Captain Comeback: Before title games were Super

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 29, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Comeback King


If you were expecting a history of comebacks and game-winning drives from the Pro Bowl, you came to the wrong place. Even the Captain doesn’t care about Pro Bowl results. Sure, fourth quarter wins in the Pro Bowl exist, but does anyone really care?
 
Instead, we’ll get prepared for the Super Bowl extravaganza by first taking care of those 13 classic finishes from the pre-merger days of league Championship games. From 1933 to 1969, we had 37 NFL Championship Games played, with only one on a neutral field (1936). Then in the 1960’s, we had 10 AFL Championship Games.
 
A total of 47 games, and there were 13 game-winning drives. Next week when we look at the 45 Super Bowls, we can already tell you there will be 14 game-winning drives. Different eras, home-field advantage versus neutral fields, and yet the ratio of fourth quarter wins remains about the same.
 
Of the following 13 games, we have several rematches to look at, including three that took place in consecutive years. The Super Bowl still dominates the way we view the NFL’s champions, but many legacies were built on the results of these games, from Cleveland’s impact on the NFL after leaving the AAFC, Johnny Unitas’ back-to-back titles, Vince Lombardi’s dynasty in Green Bay, and the game that enabled Joe Namath to even have a guarantee. These moments account for a cherished section of NFL history before the Super Bowl replaced our idea of what it meant to be a champion.
 

1930s

The early 1930’s saw a young league formed in 1920 start to shape into the kind of NFL we love today. Statistics were finally kept in 1932, and a year later the league held their first ever playoff game to decide the league’s champion. Two of the premiere franchises would battle in the historic title tilt.

1933: Classic Game-Winning Drive in 1st Playoff Game

Chicago Bears vs. NY Giants – It was the Bears and the Giants, and they played the game in Chicago. The Bears (10-2-1), winners of the Western Division, played host to the New York Giants (11-3), winners of the Eastern Division. Given none of the other eight teams in the league had more than 6 wins, it was only fitting these two would play for the championship. You may notice the Giants (14) had to play one more game in the regular season than the Bears did, but that’s just how things were back in the day.
 
Chicago won the first meeting of the season, 14-10 at home, but lost 3-0 in the rematch at New York. The Giants brought the highest scoring team in the league, while the Bears were led by All-Pro back Bronko Nagurski.
 
The Bears opened up a 6-0 lead into the second quarter on a pair of field goals by Jack Manders. Harry Newman, who led the league in passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns in the regular season (the 14 games played helps a lot here), tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Red Badgro as the Giants led 7-6 at halftime.
 
Early in the third quarter the Bears regained a 9-7 lead on Manders’ third field goal of the day, which the Giants answered with a 61-yard touchdown drive, with Max Krause scoring a 1-yard touchdown run for a 14-9 lead.
 
Before the quarter ended, the Bears capped off a 92-yard touchdown drive when Nagurski completed a jump pass for an 8-yard touchdown to Bill Karr for a 16-14 lead. We’d have our first ever fourth quarter of playoff action, and it was a tight game that would go down to the final play.
 
The Giants drove to the 8-yard line, and halfback Ken Strong took the ball on a reverse, before doing a lateral back to Newman, who then passed back to Strong for the touchdown on a trick play.
 
New York led 21-16 in a season where Chicago never allowed more than 14 points in any other game. Now late comebacks were very rare in the 1930’s, but the Bears had a trick play of their own prepared.
 
With just over two minutes remaining, the Bears had the ball at the NYG 36. Nagurski threw a 14-yard pass to Bill Hewitt, who then did a lateral to Karr, who raced for the end zone and the game-winning score. The Bears led 23-21.
 
In a game filled with trick plays, Giants’ Hall of Fame center Mel Hein was wide open on the Chicago 30, but running back Dale Burnett’s pass failed to reach him. On the game’s final play, the Giants attempted a hook and ladder, but there was some Red-on-Red violence, as Red Grange tackled Red Badgro before he could pitch the ball back to a teammate.
 
