The Super Bowl is just 41 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 41 years ago to honor this not that significant occasion!
Pasadena’s Rose Bowl hosted Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977. The game pitted the NFC champion Minnesota Vikings against the Oakland Raiders of the American Football Conference.
Minnesota Vikings 41 Years Ago
By the 1976 season, the Vikings were annually hosting playoff games in frigid Bloomington. Bud Grant’s squad was veteran-laden. For example, quarterback Fran Tarkenton was in his 16th season. The Vikes got a big lift. in ’76 by adding an outstanding wide receiver named Sammy White. They played Ahmad Rashad at the other wide out position. Add to the mix Chuck Foreman out of the backfield and Pro Bowl tight end Stu Voigt. Suddenly, Minnesota had a big play offense to go along with their stellar defense.
The inimitable Buddy Ryan served as Grant’s defensive coordinator. The unit finished 2nd in the NFL. They featured five starters that had played at least 10 seasons! The Vikings were especially stout against the pass. They combined their great pass rush with terrific play from their back-end.
This was the fourth consecutive season that Minnesota was the class of the NFC. However, Roger Staubach’s “Hail Mary” stunned the ’75 Vikings. They bounced back with a tremendous regular season.
In the ’76 playoffs, they stayed at home to eliminate Washington. In the championship game, the Vikings parlayed several first half breaks into a 17-0 lead. The Rams scored two touchdowns in the third to put a scare into the home team and their fans. However, midseason acquisition Sammy Johnson dashed 12 yards for a clinching score. Thus, Vikings’ fans were rewarded for sitting through single-digit wind chills.
Oakland Raiders 41 Years Ago
The Vikings’ opponent was the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders, under Hall-of-Fame coach John Madden, participated in the AFC Championship game four times in five seasons from 1971-1975. They were the winningest team in the league over that time. Unfortunately, they had not made the Super Bowl since the 1967 season where they got blasted by Green Bay.
The Raiders’ best players were on their offensive line – Art Shell & Gene Upshaw. On offense, they played with tremendous balance. Quarterback Ken “the snake” Stabler had weapons like Dave Casper, Cliff Branch and Fred Belitnikoff. But, they also had a sneaky good running attack thanks to 1000-yard rusher Mark van Eeghen, Clarence Davis and Pete Banaszak. Put it altogether and the Raiders went 13-1 in 1976.
Their only loss was against New England by a score of 48-17 early in the season. The Raiders exacted their revenge in the playoffs – barely. New England was called for an awful roughing the passer on fourth down with under two minutes to go. The Raiders scored and advanced. (Somehow, 25 years later, a critical call determined another Raiders-Pats’ playoff game.)
Oakland Beats Pittsburgh
After losing consecutive AFC championship games to Pittsburgh, the Raiders were primed and ready this season to knock off the two-time defending world champions. The Steelers played that game without Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris. The “Steel Curtain” had one of the greatest defensive seasons in NFL history. But, it was Oakland’s underrated defense that won this game.
Oakland’s defensive backfield was awesome. Willie Brown, Skip Thomas, Jack Tatum and George Atkinson were great in coverage, but exceptional at hitting in a day when the NFL did not prevent DB’s from destroying receivers.
Oakland did not mind bending or breaking the rules. In fact, they took pride in it. Nowadays, if the Patriots get a call on third down or the ball is a milli-ounce under the playing weight, everybody in the region pays for it. Back then, the Raiders were lauded for their cheating and rule-bending, even glorified for it.
The Super Bowl itself was a letdown. The Raiders’ huge offensive line knocked around Minnesota’s smallish-defensive linemen all day. It was not van Eeghen, it was Davis who exploded for chunk plays on offense. Stabler hit Belitnikoff on two different plays that ended up at the 1-yard line. Indeed, the veteran Belitnikoff, known for the globs of stickum he utilized, was the best player on the field that day.
The Raiders’ defense punished Viking ball carriers all day. The vintage moment of Super Bowl XI was Tatum hammering the defenseless White across the middle. The hit was so jarring, White’s helmet went flying.
The final score was 32-14 with Brown securing the game with a long interception return.
After 11 Super Bowls, Minnesota was 0-4 in such games, losing all by double-digits. They have not been back to this day. Contrariwise, the Raiders got back to the Super Bowl and won two more times under Al Davis.
The ’77 Raiders were great again. But they were thwarted by a club from their own division in their attempt to repeat.
Tomorrow, we will talk about that team and their legendary opponent from Super Bowl XII.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills