3rd Time Never a Charm for Wild Card Teams

Street Talk 3rd Time Never a Charm for Wild Card Teams

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Our Ravens are Wild Card bound for the third straight year. As we all know this means taking to the road to make it back to a Super Bowl. By becoming a Wild Card for the third straight season, the Ravens join a very small club. They have become just the 4th team since the Wild Card became a football word in 1969, to make it into the playoffs as a Wild Card entry, and with a victory in Kansas City this Sunday, they would be the first team in NFL history to win a Wild Card playoff game three seasons in a row.

We all wanted them to be division champion, get a bye and play at home but as we all know they can get to the Promised Land taking this path, albeit against challenging odds.

Since the Wild Card was invented by the old American Football League in 1969, just six teams have won the Super Bowl form this spot. They were the first Wild Card team ever, the 1969 Chiefs, 1980 Raiders, 1997 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers, and the 2007 Giants.

Six for 41 (15%) is not a great percentage!

Can the Ravens boost this percentage this season?

Obviously it starts with beating the Chiefs, and making NFL history by being the first team to win a Wild Card playoff game three years in a row. They now join the Houston Oilers (’78-’80), the Oilers again (’87-’90) and Miami Dolphins (’97-’99) as the only teams to be Wild Card entrants at least three years in a row.

Let’s take a fast view of those three teams:

Houston Oilers (’78-’80)

Bum Phillips was hired in 1975 as head coach and brought respectability to a team that had won just nine games the prior three seasons. Quarterback Dan Pastorini and wide receiver Ken Burrough gave them the ability to play with any team.  The playoffs eluded them to 1978, when they drafted running back Earl Campbell. Campbell became the AP Offensive Player of the Year 78, 79, 80, rushing for 5,081 yards and forty five touchdowns during their playoff run. The Oilers problem was the world champion Steelers who shared the AFC Central with them. The Oilers finished second to them in 1978 and79, then second to the surprising Browns in 1980. While they never made it to the Super Bowl, they won playoff games.

In 1978 they beat the fellow Wild Card Dolphins in Miami, 17-9, then, crushed the heavily favored Patriots in New England 31-14 behind three Pastorini’s touchdown throws and 181 yards on the ground by Campbell. Their run ended in AFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers 34-5 in the freezing rain of Pittsburgh.

In 1979 as a Wild Card they beat the Broncos in Houston 13-7 but lost Pastorini, Campbell, and Burrough to injuries – their quarterback, best running back, and best wide receiver. That did not stop them in the divisional round in San Diego as defensive back Vernon Perry set an NFL playoff record that still stands by intercepting 4 of Dan Fouts’ passes. Back up QB Gifford Neilson hit back up wide receiver Mike Renfro with a 47 yard score for the winning points in a 17-14 upset victory.

Their season ended again in Pittsburgh, 27-13 in the AFC championship game. The game was defined by a famous no-touchdown call by the officials.

Trailing 17-10 at the end of the third quarter, Pastorini hit Renfro in the back of the end zone for a score, but he juggled the ball, and it was ruled incomplete. There was no replay back then although it should be noted that NBC’s replay was inconclusive. Momentum changed back to Pittsburgh and the Oilers went home losers again.

(NOTE: Editor completely disagrees with Mr. Backert’s conclusion here regarding Renfro’s catch. It was a touchdown as evidenced by the video below. Pay particular attention to the 1:50 mark. But we’ll let you be the judge.)
In 1980, Ken Stabler took over at quarterback, and they had to travel to play the other Wild Card, Stabler’s former team the Raiders in Oakland. The Oilers run of consecutive Wild Card game victories ended with a 27-7 loss to the Raiders. These Oilers had the dubious distinction of losing three years in a row to the eventual Super Bowl champion and this time the Raiders became just the second Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl.     