It may have been the run-heavy era of 1933, but late in the third quarter and through the fourth, we had three different go-ahead touchdown passes thrown in the first ever playoff game in NFL history. And leave it up to the Bears to strike twice on throws by a fullback; Hall of Fame legend Bronko Nagurski.
 

1934: Giants Get Sneaky Revenge in Epic Fashion

New York Giants vs. Chicago Bears – We would get a rematch the very next season. The Bears, after winning their last five games in 1933, completed a 13-0 regular season for the first 18-game winning streak in NFL history.
 
We extensively covered the greatest winning streaks in NFL history this season, so you might know how this one ends already. Chicago dominated in the regular season, never allowing more than 16 points in any game. They swept the Giants, but the second meeting, in New York, was just a 10-9 victory.
 
The Giants would get home-field, which was crucial. The night before the game, freezing rain froze the New York playing surface. Giants’ end Ray Flaherty would suggest to coach Steve Owen that sneakers would enable better footing on such a surface. By the third quarter of the game, the sneakers finally arrived.
 
New York needed some kind of advantage, because they trailed 13-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Overcoming 10-point deficits in the fourth quarter back in the 30’s was almost unheard of.
 
The Giants started their comeback with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ed Danowski to Ike Frankian, who wrestled the ball away from the defender for the score. On their next drive, HB Ken Strong, who scored a go-ahead touchdown for the Giants the year before, broke off a 42-yard game-winning touchdown run for a 17-13 lead.
 
Strong wasn’t finished as he poured on an 11-yard touchdown run, followed by Danowski’s 9-yard touchdown run. It capped off a 27-point fourth quarter that left Chicago stunned, and defeated, 30-13. It was the first perfect season the Giants would end, but not the last.
 
“The Sneakers Game” produced the largest scoring fourth quarter in playoff history (27 points), and it can be attributed to that heady change of footwear.
 

1940s

The decade would begin with the biggest stomping in NFL history, when the Chicago Bears demolished the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship Game. After World War II ended, we saw a return of more competitive games, starting with yet another title showdown between the Bears and Giants.
 

1946: Bears Turn Over the Giants in New York

Chicago at NY Giants (box) – The faces were different, but it was another New York/Chicago battle. The Bears were again the better team in the regular season, but had to go to New York for the championship. There would be no frozen Polo Grounds or sneakers involved this time.
 
Consider the voracity of this pre-game headline if it happened today: two Giants (Frank Filchock and Merle Hapes) were accused of taking bribes to fix the game. Hapes would admit to declining the bribe, but was suspended the day of the game for not reporting it. Filchock denied it, and was allowed to play. Weeks later Filchock would admit to the bribe under oath.
 
If he was hoping to cash in on the bribe, Filchock played like it. He finished the day 9/26 for 128 yards, 2 TD, but threw 6 interceptions, including a pick six in the first quarter that put Chicago ahead 14-0.
 
But Filchock’s two touchdown passes did tie the game at 14 as the fourth quarter began. That’s when Sid Luckman faked a handoff and used a bootleg run for a 19-yard touchdown run. The Bears would clinch it with a 26-yard field goal for a 24-14 victory. The Giants finished the game with 8 turnovers.
 

1948: Snow Game Defined

Philadelphia vs. Chicago Cardinals (box) – This was another rematch in the championship game, as the 1947 match was won by the Cardinals, 28-21.
 
This was the first time the NFL aired their championship game on television, but we wouldn’t get anywhere near 49 points this time. A heavy snowstorm covered the field, which prompted Commissioner Bert Bell to consider postponing the game, but the players insisted on playing.
 
As expected, the passing game never had a chance for success, with the teams combining to complete 5/23 passes for 42 yards and 3 interceptions.
 
Turnovers and missed field goals kept the game scoreless until the fourth quarter. After a fumble by Elmer Angsman in the final minute of the third quarter, the Eagles had the ball 17 yards away from the end zone.
 
