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Ultimate Stakes on Table Again for Giants and Cowboys 29

Posted on January 01, 2012 by Chris Kent

The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants have experienced this before. Playing each other in New York in the regular season finale with the winner claiming the NFC East Championship. Almost 18 years ago to the day, the two teams played arguably the most significant game in the longtime series between the two bitter division rivals.

On Jan. 2, 1994, the teams met in the old Meadowlands stadium in New York

 in the 1993 regular season finale with the division title on the line. While the stature of that game was a bit bigger than what is on the line tonight in New York when the two teams meet to decide the division title in the regular season finale, tonight’s battle is easily the biggest game between the two teams since that fabled game in 1994. Back then, Dallas was the defending Super Bowl champions with “The Triplets” – Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, and Emmitt Smith – all of who would later be enshrined in the pro football hall of fame. New York had Giants all time greats in Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor.

Those marquee players are replaced by names today like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff for the Cowboys. New York offers Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora. All good players, some even great. Overall, a notch below the cast for each team a generation ago and not a sure fire hall of famer among them.

While the stakes are high tonight with a division title and along with it the NFC’s final playoff berth on the line, there was even more at stake 18 years ago, at least for Dallas. A win meant home field advantage, a week off, and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Both teams also entered the 1994 game at 11-4 while tonight’s game features teams stuck in mediocrity with identical 8-7 records. Still, a huge game is a huge game.

Emmitt Smith, who suffered a separated right shoulder just before halftime

Emmitt Smith sustained a separated right shoulder on this play after being tackled by the Giants' Greg Jackson (47) just before halftime on Jan. 2, 1994.

 in the 1994 game, played through it finishing with 168 yards on 32 carries. Smith also had 61 yards on 10 catches as the Cowboys won 16-13 in overtime following Eddie Murray’s 41-yard field goal. The game is memorable at least in Dallas lore as Smith cemented his legendary status as a warrior who could play with the burden of a significant injury and will his team to victory. To this day it is remembered as one of the top displays of courage and toughness in the history of sports.

Injury is also on the table again for the Cowboys in tonight’s game, this time entering it. Romo has a bruised right throwing hand which he suffered in last week’s 20-7 home loss to Philadelphia. While he has been dealing with swelling in the hand all week, he is scheduled to start Sunday night’s showdown. He will likely be wearing a protective wrap on his hand that leaves his fingers exposed to ensure a sure grip on the ball.

Playing hurt is nothing new to Romo who has displayed his own brand of toughness and courage this season. Next to Smith’s performance with his separated shoulder, Romo arguably comes up next in courageous performances while playing injured in Dallas annals.

Playing with a broken rib and a punctured lung suffered during the first half at San Francisco back in September this season, Romo returned to the game to lead the Cowboys to a 27-24 overtime win over the 49ers. Romo’s 77-yard connection to Jesse Holley in overtime set up a 19-yard field goal by rookie Dan Bailey to clinch it. Romo finished 20-for-33 for 345 yards and two touchdowns while compiling a 116.4 quarterback rating. One of the most clutch performances of his career, all while enduring severe pain that at times tested his ability to call out signals and after the game made it hard to talk during the postgame interview where he needed help to get up and off the podium.

Dallas tight end Jason Witten tries to escape Giants linebacker Michael Boley during the team's first meeting in Dallas back on Dec. 11 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images).

Romo continued to play, starting each and every game this season as trainers nursed his way back to health. It would be about midseason before both the rib and lung were totally healed.

By then Dallas was on a roll, playing its’ best ball of the season. A 34-7 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 30 was followed by a four-game winning streak that put the Cowboys at 7-4 and in first place in the division. During that same time, the Giants were fading. Following a big 24-20 win at New England, New York was 6-2 at midseason. Four straight losses followed, three coming to 2011 division champions in San Francisco, New Orleans, and Green Bay. That put them at 6-6 heading into the first Dallas game.

Trailing by 12 points with 5:41 to play, the Giants scored 15 straight points to post a come-from behind win which saved their season. It was secured when New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul blocked Bailey’s potential game-tying field goal after a successful attempt just seconds earlier was nullified by an icing timeout called by Giants coach Tom Coughlin in the 37-34 win.

Since logging its’ fourth straight win with a 20-19 overtime win over Miami on Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys have gone 1-3, the only win coming at Tampa Bay on Dec. 17. The loss to New York in the first meeting was significant for both teams as it tightened the race for the division title.

The outcome left both teams at 7-6 overall and 2-2 in the division. Each

Brandon Jacobs runs for a touchdown during the first half of the Giants' win in Dallas back in December (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman).

 team had three games to play with both facing two division opponents. However at the time, the Giants had the division lead by virtue of its’ head to head win over Dallas. It looked as if things would still come down to the final regular season game when the two met in New York.

That is exactly what has happened. There is no tomorrow. The winner wins the division and goes to the playoffs. The loser goes home and has a long offseason.

The only question is how will this game stack up to that memorable game from 1994? If history is any indication, it should be a dogfight. All the marbles are on the table and it is for anyone’s taking.

