Best Championship Games
This weekend has always been my favorite of the entire NFL season for as long as I can remember. Yeah, I know, there’s only two games, when the last two weeks have given us Saturdays and Sundays with four games, but Championship Sunday has always been special.
Of course everyone is focused on the Super Bowl, but championship games have an allure about them that is different, probably simply because they are played at one of the team’s home stadiums in front of their own fans. There is less fan fare and the football is usually spectacular.
A look at some of the best conference championship games in NFL history; I picked my personal three greatest from each conference:
1982 (1981 season): Dallas at San Francisco — “The Catch.” Cowboy fans cringe at those two words, but I’m actually quite proud of them. Bottom line – it was a big deal to beat the Dallas Cowboys back then (now? Not so much). The Niners were a season ahead of schedule, honestly, but Joe Montana had none of that. Dallas led, 17-14, at halftime, but San Fran had a 21-20 lead in the fourth. A Doug Cosbie touchdown catch with just under five minutes left in regulation gave Dallas a 27-21 lead. The 49ers started their final drive on their own 11 yard line, leading to Dwight Clark’s heroics with 58 ticks left in a play that is, no doubt, a top-10 of all-time. A lot of people forget, but Drew Pearson came within an eyelash of getting the Cowboys within field goal range immediately after that (if not a possible TD), but Eric Wright got a hand inside his shoulder pad and brought him down at midfield. Otherwise, Pearson is probably running another 30+ yards (there was no other defender close to him). On the next play, Danny White was sacked and fumbled, ending the Cowboys’ chances.
1984: San Francisco at Washington – The game seemed in hand for the Redskins, but the 49ers scored three-straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 21-21. Washington had missed four field goals in the game, but Mark Moseley hit a 25-yarder at the end of the game for a 24-21 victory. The winner was set up after a pass interference call. Joe Theismann (and his one-bar facemask) would go on to the Super Bowl.
1996: Green Bay at Dallas – A back-and-forth battle was a game of two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Troy Aikman and Brett Favre. Down, 27-24, in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys drove 90 yards to take back the lead on an Emmitt Smith touchdown run. A Dallas interception set up a third TD run for Smith that sealed the game. The final score of 38-27 was not even close to how close this game really was. Yes, the 1993 NFC Championship Game (“How Bout Them Cowboys?!”) was a great one too, but this game between the Packers and Cowboys was a slugfest between two veteran-laden powers.
1987 (1986 season): Denver at Cleveland – “The Drive.” A tight game throughout, neither team was ever ahead by more than 10 points. The fourth quarter was a masterpiece, beginning with Bernie Kosar’s 48-yard TD pass to Brian Brennan with 5:43 left to put the Browns up, 20-13. Cleveland pinned Denver deep, beginning their drive on their own 2-yard line. John Elway proceeded to drive the Broncos 98 yards for the game-tying score with just 37 seconds left on the clock. A 33-yard field goal gave the Broncos an overtime win.
1988: Cleveland at Denver – “The Fumble.” Yes, the 80’s were quite unkind to the Browns, weren’t they? Just a year after “The Drive,” Cleveland and Denver met up again. The Broncos raced out to a 21-3 lead at halftime. Cleveland came out and gave it their all in the second half, pulling themselves to within a touchdown of tying the game with 3:53 left. The Browns drove all the way to the eight-yard line, and it looked like they would have a “drive” of their own. But Earnest Byner fumbled the ball and Denver recovered at the three.
1982: San Diego at Cincinnati – “The Freezer Bowl.” A Bengals’ 27-7 win sure doesn’t sound interesting, but this game was. This game is marked as the coldest game in NFL history, when temperatures dipped to -37 degrees Fahrenheit (with wind chill). Dan Fouts and the vaunted “Air Coryell” offense could never get going in the extreme conditions.
Notice a small trend? The 49ers and Broncos were each listed in two of the three respective conference lists. Possibly an omen for Sunday? Maybe, maybe not. But it will take a hell of a game for either to break into this listing.
For the record, The Reverse Barometer is going with Broncos and Seahawks. Boring, I know, going with the home teams. But that was my original Super Bowl pick back in September and I’m sticking to it.