They ran the ball down to the 5, where Steve Van Buren finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run for the only score in the game. Tommy Thompson had a 0.0 passer rating (2/12 for 7 yards, 2 INT) in the win, but did rush for 50 yards.
 
Running was the difference in the game, as the Eagles carried the ball 57 times for 225 yards compared to 96 yards on 34 carries by the Cardinals. But it’s a wonder how long they would have gone without a score had the Cardinals not fumbled the ball when they did.
 
Van Buren’s run remains the winning score in the first championship in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles.
 

1950s

As the new decade was ushered in, the Cleveland Browns came from dominating the AAFC and attempted to continue their run into the NFL. After skirting by the Giants in the Divisional round, they had the difficult task of slowing down the high-flying Los Angeles Rams.

1950: Browns vs. Rams, Part I

Cleveland vs. LA Rams (box) – After relocating from Cleveland in 1946, the Los Angeles Rams reached the 1949 NFL Championship Game, but their high-scoring offense (30.0 PPG) sputtered in a 14-0 loss to the Eagles.
 
A year later the Rams would set NFL records with 466 points in 12 games (38.8 PPG) on their way to another championship game appearance. Their dual-quarterback system that featured Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin combined for 3,709 yards and 31 TD passes in just 12 games.
 
Meanwhile it was Cleveland’s new professional team, the Browns, who tried to win another championship after winning all four in the defunct AAFC. They were led by coach Paul Brown and Otto Graham.
 
The Browns were the more balanced team, and they were the home team. However, just 27 seconds into the game the Rams struck with Waterfield’s 82-yard touchdown pass to Glenn Davis. Graham responded with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Dub Jones six plays later.
 
Down 14-7 in the second quarter, Graham threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Dante Lavelli. But Lou Groza missed a key extra point, and the Browns still trailed 14-13. Lavelli would catch a 39-yard touchdown in the third quarter to take a 20-14 lead.
 
But Dick Hoerner scored on a 1-yard touchdown for the Rams, followed 21 seconds later by another touchdown after Marion Motley fumbled and it was returned for the score by Larry Brink. The Rams led 28-20 in the fourth quarter.
 
Graham didn’t have many comebacks in his NFL career, but this was a huge one. He completed 9 passes in the quarter, including five in a row to Lavelli. He threw a 14-yard touchdown to Rex Bumgardner to make it 28-27, as the missed extra point loomed large.
 
But Graham would get the ball back with just under two minutes left at his own 32. He directed the Browns down the field to the 10-yard line, where Lou Groza came on for the 16-yard game-winning field goal with 0:28 left. The Browns pulled it off, 30-28, and Graham had his fourth game-winning drive of the season (he would have 6 combined the rest of his career).
 
Graham finished 22/32 for 298 yards, 4 TD, INT, 124.7 rating, and rushed 12 times for 99 yards; numbers that would be excellent in any era. Meanwhile, Waterfield was 18/31 for 312 yards, but threw 4 interceptions. Van Brocklin threw an interception on his only pass attempt, accounting for all 5 of the Rams’ turnovers.
 

1951: Browns vs. Rams, Part 2

LA Rams vs. Cleveland (box) – A year later we would get the rematch, as Cleveland went for the repeat and the Rams were just hoping the third time would be the charm. As we’re seeing so often, it pays to be the home team, and the Rams were the home team this time around.
 
While the Rams brought another potent offense (32.7 PPG), they were facing another stingy Cleveland defense that only allowed 12.7 PPG. After dropping their season opener, the Browns won 11 straight games to finish 11-1.
 
Unlike the first meeting, there would be no first quarter fireworks. The quarter was scoreless, with Dick Hoerner’s 1-yard touchdown run first lighting up the scoreboard in the second quarter. The Browns would respond with Lou Groza’s 52-yard field goal. Then before halftime, Otto Graham threw a 17-yard touchdown to Dub Jones for the 10-7 lead.
 
