Raiders Sack the Skins
The Raiders' Marcus Allen ran over, around and through the favored Redskins, winding up with 191 yards.
In the week preceding Super Bowl XVIII, when bluster and ballyhoo were running rampant, one voice was heard above all others.
"I'm gonna take off Joe Theismann's head," glared the 34-year-old defensive end of the Los Angeles Raiders.
Nobody regarded Lyle Alzado's threat of decapitation as anything more than pregame hype, least of all Theismann, who said, "Down deep Alzado is a very fine fellow."
But the quarterback's noggin was about the only thing the Washington Redskins did not lose in their interconference contest for the championship of the National Football League.
According to all calculations, Super Bowl XVIII should have presented a memorable engagement. Without question, the participants were the best in the NFL. Washington compiled a 14-2 regular-season record, losing only to Dallas, 31-30, and Green Bay, 48-47, in nationally televised Monday night games.
Los Angeles dominated the American Football Conference with 12 victories and losses only to St. Louis, Washington and Western Division rival Seattle (twice).
On the playoff road that led to Tampa Stadium, the Raiders easily disposed of Pittsburgh and Seattle. The Redskins walloped the Los Angeles Rams, 51-7, before squeezing past San Francisco, 24-21, in a game they had led, 21-0, entering the final quarter.
The Skins were installed as three-point Super Bowl favorites. Who could question the oddsmakers' wisdom? They were, after all, the defending champions with the best record in the NFL against the rush.
Moreover, they had the Hogs, the indelicately named, hard-charging offensive line, and the Smurfs, a corps of fleet, sure-handed wide receivers, and the Fun Bunch, which reveled in the end zone after touchdown passes.
The Skins also had Theismann, who entertained with his flow of oratory and who completed about 60 percent of his passes, and running back John Riggins, a juggernaut who gained huge chunks of yardage and was the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl XVII.
In addition, the Skins already owned a regular-season win over the Raiders. On October 2 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, they registered a 37-35 victory by scoring 17 points in the final 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Generally overlooked in that argument, however, was that the Raiders were operating without running back Marcus Allen, wide receiver Cliff Branch and cornerback Mike Haynes.
Washington Coach Joe Gibbs echoed the opinion of many when he predicted shortly before the game that "both teams will score in the 20s and the game will go down to the wire."
So much for Gibbs' crystal ball. The Raiders scored their 20 points -- 21 in fact -- in the first half. The Redskins never reached double digits. And the game never reached "the wire," although few in the capacity crowd of 72,920 would have suspected it.
Los Angeles' 38-9 conquest of the Redskins was achieved with relative ease and with first-degree shock. The Raiders scored the first time the Redskins had the ball. The Raiders also converted on their fourth possession and again on the Skins' sixth possession.
The game, played on a partly cloudy day with a 20-mph wind from the northeast, was less than 5 minutes old when misfortune dealt the Skins a mighty blow. Starting on their 19-yard line, the NFC champions advanced to only the 30 when the drive stalled. Jeff Hayes, who had punted 80 times without problems in the 18 previous games, attempted to launch No. 81. Enter Derrick Jensen.
As Hayes kicked, the special teams captain bolted up the middle, blocked the football and chased it into the end zone, where he fell on it for a touchdown. The first of Chris Bahr's five point-after conversions gave Los Angeles a 7-0 lead.
"I don't know why (special teams coach) Steve Ortmayer decided to go for the block so quickly," Jensen said. "Greg Pruitt is such a good punt-return man, good enough to go to the Pro Bowl, that we've tried to block punts only about eight times all season. Usually we don't attempt to block a kick until late in the game, when we want the ball desperately."
Jensen, a five-year veteran out of Texas-Arlington, speculated that his route to the kicker was left unguarded "because the Redskins were so concerned about Lester Hayes and Odis McKinney coming off the corners, they kinda forgot about me."
Once more the Skins attempted to crack the Raider defense, moving more than 50 yards to the Los Angeles 27. On fourth down, however, Mark Moseley, whose 161 points in 1983 established an NFL record for placekickers, missed to the left on a 44-yard field-goal try.
The second quarter was approaching the 10-minute mark when the Raiders struck again, with only slightly less suddenness.
From his own 35, quarterback Jim Plunkett connected with wide receiver Cliff Branch for 50 yards. Branch split the double coverage of Anthony Washington and Curtis Jordan for a textbook catch on the 15-yard line.
After Allen gained three yards off right tackle, the Plunkett-Branch lightning struck again.
From his position on the left side, Branch cut toward the middle, gave Washington a token fake and sprinted into the end zone for an uncomplicated catch of Plunkett's toss.
"We set up the touchdown with a play-action fake," Plunkett explained. "The free safety bit, and Cliff was able to get behind him. Cliff ate up the cornerback on his side, put on an outside move and broke up the middle."
The 35-year-old Branch had some words of wisdom for the 25-year-old Washington.
"I kept telling him," Branch said, "that he'd better get some help. I said, 'You know you can't cover me.' I think he got insulted because he knew I was right."
