Conference Calls a Shot Away from Super Bowl

Broadway Joe Namath and the Jets stunned the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The NFL conference championship games are cousin to major league baseball’s championship series. Win the big game go to the Super Bowl or win the pennant and go to the World Series.

There was a time prior to the first Super Bowl in 1967 when the conference championship games were for all the marbles, first in the National Football League beginning with the first playoff game in 1933 and later in the American Football League, which was founded in 1960.

The New York Giants have played in 18 NFL/NFC championship games, more than any other team in the NFL. The Giants are 7-11 in those games, but curiously have won all four of the NFC championship games they have been involved in. The Giants were just 3-11 in NFL championship games, losing five times in six years between 1958 and 1963.

The Green Bay Packers have won the most conference title games, going 10-4 in 14 tries. The Packers, of course, won the first two Super Bowls, and three overall.

Other notable NFC championship composite records include the Dallas Cowboys at 8-8, the Chicago Bears at 8-6 and the Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams at 5-9.

Neither of this year’s NFC contestants has ever won a Super Bowl. The Minnesota Vikings are 4-4 in NFC title games, but lost all four Super Bowls they played. The New Orleans Saints lost their only championship game 39-14 to the Bears in 2006.

The Vikings beat the Saints 44-10 in their only previous playoff game, spoiling New Orleans first-ever post-season appearance.

Steelers Dominate AFC
Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers dominate AFC championship game appearances with 14. The Steelers split those 14 games, and went on to win six of the seven Super Bowls in which they appeared.

The Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are all 6-2 in AFC conference championship games. The Oakland Raiders are tied with the Steelers with 14 championship game appearances, but they are just 5-9 in those games.

The New York Jets are 1-2 in conference championships. They beat the Oakland Raiders 27-23 at windy Shea Stadium in 1968 to win the AFC title, then upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 to win Super Bowl III.

Those same Colts, who now call Indianapolis at home, are 2-3 in AFC championship games, including two games played when the franchise was in Baltimore. The Baltimore Colts were 3-1 in NFL title games, including victories over the Giants in 1958 and 1959 and a win over Dallas in Super Bowl V before moving to the AFC.

The Colts beat the Browns 34-0 in the 1968 NFC championship game on their way to that magical Sunday when the Jets shocked Baltimore and the rest of the world.

The Jets beat the Indy Colts 41-0 in the wild-card round following the 2002 season. They lost 14-0 to the Miami Dolphins in 1983 and 23-10 to the Denver Broncos in 1999 in their only other AFC championship games.


Jets Flashback: Broadway Joe and the Deli Guy

Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez is evoking memories of Joe Namath.

On a cold Sunday morning more than 40 years ago, a teenager went to the local deli in suburban New York to pick up the Sunday papers and a dozen rolls.

Taped to the class counter in the deli was a paper bag, with these words:

Jets 17, Colts 7.

Of course, we all know the ending, how Broadway Joe Namath and the Miracle Jets shocked the world and the Baltimore Colts, winning Super Bowl III 16-7 and giving the American Football League the stamp of legitimacy.

Sure the deli guy was off by a point, but you have to admit it took guts to predict an 18-point underdog would not only cover the spread but win outright.

Now, more than two score years later, after beating the San Diego Chargers 17-14, the Jets are in position to finally win another Super Bowl.

The Jets haven’t been this close since losing to the Broncos 23-10 in the wind of Denver in 1999 and the Dolphins 14-0 in the mud and rain of Miami in 1983.

Now the Jets travel to Indianapolis Sunday to try and defeat the same Colts they beat in Super Bowl III…and return to the promised land.


Rangers Scoring Drought Goes Back to 40s

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Bryan Hextall is the last New York Ranger to lead the NHL in scoring – in 1942.

Earlier this week, the New York Rangers were shut out twice in a row, wasting two outstanding efforts by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundquist.

The Swedish-born goalie made 77 successive saves before giving up a goal late in the third period against Ottawa. The Senators then added an empty-net goal to beat New York 2-0.

Two nights earlier, Lundquist shut out the New Jersey Devils through regulation and overtime before losing 1-0 in a shootout.

In so many ways, these games typified the Rangers’ lack of scoring punch in their star-crossed history. Through the years this Original Six franchise has had some terrific goaltenders — Chuck, Rayner Gump Worsley, Eddie Giacomin, John Davidson, John Vanbiesbrouck, Mike Richter and Lundquist come to mind — but too many times has failed to provide the scoring punch to support these goalies.

Sure, many of the great all-time NHL scorers have worn the Rangers crest, including five of the top seven all-time goal scorers — Wayne Gertzky, Marcel Dionne, Phil Espositio, Mike Gartner and Mark Messier. But all five hard their greatest years with other teams.

You have to go all the way back to 1942 to find the last Ranger to lead the league in goals. Hall of Fame forward Lynn Patrick, left, scored 32 goals that year to top the NHL. No Ranger has done that since.

Hextall Wins Art  Ross
That same year, another Ranger Hall of Famer, right winger Bryan Hextall, won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer, with 24 goals and 36 assists for 56 points.

Hextall led the league in goals scored in both 1940 with 24 and and 1941 with 26.

Bill Cook, another Hall of Fame Ranger winger, won the very first Ross Trophy in 1927 and won it again in 1933, the only other Ranger to win the total points award.

Hextall won the Ross 68 years ago, and no Ranger has done it since. Andy Bathgate — yes another Hall of Famer — came close in 1962. Bathgate actually tied Chicago’s Bobby Hull with 84 points, but Hull won the tiebreaker on the strength of his 50 goals to 28 for Bathgate.

The Rangers have had just three 50-goal scorers in their history — Vic Hadfield had 50 in 1972, Adam Graves 52 in 1994 when the Rangers last won the Cup and Jaromir Jagr with a team-record 54 in 2006.

With this historic lack of big play offensive, it should come as no surprise that the Rangers have won exactly one Stanley Cup since 1940.


Mr. Goodell, We Have a Problem

Scientests, researchers and other bright minds around the world are working to figure ways to make NFL late-season-playoff-deciding-games more meaningful.

Every year, the NFL plays two sets of exhibition games. The first, called pre-season games, are played in the summer and help teams determine rosters and get ready for the regular season.

The second set of exhibitions, unfortunately for the NFL, happens at the end of the season, oftentimes in key match-ups for playoff spots, when games should mean the most.

These are the games where playoff-bound teams start resting or sitting regulars. They’ve earned that right. Other teams can whine, but no one is listening.

It goes back to that old adage about controlling your own destiny and not depending on outside factors to make the playoffs.

Players are rested all the time in  sports. Everyone wants to avoid injuries. Baseball teams, for instance, give pitchers and other regulars a break as they prepare for the  post-season.

But major league baseball teams play 162 games, NFL teams 16. A single NFL game carries 10X the weight of a baseball game.

Which means, the NFL and its fans really suffer from these late-season-playoff-deciding-exhibition-games.

Here’s a Solution
It doesn’t seem fair for the league to force teams to play their regulars. Or to penalize them be taking away draft choices as some have suggested.

And trust me, teams aren’t going to start refunding gate receipts for games in which teams don’t really try. Heck, teams charge fans for exhibition games as part of their season-ticket package.

But there is something the NFL could do to at least make late-season games more compelling. Set up the schedule, so that the final two games for all 32 teams are played within divisions.

Certainly, the natural rivalries within divisions and the fact that the teams play each other twice per season always fires up the competitive juices.

For instance, have the Giants and Cowboys ever played a meaningless Giants-Cowboys game? Those two teams hate each, as do many other divisional rivals. . Familiarity, after all, breeds contempt.

And then there’s the added possibility the teams could be fighting one another for either first place or a wild-card spot within the division.

The final games of any season in any league should count for something.


No Defense for Giants Collapse

 

Back in 1966, the New York Giants suffered through perhaps the worst season in their long and mostly illustrious history. That year the Giants surrendered an NFL record 501 points in 14 games, and gave up more than 40 points five times.

Well it took them 16 games, but this year’s Giants equaled that dubious mark set 43 years ago — five games of giving up 40 or more points.

Those 1966 Giants were on the downside, and it would take 15 years until they returned to the NFL playoffs in 1981. They were rebuilding following a stretch that led to five NFL championship games (all losses) in six years between 1958 and 1963.

In 1966, the Giants lost 52-7 to Dallas in the second game of the year and 55-14 to Los Angeles. Then came a stretch in which the Giants gave up 40 plus three straight Sundays — 72-41 to Washington, 49-40 to Cleveland and 47-28 to Pittsburgh.

Some notes of distinction. The 72 points the Giants gave up to the Redskins and quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, below, is still   the most allowed in a single regular season game in NFL history. (The Bears beat the Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship Game.)

And only one other team in history — the 1981 Baltimore Colts with 533 — allowed more points than the ’66 Giants. And it took the Colts two extra games to do it.

Giant Bust
This year’s Giants figured to be a playoff lock and Super Bowl contender coming into the season. But after a 5-0 start they stopped tackling and managed to lose eight of their final 11, earning an early exit to their season.

Trouble began with a 48-27 loss in New Orleans in week six. The G-men lost twice to NFC East rival Philadelphia, 40-17 and 45-38. And they finished the season in embarrassing fashion, losing 41-9 to Carolina in their final game at Giants Stadium, and then 44-7 to Minnesota.

The Giants gave up 427 points this season. Only Detroit and St. Louis were worse.

Allie Sherman kept his job following the Giants 1966 season, and Tom Coughlin will keep his as well. But heads are sure to roll following this pathetic finish by the Giants, who mailed it in the last two weeks.

Even in the worst of times, this team almost always gave an honest effort. But not this year, when pride didn’t matter for the New York Giants.

Good night, Big Blue.