In the third quarter, Graham lost a fumble, and the Rams only had to go two yards for Dan Towler to score a go-ahead touchdown run. Graham made another mistake, now in the fourth quarter, as his pass was intercepted and returned to the one. But Bob Waterfield would have to add a 17-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead after the Rams were stopped at the goal line.
 
Graham recovered to lead a 65-yard drive that ended with Ken Carpenter’s 2-yard touchdown run to tie the game. Two plays later, Norm Van Brocklin found Tom Fears for a 73-yard touchdown pass, which would be the longest game-winning touchdown pass in playoff history before Tim Tebow’s 80-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas this year.
 
It would be the last championship for the Rams until the 1999 season, when Kurt Warner hooked up with Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard touchdown pass in a tied game to win the Super Bowl.
 
Van Brocklin finished 4/6 for 128 yards and the winning score. Waterfield was only 9/24 for 125 yards and 2 INT. Graham was 19/40 for 280 yards, but had 4 turnovers (3 INT). You can say these two title games were the only ones to feature three Hall of Fame quarterbacks truly on display.
 
The Browns and Rams split, but Cleveland would keep returning to title games.
 

1953: Layne Lifts Lions Late

Detroit vs. Cleveland (box) – The early 1950’s were dominated by the Browns and Lions. They met in the 1952 Championship Game, with Detroit winning 17-7. It was hard to imagine Cleveland could lose a third consecutive championship opportunity, but the game was in Detroit.
 
Cleveland had another dominant season, starting 11-0, but they did drop their season finale to the Eagles. The Lions were looking for a second straight championship, and were led by Bobby Layne.
 
In the first quarter, Otto Graham was stripped of the ball, and the Lions would score a touchdown on Doak Walker’s 1-yard run just six plays later for a 7-0 lead. They exchanged field goals in the second quarter as Detroit led 10-7 at halftime.
 
In the third quarter, Layne was intercepted, and the Browns moved 49 yards as Harry Jagade scored a 9-yard touchdown run to tie the game 10-10. Cleveland would add two field goals from Lou Groza to take a 16-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
 
With just under five minutes left, Layne took over at his own 20, needing a touchdown. He completed four of six passes on the drive, including three for 68 yards by rarely used Jim Doran. With just over two minutes left, it was Layne to Doran for 33 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Detroit led 17-16.
 
Only needing a field goal, Graham’s first pass was intercepted and Detroit claimed their second straight championship. Layne was 12/25 for 179 yards, TD, 2 INT, and rushed for 44 yards.
 
Graham had a miserable day, completing just 2 of 15 passes for 20 yards, 2 INT, a 0.0 passer rating, and a lost fumble.
 
It was Layne that could lay claim to the first great game-winning drive in Championship Game history where a team absolutely needed a touchdown, and their means of doing it was primarily with the quarterback through the air.
 
Five years later, another legendary quarterback would stake his claim on the two-minute drill.
 

1958: (Not Exactly) The Greatest Game Ever Played

Baltimore at NY Giants (box) – It was the game that introduced us to sudden-death overtime in the NFL, as well as introducing many fans to the NFL in general as over 45 million peopled tuned into the contest that immensely heightened the league’s popularity.
 
It was “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, except it really wasn’t. The Colts dominated the game statistically, outgaining the Giants 452 to 266 in yards, 27 first downs to 10, outrushing, and out-passing the Giants as well. There were 8 fumbles, 7 turnovers total, and a blocked field goal. It was hardly the prettiest game ever played, but it was an exciting one.
 
It was a meeting of the top two defenses in the league, but the Colts had the top-ranked offense (31.8 PPG), compared to the Giants who ranked just 9th (20.5 PPG). Johnny Unitas was making his playoff debut, while the Giants started Don Heinrich, but Charlie Conerly would throw most of the passes, and throw them very well (10/14 for 187 yards, TD).
 
Early on, things were sloppy with three turnovers: Unitas lost the ball on a sack/fumble by Sam Huff, Heinrich then fumbled, and finally Unitas threw an interception.  
 
Eventually, Unitas threw a 60-yard pass to Lenny Moore, but Steve Myhra’s 27-yard field goal was blocked by Huff. Pat Summerall (yes, the one and only) kicked a 36-yard field goal to get the Giants on the board first.
 
Frank Gifford fumbled twice in the second quarter, and the Colts converted both into touchdowns to take a 14-3 halftime lead. In the third quarter, the Colts turned it over on downs after Alan Ameche was stopped on fourth down.
 
The Giants put together a 95-yard drive, which included a 62-yard pass to Kyle Rote, who fumbled the ball. But teammate Alex Webster recovered the fumble and returned it to the one to set up Mel Triplett’s one-yard touchdown.
 
Early in the fourth quarter, Conerly’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Gifford gave the Giants a 17-14 lead. The Colts drove the ball into scoring territory, but missed a 46-yard field goal. On their next attempt, Unitas was sacked twice, knocking the Colts out of field goal range.
 
Finally, with two minutes left, Unitas took over at his own 13. He moved the ball down the field with three consecutive completions for 62 yards to his favorite receiver Raymond Berry (12 catches for 178 yards, TD on the day). That set up Myhra’s 20-yard field goal to force the first sudden-death overtime in NFL history.
 
The Giants would go three and out, giving the Colts their opportunity. Unitas, calling the plays as he always did, directed the 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Ameche’s 1-yard dive into the end zone for the 23-17 victory.
 
Unitas was 26/40 for 349 yards, TD, INT while carving his legacy in just his third season with a championship comeback and game-winning drive for the ages. And the very next year, he’d have to do it again.
 

1959: The Forgotten Rematch

Baltimore vs. NY Giants (box) – Hard to say the Giants don’t play in exciting championship games, Super Bowl or not. But as a follow-up to “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, this rematch in Baltimore gets much less attention.
 
Johnny Unitas started the game with a 60-yard touchdown pass to Lenny Moore to take a 7-0 lead. The Giants answered with a field goal, but quarterback Charlie Conerly (17/37 for 226 yards, TD, 2 INT) could never find the same success he had the previous year against the Baltimore defense.
 
After Baltimore missed their field goal, Pat Summerall kicked a 37-yard field goal as the Giants trailed 7-6 at halftime. They would take their first lead, 9-7, on Summerall’s 22-yard field goal in the third quarter. That score would last into the fourth quarter.
 
That’s when the floodgates opened and the Colts began a 24-point fourth quarter. Unitas completed a 36-yard pass to Moore, and then rushed for a 4-yard go-ahead touchdown run on a 55-yard drive that proved to be the game-winning drive.
 
Leading 14-9, the Colts intercepted Conerly, putting the ball 14 yards away from the end zone. Unitas threw a 12-yard touchdown to Jerry Richardson. Then another Conerly pass was intercepted; this time for a dagger of a touchdown, and the Colts led 28-9.
 
They would later add a field goal, and a meaningless touchdown by the Giants made it a 31-16 final. Hardly the thrill of overtime from the previous season, but still a game the Colts had to come back in the fourth quarter to win.
 
Unitas finished 18/29 for 264 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, and the game-winning touchdown run. After two straight comeback wins in championship games, who would have imagined Unitas wouldn’t win another playoff game for 11 years, or have such struggles after his virtuoso performances against the Giants?
 

1960s

The 1960’s would belong to Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. However, the decade would start with two rarities: a playoff loss by Lombardi, and a championship for the Eagles.
 

1960: Lombardi Starts 0-1 in the Playoffs

Philadelphia vs. Green Bay (box) – For the third year in a row, the NFL Championship Game was decided in the fourth quarter. Played a day after Christmas on a Monday, the Eagles hosted upstart Green Bay and second-year coach Vince Lombardi.
 