Houston Oilers (’87-’90)

This edition of the Oilers was a Wild Card team an NFL record 4 years in a row, finishing second twice each to the Browns and Bengals in the AFC Central. Jerry Glanville coached them from 87-89 while Jack Pardee took over in 1990. These Oilers featured the Run and Shoot formation with quarterback Warren Moon throwing to wide receivers Ernest Givens, Drew Hill, Haywood Jeffries, and Curtis Duncan. Mike Rozier and Lorenzo White provided some solid running but this was a passing first team.

In 1987 they beat the Seahawks in Houston 23-20 in overtime for their first Wild Card win, but were crushed in Denver 34-10 the following week in the Divisional round, turning the ball over on their first 2 possessions.

In 1988 they beat the Browns, the other Wild Card team that year in Cleveland 24-23, despite 2 scoring throws from Browns’ third string quarterback Mike Pagel (the last quarterback of the Baltimore Colts) who was playing for the injured Bernie Kosar and Don Strock. The Oilers moved on and lost 17-10 to the Bills in Buffalo, in what was Jim Kelly and Marv Levy’s first playoff game together.

In 1989 the Wild Card Oilers hosted the other 1989 Wild Card, Pittsburgh Steelers who ended the Oilers 2 year run of Wild Card game victories with an overtime Gary Anderson field goal which was set up by Rod Woodson’s fumble recovery of White’s fumble on the first play of overtime.

In 1990 new head coach Jack Pardee again took the Oilers into the AFC Wild card game, but fell behind the Bengals 34-0 in Cincinnati in a 41-14 loss to the Bengals. The Oilers would win the AFC Central in 1991 ending their run as a Wild Card. They would eventually reach the AFC playoffs 7 years in a row, but never played  in an AFC championship game during this run.

Miami Dolphins (’97-’99)

Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson was named head coach of the Dolphins in 1996. He and aging future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino did  not see eye to eye, but they reached the playoffs as a Wild Card three years in a row from 1997 to 1999.

Johnson wanted a ball control offense and built it around young running back Karim Abdul Jabbar. Jabbar rushed for 892 yards and fifteen scores as the 9-7 Dolphins finished a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East in 1997 and had to face them at Foxboro in the Wild Card game. In a game dominated by defense, the Patriots Todd Collins intercepted Marino off a called audible, which he recognized from the two regular season games they played each other, and returned it 40 yards for a score in a 17-3 Patriots win.

The Dolphins hosted and beat the Buffalo Bills 24-17 in the 1998 Wild Card game, despite 360 yards of passing from Doug Flutie. The Dolphins then were destroyed by the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos in Denver, 38-3, in the Divisional round. Miami mustered just 14 yards rushing in the contest.

The Dolphins were back for a third year in a row as a Wild Card in the 1999 AFC playoffs. They were just 9-7, finished third in the division behind the Colts and Bills but were in again as Miami was now using journeymen running backs JJ Johnson and Cecil Collins in the backfield. Marino threw for just 12 scores against 17 interceptions, relying heavily on the league’s 5th best defense.

The Dolphins traveled to Seattle to face the young Seahawks. Jon Kitna was in his first year as a starter at quarterback, and the Dolphins won 20-17, winning on a 4th period Johnson touchdown run.

The Dolphins advanced to face the 14-2 Jaguars in Jacksonville in the Divisional round. In what would be the last game of their NFL careers for both Coach Johnson and Marino, the Dolphins absorbed the second worst beating in NFL post season history, losing 62-7. Fred Taylor scored twice, the first on a ninety yard run, as the Jaguars took a 41-7 lead at halftime. Needless to say the game was over by then.

The Ravens should make NFL history this Sunday  by winning in the Wild Card round for the third consecutive year, and we all know from there anything is possible.

Bring on the NFL’s 79th post season.

It doesn’t get any better than this!


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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt's passion for the game began in the 60's watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi's Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980's where he's captured more titles than John Wooden's UCLA Bruins   Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son. More from Kurt Backert


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