"The 49ers beat Anthony (in the NFC title game) on the corner patterns a few times," he added. "We gave him the same look but went inside. He was very vulnerable."
Before he was injured in the second half, Branch caught six passes to become the leading receiver in playoff history. His 73 catches topped the old record of 70, held by another Raider wide receiver, Fred Biletnikoff.
The Skins unfurled their longest march of the first half on their next possession, moving 73 yards from their own 20 to the L.A. 7 before stalling. Moseley's 24-yard field goal inspired the game's first rendition of "Hail to the Redskins."
When the Raiders' subsequent drive came to a halt on the Washington 39, Ray Guy punted to the 12.
Only 12 seconds remained before halftime, and there was little doubt, even among the untutored, that the Redskins would (a) run out the clock or (b) throw a low-risk pass far down field, hoping for either a defensive penalty or a lucky-strike TD.
The Skins rejected each course of action. The normally conservative Gibbs opted for surprise.
"We wanted to get ourselves a little breathing room and get out of there," Theismann said. "It was a good call. The flaw was in the execution."
As the Redskins lined up in their Rocket Right, Screen Left formation, Raiders linebacker coach Charlie Sumner's memory clicked.
Spotting Charlie Brown, Art Monk and Clint Didier on the right and running back Joe Washington on the left, Sumner removed Matt Millen, starting inside linebacker, and replaced him with Jack Squirek.
"Don't take me out!" Millen screamed at Sumner. "They can't handle me!"
But Sumner turned a deaf ear. He remembered how, in the regular-season game between the two teams, the Redskins had used a similar formation for a screen pass to Washington that produced a 67-yard gain. The coach wanted the 6-4 Squirek on the field rather than the 6-2 Millen.
His hunch was correct. Theismann took the snap, glanced right and then arched a soft pass over Alzado in Washington's direction. But Washington was not in the clear. "Lyle Alzado held him," Theismann said. "I didn't see the linebacker (Squirek). I was expecting zone coverage, but Squirek was on man to man."
Squirek, a second-year player out of Illinois, read Theismann's moves perfectly, stepping in front of Washington for the grab and sprinting five yards into the end zone. The TD was the first for Squirek since his days as a wide receiver at Cuyahoga Heights High School in Cleveland.
"I was in shock," Squirek said of his unfamiliar role. "I felt like I was in a dream. I couldn't believe it until everybody started pounding me in the end zone."
The Redskins were rather shocked themselves heading into the locker room. Theismann, who failed to connect on his first five passes, was 6-of-18 for 78 yards, and Riggins, the super bulldozer a year earlier when his 166 yards rushing set a Super Bowl mark, had gained only 37 yards in 16 tries, an unflattering 2.3 yards per carry.
The Skins' gamble at the end of the first half left them down by 18 points, 21-3, but not down in spirit. "If anything, it made us more determined," Theismann said.
There also was hope that Riggins, who traditionally improves as the game progresses, would break loose in the second half. Additional incentive was the $64,000 prize for each winning player. The Redskins were poised for a comeback.
And as the second half began, it looked like they might. For 4 minutes in the third quarter, the Redskins displayed flashes of their talent. On that first drive of the half, Theismann completed three passes, the longest to Brown for 23 yards, and Riggins picked up 20 yards on six tries, which was not vintage Riggins, but it was an improvement.
Big John's final yard was a plunge over right tackle for the touchdown. The score extended Riggins' streak for rushing touchdowns in postseason games to six, breaking the record of five set by Franco Harris of Pittsburgh.
If Moseley could convert the extra-point attempt, Washington would trail by just 11 with about 26 minutes to play.
But Moseley did not convert. The 13-year veteran, who had kicked 71 of 72 extra points since the season began, drove the ball into the onrushing form of Don Hasselbeck.
The 12-point deficit was of short duration, however. In less than 4 minutes, the Raiders moved 70 yards in nine plays, aided by a pass interference penalty against rookie cornerback Darrell Green that accounted for 38 yards. Allen climaxed the drive with a five-yard burst up the middle.
Trailing now by three touchdowns, 28-9, the Redskins failed to advance beyond the Los Angeles 41-yard line on their next two possessions. But as the third quarter wound down, Washington appeared ready for a breakthrough. Branch fumbled after catching a nine-yard pass from Plunkett, and Anthony Washington recovered it for the Skins on the L.A. 35. The Redskins advanced to the 27, where they faced a third-and-two situation.
The handoff went to Joe Washington, who was stopped a yard short by Squirek. With no choice but to go for the first down, Gibbs went to his reliable locomotive.
Fourth and one. In a similar situation in the previous year's Super Bowl, Riggins broke away for a 43-yard touchdown romp that put Washington ahead of the Miami Dolphins for good.
Not this year.
"I had been running inside all day," Riggins said, "so some of the fellows suggested I try the outside to try to find daylight, but I just couldn't find it. I guess it got to the point that we were guessing where to go."
Riggins was stopped for no gain because linebacker Rod Martin slipped a block by tight end Rick Walker.
"I sure wasn't surprised when Riggins got the ball," said Martin, who intercepted three passes in Super Bowl XV, "but I was surprised that Walker tried to block me. Don Warren usually tries to block me on that play, but this time it was Walker.