The Eagles had a 10-2 regular season built on the back of 34-year old league MVP Norm Van Brocklin, who delivered 5 fourth quarter comebacks in a span of 7 games during the regular season. In the final game of his career, Van Brocklin would need to put together a 6th comeback of the season to give the Eagles their third (and most recent) championship in team history.
 
Philadelphia turned the ball over on the first play of the game after a lateral was deflected and recovered, but the Packers would come up empty. They built a 6-0 lead into the second quarter on two field goals. Van Brocklin found Tommy McDonald for a 35-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-6 lead. The Eagles added a field goal, while Paul Hornung went wide left on just a 12-yard attempt.
 
In the second half, the Packers turned the ball over on downs, while Van Brocklin then threw a pass into the end zone that was intercepted. A scoreless third quarter led to the Eagles holding on to their 10-6 lead in the fourth quarter.
 
Early in the quarter, Bart Starr threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Max McGee for a 13-10 lead. Van Brocklin only had to throw the ball one time on the ensuing drive, as a long kick return put the ball at the GB 39. Ted Dean scored a 5-yard touchdown run with 5:21 left.
 
As the Packers tried to drive for a championship-winning touchdown, Chuck Bednarik, who played every snap in the game on both sides of the ball, tackled Jim Taylor at the Eagles’ 10 and made sure he didn’t get up so that Green Bay didn’t run another play.
 
It was the only loss of Lombardi’s playoff career, as he would collect 9 straight wins and five championships the rest of the decade.
 
Earlier this week we mentioned teams that were at least +2 in turnover differential and outgained their opponent by 50+ yards were 110-1 in the playoffs (now 110-2 after New England’s win). This was the first loss on that list, as Green Bay was +2 in turnovers and +105 in yards.
 

1962: Longest Championship Game Ever

Dallas Texans at Houston (box) – The 1962 Houston Oilers are a statistical wonder. George Blanda threw 27 touchdown passes, but a record 42 interceptions. Unless Brett Favre comes out of retirement and doubles as quarterback/head coach, that is one record that will never be broken, and it was done in 14 games.
 
Even with an AFL-leading 52 takeaways, the Oilers had a league-worst 57 giveaways. And yet, they were still 11-3 and hosting the third ever AFL Championship Game. They won the first two, and were looking for the three-peat against a Dallas Texans team that would later become the Kansas City Chiefs.
 
Already led by future HOFers Hank Stram and Len Dawson (29 TD, 98.3 rating in regular season), the Texans were 11-3 and split the season series with Houston. The only team that scored more points and allowed less than Houston was Dallas, so this battle of Texas was the perfect matchup.
 
Turnovers would be a problem for Houston, as Blanda tossed the first of his 5 interceptions in the first quarter. The Texans opened up a 3-0 lead, and Blanda, doubling as kicker, missed a 47-yard field goal.
 
Another Blanda interception led to Dallas taking a 17-0 lead in the second quarter after Abner Haynes scored a pair of touchdowns. Blanda also threw incomplete on a fourth down pass, and Houston trailed 17-0 at halftime.
 
Houston finally got on the board in the third quarter with Blanda’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Willard Dewveall. A break in the form of the fumble gave Houston another scoring opportunity, but once again Blanda was intercepted.
 
In the fourth quarter, Blanda kicked a 31-yard field goal to make it a 17-10 game. Later, Charley Tolar scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to complete the 17-point comeback and tie the game.
 
With a chance to win the game in regulation, Blanda’s 42-yard field goal was blocked by Dave Grayson, sending the game to overtime.
 
The first overtime was scoreless, but Blanda threw two more interceptions, including one late that was returned to midfield. The Texans then marched to set up Tommy Brooker for a 25-yard game-winning field goal 2:54 into the second overtime. The Texans avoided the 17-point collapse, and won their first championship in the decade.
 

1967: The Ice Bowl

Green Bay vs. Dallas (box) – After winning five NFL championships in the 1960’s, including the first two Super Bowls; perhaps no win is more memorable during the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty than “The Ice Bowl” against Dallas.
 
