1995 Colts
What Happened: Upset top-seeded Kansas City, who missed three field goals and committed four turnovers in a 10-7 defeat.
What Happened Next: Lost dramatic AFC Championship at Pittsburgh, 20-16, when final pass bounced off receiver Aaron Bailey's chest.

Team: 1999 Buccaneers
What Happened: Rallied from 13-0 down to beat Washington 14-13, aided by a bad snap on the potential game-winning field goal.
What Happened Next: Lost 11-6 at St. Louis in NFC Championship. Tony Dungy has hated instant replay ever since.

Team: 2001 Patriots
What Happened: Tom Brady didn't fumble while tucking the ball away. Adam Vinatieri kicked two dramatic field goals to beat Oakland in the snow, 16-13.
What Happened Next: Upset Pittsburgh and then St. Louis to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Team: 2002 Titans
What Happened: On his third try for a game-winning field goal, Joe Nedney connected to beat the Steelers, 34-31.
What Happened Next: Lost to Oakland 41-24 in AFC Championship.

Team: 2003 Eagles
What Happened: Completed 4th-and-26 play in game-tying drive. Beat Green Bay in overtime, 20-17 following horrendous interception by Brett Favre.
What Happened Next: Lost to Carolina 14-3 in NFC Championship.

Team: 2003 Panthers
What Happened: Steve Smith took a Jake Delhomme pass 69 yards for the winning touchdown in double overtime to beat St. Louis 29-23.
What Happened Next: Beat the Eagles before losing to the Patriots on another Vinatieri game-winning kick.

Team: 2004 Steelers
What Happened: Jets kicker Doug Brien missed twice to win the game. Jeff Reed connected to beat New York 20-17.
What Happened Next: Steamrolled by the Patriots machine 41-27 in AFC Championship.

Final Tally:

Of the 25 teams cited, 17 lost in the conference championship game. Five won their next game but lost the Super Bowl. Only three (the 1976 Raiders, 1980 Raiders and 2001 Patriots) won the Super Bowl.

Granted, most of the teams that won their thrillers lost to better teams in the next game, but this proves that to win the Super Bowl, you have to more than just lucky. You also have to be good. The great teams through the years (the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys dynasties, the 1985 Bears) have dominated their opponents.

The 2005 Steelers have already gone farther than many of their predecessors who escaped in the second round of the playoffs. We'll see if they can join an even more elite group.



Anonymous Laser Surgery said...

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11:04 PM  
Blogger Dave Jackson said...

Can I forward this link to NFL referees?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Luckless said...

Yo...don't forget about the Bills, Frank Reich and "The Comeback" only to lose in the Super Bowl...again.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Steve Barton said...

Nice list. Thanks for the perspective.

3:08 PM  

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