"Walker went to UCLA when I went to USC, and he hasn't blocked me yet. I forced him into the backfield and had a clear shot at Riggins."
The Washington defensive unit, which had left the field less than 2 minutes earlier, scarcely had time to settle into position before
misfortune struck again.
The Raiders' first play began innocently enough with Allen taking the handoff and starting to his left. Spotting a horde of Redskins there, he braked and reversed direction. Suddenly, he bolted through a hole up the middle. Defenders waved weakly as Allen shot by; he was in the clear. Redskins gave chase, but they were no match for the former USC star who, it was alleged, could not run with the pros. The period ended as Allen glided across the goal line. His 74-yard gallop set a Super Bowl record for a play from scrimmage.
"I really screwed up that play," said Allen, the game's MVP. "The play is called 17 Bob Trail. The tight end and tackle double-team the linebacker and the guard pulls. (Guard) Mickey Marvin did a good job on the block, and I should have gone inside him. Somebody grabbed me from behind, but I pulled away and there was an alley. Darrell Green did not see me go by, and I thought I could outrun the other guys. Cliff Branch brushed another fellow aside down field.
"My first thought was not to get caught, and then I hoped there was no penalty. It was the best run I've had in the NFL. I didn't think of what to do on the run; I just let instinct take over."
More disaster awaited the Skins in the fourth quarter. Theismann was intercepted once, and three times he was sacked. Linebacker Jeff Barnes threw the quarterback for a nine-yard loss. Rookie defensive end Greg Townsend dropped him for 10.
The most painful sack, however, was delivered by Mike Davis when the Skins had a first and goal at the L.A. 8. Davis blind-sided Theismann, who was setting up to pass, and the ball bounced free. Martin recovered it at the Raider 31.
The Raiders did nothing with their opportunity. The Redskins took over on their own 17 and advanced to their 32 with 7:14 remaining.
Theismann completed two short passes, then attempted to connect with Monk along the left sideline. Haynes got to the ball first, however, and made the interception at the Raider 42.
On the first play, Allen scampered 39 yards, covering more than half the distance to the goal. The Raiders then moved steadily to the 3, and Bahr kicked a 21-yard field goal with 2:24 to go.
The blowout was complete.
The final score of 38-9 staggered the defending champions, drawing blood from a proud team that had won 11 straight games and had outscored opponents by more than 250 points for the season.
The Raiders' 38 points set a then-Super Bowl record, surpassing the 35 registered by Green Bay in the first world championship and by Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XVIII. The 29-point margin of victory also was a new high, topping the Packers' 25 over Kansas City in game No. 1.
Allen's 191 yards on the ground set a Super Bowl record, breaking Riggins' mark.
Riggins, meanwhile, was held to 64 rushing yards, the first time in seven playoff games that he failed to reach 100 yards. "I guess I didn't have 20-20 vision today," he mumbled.
"We didn't give Riggins anywhere to run," defensive end Howie Long said. "We forced him outside."
The Raider defensive line, which also featured Alzado and tackle Reggie Kinlaw, "is custom-made for Riggins," Long said. "We are short and heavy with 30-inch thighs and are built like refrigerators."
Long took particular delight in discussing the manner in which the Raider line and linebackers handled the Hogs. "Our front seven came up with our own nickname this week, but we didn't mention it until we had won the game, Long said. "We're the Slaughterhouse Seven. We never had a hog before that tasted so good. In fact, we may market our own T-shirts."
L.A.'s defensive secondary smothered Redskin receivers with man-to-man coverage. The Raiders had planned to use that strategy about 45 percent of the time, "but by the fourth quarter that had changed to about 95 percent," cornerback Hayes said. "We made them change because the Smurfs can't function with tight, physical man-to-man coverage. Joe Gibbs is a technical genius, but looking back to the championship game of 1980 when he was with San Diego (the Raiders beat the Chargers, 34-27, for the AFC title), the schemes he was using then are the same he is using now. The only difference is they are more diversified and complex now."
Theismann completed 16 passes in 35 attempts for 243 yards, including three to Brown for 93 yards, but he tossed two interceptions and was sacked six times for 50 yards in losses. He connected only one time apiece with wide receivers Alvin Garrett and Monk, two of his favorite targets.
And for only the second time in the season -- the first came in a 45-7 victory over the Cardinals -- Theismann failed to throw a touchdown pass.
The game did not measure up to pregame media hype, which had billed the matchup as a classic confrontation. Washington guard Russ Grimm explained why: "The two best teams were here. It's just that one showed up and had a great day. The other didn't execute."
It was the second Super Bowl victory for Coach Tom Flores, who guided the Oakland Raiders past Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV before the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
Al Davis, the managing general partner of the new champions, who engineered the Raiders' change in locale, was dripping with praise for Flores, his first quarterback when he took over the team two decades earlier. After the game Commissioner Pete Rozelle called Flores "one of the greatest coaches in the game today." Davis was not satisfied.
"He is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game," Davis said, "and the Raiders team is one of the best in the history of football. I love you all."