NFL Classic Rewind: Steelers Stun 49ers, Ending Dreams of Undefeated Season 38

Posted on December 16, 2011 by A.J. Foss

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers are considered one of the greatest teams of the Super Bowl era as they went 18-1 and won the second of four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s.

But the 49ers’ chances of immortality of joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only undefeated Super Bowl champions were shattered in the seventh game of the season when they were stunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 49ers were still led by head coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana and their famous West Coast Offense, but it was the San Francisco defense that had been the major reason for their 6-0 start.

After allowing a combined 78 points in their first three games, the 49ers defense allowed only one offensive touchdown in the next three games and forced eleven turnovers.

While the 49ers entered their game with the Steelers riding high, Pittsburgh were coming off a humiliating 31-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins at home.
Pittsburgh was 3-3 under head coach Chuck Noll, who was in his 16th season as the Steelers’ head coach.

While they still had veterans John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, and Mike Webster, from the team’s glory days of the 1970s, the Steelers were no longer the dominant team in the NFL as they had not won a playoff game since their win in Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Steelers traveled to San Francisco where they were double-digit underdogs and had backup quarterback Mark Malone in the starter role, filling in for David Woodley who was out with a concussion.

Needing to get off to a fast start, the Steelers received the opening kickoff and used their running game to put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Rich Erenberg that gave Pittsburgh the early lead at 7-0 midway through the opening quarter. Read the rest of this entry →

NFL Classic Rewind: Elway Outduels McMahon for Denver Victory in Monday Night Shootout 31

Posted on December 08, 2011 by A.J. Foss

On a cold Monday night in November of 1987, the Chicago Bears traveled to Denver to face off with the Denver Broncos in a game that featured two teams that had appeared in the previous two Super Bowls.

Entering the game with the league’s best record at 7-1, the Bears seemed poised for a second Super Bowl title in three seasons.

Chicago was still under the leadership of head coach Mike Ditka, but finally had a healthy Jim McMahon at quarterback and running back Walter Payton, who had announced he would retire at the end of the season.

While the Bears were establishing themselves as a Super Bowl favorite, the Broncos were having tough time defending their AFC championship as they entered the Monday night showdown with Chicago with a 4-3-1 record and in third place in the AFC West.

Despite their inconsistency, the Broncos still felt confident about their chances of a second straight Super Bowl as they still had quarterback John Elway at the helm.

But if the Broncos were to make that second straight trip to the Super Bowl, they could not afford to lose against the Bears.

The Bears got the ball to start the game and drove from their 10-yard-line to the 49-yard-line, where they faced a 3rd-and-2.

That is where McMahon faked a handoff to Payton, and fired a pass to Willie Gault, who made the catch at the Denver 40-yard-line, made a spin move, and outraced several Bronco defenders for a 51-yard touchdown that put Chicago ahead 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.

After forcing the Broncos to punt on their opening possession, the Bears got the ball back at their 14-yard-line where it took them eight plays to get back into the end zone, a 6-yard pass from McMahon to tight end Cap Boso to increase the Bears lead to 14-0 with 5:26 left in the opening period.

Following the Bears’ second touchdown, Elway finally got the Denver offense on track as he led them on an eight-play, 84-yard drive, culminating with a bizarre touchdown that brought the Broncos back into the game.

From the Bears’ 22-yard-line, Elway rolled out to the right and fired a pass intended for Steve Sewell, who was in front of the goal line.

However, the ball was tipped by Bears safety Todd Bell, only to be caught by Vance Johnson for the touchdown to make it 14-7 early in the second quarter.

The Bears responded to the touchdown with another long drive, as McMahon completed six of nine passes on a drive that covered 89 yards from the Chicago 10-yard-line to the Broncos’ one-yard line where Chicago faced a third-and-goal.

For the third-and-one, Ditka sent in defensive tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry, who ran in for two touchdowns during his rookie season in 1985, including one in the Super Bowl.

This time, Perry was sent in as a blocker, but McMahon called an audible on the line of scrimmage, and handed the ball off to “The Fridge”, who had not carried the ball all season, only to have Perry be stripped of the ball by defensive back Mike Harden, short of the goal line. Read the rest of this entry →

NFL Classic Rewind: Steelers Send Cowher Out With Victory Over Bengals 11

Posted on December 01, 2011 by A.J. Foss

On January 21, 1992, 34-year-old Bill Cowher was hired as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers after serving for three seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cowher had the difficult task of replacing legendary head coach Chuck Noll, who complied over 200 victories and four Super Bowl championships in his 23-year tenure in Pittsburgh.

But the first-time head coach led the Steelers to an 11-5 record in his first season and the AFC Central Division title, the first time Pittsburgh had won more than 10 games since 1983 and first division title since 1984.

Then in his fourth season, Cowher took the Steelers to their first Super Bowl in 16 years as he directed Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XXX, only to fall short of the NFL championship as the Steelers were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys by the score of 27-17.

After three more losses in the AFC Championship Game, Cowher and the Steelers returned to the Super Bowl in 2005 after winning three postseason games on the road to advance to Super Bowl XL where they faced off with the Seattle Seahawks.

Thanks to a 75-yard touchdown run and a 43-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Antawn Randle El to Hines Ward, the Steelers defeated Seattle 21-10 for the team’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 26 years and give Cowher the elusive Super Bowl title he had been seeking since he became the Pittsburgh head coach in 1992.

Some experts thought Cowher would join running back Jerome Bettis in retirement after the Steelers’ championship, but Cowher returned to Pittsburgh for his 15th season, in hopes of leading the Steelers to a second straight Super Bowl title.

But the Steelers got off to a rough start as they lost six of their first eight games of the season for a 2-6 record and though they would win five of the next six games, the Steelers would not return to the postseason as they were eliminated from playoff contention after a Week 16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Following the loss to the Ravens, rumors began to swirl that the Steelers finale against the Cincinnati Bengals would be the final game of Cowher’s career as the head coach in Pittsburgh. Read the rest of this entry →

College Classic Rewind: LSU Knocks Off Dawgs in SEC Slugfest 6

Posted on November 29, 2011 by A.J. Foss

On September 20, 2003, the #7 ranked Georgia Bulldogs traveled to Baton Rouge to take on the #11 LSU Tigers in an early SEC showdown.

The Bulldogs were the defending SEC champions as they ended a 20-year drought of not winning the SEC title, thanks to head coach Mark Richt, quarterback David Greene, and SEC player of the year, defensive end David Pollack.

Greene, Pollack, and several other key starters returned for the 2003 season and helped led Georgia to wins in their first three games of the season.

Even though they would be playing in one of the toughest environments in all of college football, the Dawgs were confident as they had won all nine games played in opponents’ home stadiums since Richt became the coach in 2001.

LSU also entered the game with a 3-0 record as they had won those three games by a combined score of 143-27.
The Tigers were led by head coach Nick Saban, who had LSU to a surprising SEC championship in 2001 and was in his fourth season in Baton Rouge.

LSU was looking to rebound in 2003 following a late-season collapse in 2002 in which the Tigers dropped five of their last six games to lose their grip on the SEC Western Division title and finish the season with an 8-5 record.

The main reason for that collapse was the loss of starting quarterback Matt Mauck, who broke his foot in the sixth game of the season and was lost for the rest of the season.

Mauck had become a folk hero in the eyes of LSU fans as he had come off the bench to lead the Tigers to a 31-20 upset over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game.

Mauck returned to Baton Rouge for his senior season and was at the helm as the Tigers faced off with Georgia in what turned out to be a preview of that year’s SEC Championship Game.

Both teams traded punts until the Dawgs drove to the LSU 16-yard-line where they had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Billy Bennett to give Georgia a 3-0 lead with 6:20 left in the first quarter.

On the Tigers’ ensuing possession, Mauck was picked off by Georgia safety Sean Jones, to give the Dawgs the ball at the LSU 40-yard-line.

Two runs by running back Michael Cooper gained 22 yards and the Dawgs were in prime position to expand their lead as they had a 1st-and-10 at the Tigers’ 18-yard-line.

Following a one-yard-loss by Cooper, Greene scrambled ten yards and was poised to get the 1st down when he was hit by LSU defensive end Marcus Spears at the eight-yard-line, forcing a fumble which Spears recovered, ending the Bulldog scoring threat. Read the rest of this entry →

NFL Classic Rewind: Punt Return for TD Gives Packers Win in Thanksgiving Shootout 130

Posted on November 23, 2011 by A.J. Foss

Since they began their tradition of playing on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, the team that the Detroit Lions has faced the most on that day has been the Green Bay Packers, as they have played each other 19 times on Thanksgiving with the Detroit coming out on top with an 11-7-1 record.

While the Lions’ upset of the undefeated Packers in 1962 is regarded as the most memorable Thanksgiving moment between the two teams, the two teams combined for 84 points in a wild shoot-out in 1986 that had the game-winning score come on a punt return in the final minute.

Detroit entered the game with a 5-7 record, and needed to win their remaining four games of the season to have any chance of landing a playoff spot under second-year head coach Darryl Rogers.

The Lions would have to go with 14-year veteran quarterback Joe Ferguson, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, at the helm for the annual Thanksgiving game as regular starter Eric Hipple was out with an elbow injury.

While the Lions were trying to hang on in the playoff chase, the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention as they limped in in with a 2-10 record.

The Packers were trying to make a successful transition from Lynn Dickey, who retired after the 1985 season, to third-year quarterback Randy Wright who was in his first full season as the Packers’ starting quarterback.

As they traveled to Detroit, the Packers were trying to shake off the embarrassment of the previous week when defensive tackle Charles Martin body slammed Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, which led to a two-game suspension for Martin and knocking McMahon out for the rest of the year.

Green Bay was also looking for someone to fill in for injured wide receiver Phillip Epps, who broke his ankle in the Bears game.

Enter Walter Stanley, whose primary role was to return kickoffs and punts for Green Bay, to take Epps’ place in the game against the Lions.

Stanley would fill in more than amicably as he played the game of his life on this Thanksgiving Day. Read the rest of this entry →

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