It was one season earlier when Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys took their No. 1 scoring offense into Green Bay and lost a dramatic 34-27 NFL Championship Game. That was for the right to play in Super Bowl I. That was also played in 40 degree temperatures. A year later, the rematch was set at Lambeau Field again, but things were different this time.
 
The weather was fierce, with game temperatures ranging from -12 to -14 with wind chills ranging from -33 to -37. It is the coldest game in NFL history based on air temperature.
 
The icy field did have its impact on offense, as neither team cracked 200 yards of total offense. Each team had two turnovers. Still, Bart Starr managed to effectively throw the ball, completing 14/24 passes for 191 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT. Compare that to Dallas’ Don Meredith, who was 10/25 for 59 yards and an interception.
 
The Packers opened up a 14-0 lead on two Starr touchdown passes, before Starr’s lost fumble was recovered and returned for a 7-yard touchdown for Dallas. The Cowboys’ offense finally got on the board with a 21-yard field goal before halftime, trailing 14-10.
 
In the third quarter Dallas managed more offense, but Meredith fumbled in the red zone, and then took a sack on the following drive, resulting in a missed 47-yard field goal.
 
The Cowboys used some trickery to start the fourth quarter, when Dan Reeves tossed a 50-yard touchdown on the halfback-option to Lance Rentzel for the go-ahead touchdown. The 50 yards almost equaled Meredith’s 59 yards on 25 attempts in the game.
 
Green Bay rarely was in a trailing position during their 9 consecutive postseason wins in the 1960’s, but needed a drive in this one. Don Chandler missed a 40-yard field goal that would have tied the game.
 
With 4:50 left, Starr got the ball at his own 32. He would complete three key passes for 44 yards. An 8-yard run put the ball at the Dallas 3. Donny Anderson attempted to run in the score, but was stopped twice at the one.
 
It was third down, and 16 seconds remained. Starr called his team’s final timeout to discuss strategy. Odds are on a pass play, as any failure to score on a run would likely lead in the clock expiring, as there wouldn’t be enough time to get the field goal unit on the field, and it would be fourth down.
 
Any type of run was a risk, but that’s what you have the most famous block in NFL history for. Starr went behind Jerry Kramer’s block and scored on the 1-yard dive. Green ay won 21-17 and went on to win their fifth championship of the decade.
 
Along with Alan Ameche’s score in the first ever overtime, you won’t find a more famous – or ballsy – one-yard touchdown run in NFL history.
 

1968: Comeback Before Guarantee

NY Jets vs. Oakland (box) – Before Joe Namath could make any guarantee about Super Bowl III, the Jets had to take care of business in the 1968 AFL Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders. It was a rematch of the “Heidi Game” from earlier in the season. The Raiders had scored two touchdowns in the final minute to pull of a 43-32 comeback victory, which NBC decided to bump the ending for to show a made-for-TV version of Heidi
 
The Jets opened up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, with Namath finding Don Maynard for a 14-yard touchdown to start the scoring. In the second quarter, Daryle Lamonica answered with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff.
 
The Raiders eventually tied the game at 13 in the third quarter on a George Blanda field goal. Namath threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Pete Lammons for a 20-13 lead. After the Raiders picked up a fourth quarter field goal, they intercepted Namath and returned the ball to the NYJ 5, where they went ahead on Pete Banaszak’s 5-yard touchdown run for a 23-20 lead.
 
Namath, who was the first quarterback to have 30 incompletions in a playoff game (19/49, but only one interception), went back to Maynard, who caught a 52-yard pass, and then caught the 6-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner.
 
Oakland’s last threat ended in disaster, as Lamonica’s pass attempt was a lateral, and with his teammates not realizing the mistake, the Jets recovered the ball to secure the win. It was the first playoff win for Namath, and it enabled all the history-making from Super Bowl III from the guarantee to the upset win to happen.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football researcher/writer who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He notes the home team was 10-3 in these games. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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