Top Ten Day: My favorite NFL (and AFL) Championship Games
9 December 1934: New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13. In the second "official" NFL Championship, the Giants played the Bears at the Polo Grounds. The field was frozen solid from rain the night before, and the teams were slipping all over the place. Someone suggested the Giants wear sneakers instead of cleats, and the equipment manager was dispatched to find some. He only found a few, and didn't return until halftime, when the New Yorkers trailed 10-3. But after getting used to the sneakers, the Giants scored 27 fourth-quarter points after Chicago went ahead 13-3 to win going away. So why didn't the Bears try to find sneakers? We'll never know. This is, of course, known as the "Sneakers Game." Life was kooky back in the olden days of the NFL.
8 December 1940: Chicago Bears 73, Washington Redskins 0. The biggest margin of victory in NFL history, plus most points scored in an NFL game. That would have been awesome to see. Washington had beaten Chicago weeks earlier, and the Washington owner called the Bears' crybabies. Oh dear. The Bears came in, used the T formation (which was pretty revolutionary at the time), and demolished Washington and their Hall of Fame quarterback, Sammy Baugh. Chicago scored only 28 points in the first half, then added 45 after halftime, with George Halas bringing in his second-team, who continued to pile on, returning three interceptions for touchdowns in the process. Chicago gained 382 yards rushing. I hope Sammy Baugh's quote is real: after the first touchdown, a wide-open Washington receiver dropped a touchdown pass. A reporter asked Baugh if that would have made a difference, and Baugh supposedly replied, "Sure. The final score would have been 73-7." Awesome.
19 December 1948: Philadelphia Eagles 7, Chicago Cardinals 0. The Eagles' first Championship was the first one to be televised and was played in a blizzard. I've seen film of this game, and it's amazing that they could play - you pretty much can't see the field! Steve van Buren, one of the greatest running backs to play the game, scored the game's only touchdown in the fourth quarter. This was the last time the Cardinals' franchise, which had won their only title the year before, would even sniff the Championship. Since their 1947 title, the Cardinals have played in the postseason twice - this game and in 1998. They've been owned by the same family since 1932. Coincidence? I think not. Suck it, Cardinals!
18 December 1949: Philadelphia Eagles 14, Los Angeles Rams 0. The Eagles picked up back-to-back titles with this effort, which substituted rain for snow (the game was played in LA). Van Buren rushed for 196 yards, for years a Championship Game record, and the Eagles simply bulldozed the Rams. This was a great Philadelphia team - Pete Pihos, Tommy Thompson, and van Buren are all-timers. Norm van Brocklin, who would quarterback the last Eagles team to win a title, was playing for the other team.
24 December 1950: Cleveland Browns 30, Los Angeles Rams 28. Man, the Rams can't catch a break! I like this game because it was the first NFL Championship Game appearance for the Browns, who had dominated the AAFC for the four seasons of that league's existence, and the NFL thought they would be outclassed when they were absorbed. Of course, they beat Philadelphia, the defending champions, in their first game, but people still didn't buy them. So they had to go out and win a Championship. With very little time left in the game, trailing 28-27, the Browns sent out their kicker, Lou Groza (who's so famous he has a college award named after him), who booted a short field goal for the win. The Browns lost the next three Championship Games before winning in 1954 and '55. That meant that Otto Graham, their quarterback, played ten years in pro football and went to the Championship Game every year, winning 7 times. Kiss his ass, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady!
29 December 1957: Detroit Lions 59, Cleveland Browns 14. Another blowout, but I like this game because it's the last time the Lions have gotten anywhere near an NFL Championship. Also, I always liked Bobby Layne, the Lions' quarterback, and Tobin Rote, who played because Layne was injured. All Rote did was throw for four touchdowns and run for another. At least the Lions can take solace in the fact that they won 3 titles in the 1950s and were sort of the team of the decade ... well, except for the Browns. But that's not bad!
28 December 1958: Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17 (OT). Yeah, yeah, "greatest game ever played" blah blah blah. I like it because Lenny Moore of Penn State played in it. Moore was awesome in college and pretty damned good in the pros, too (he still holds the record - with LaDanian Tomlinson - of scoring touchdowns in 18 straight games). And check out the Giants, with offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry. How did they not win? Oh, that's right - Johnny Unitas and that great haircut.
26 December 1960: Philadelphia Eagles 17, Green Bay Packers 13. The Eagles' most recent Championship (and yes, it pains me to type that) was dominated by Green Bay, but they didn't count on one person: Chuck Bednarik! Norm van Brocklin, in the twilight of his career, played a good game, and Ted Dean had a big kickoff return after Green Bay's fourth-quarter touchdown and then scored the game-winner, but the Packers were driving late in the game when Jim Taylor broke free and appeared to be on his way to scoring the winning touchdown. Bednarik, the last two-way player in NFL history, tackled him at the Philadelphia 8-yard line and sat on him until the clock ran out. Then he told Taylor he could get up. Bednarik played 58 minutes in the game. (Bednarik is awesome. He broke Frank Gifford's ankle in 1960 and took him out of the game for 18 months in what is regarded as one of the most vicious tackles in history. He also berates today's players for being soft because they don't play offense and defense. The dude is over 80, and he could probably beat up most NFL players. Plus, he also has a college award named after him.) This was Lombardi's only playoff loss, and the Eagles' last moment of glory until January 1981, when they beat the Cowboys to advance to Super Bowl 15. Well, unless you count pelting Santa Claus with snowballs.
23 December 1962: Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 (2 OT). This was a great game, going to a second overtime, but I like it, of course, because of Abner Haynes' famous mistake on the coin flip to start overtime. The Texans won the toss, and Haynes said "We'll kick to the clock," meaning the big clock on the scoreboard. When the ref informed him he couldn't pick both to kick the ball and the field direction, he said, "We'll kick." The Oilers got the ball and could choose which direction they went in, but couldn't do anything with it. Sucks to be them! Dallas eventually won, which probably made Haynes feel better, as he had scored the Texans' only two touchdowns that day. Dallas, of course, moved after the season to Kansas City, where they've had a little bit of success.
5 January 1964: San Diego Chargers 51, New England Patriots 10. This is the Chargers' last Championship, but that's not why I like it (I could have picked the next two years, which were the Bills' only Championships, if that was the reason). It's not even because they hammered the Patriots, which let's hope will be repeated this year (and if it's the Chargers a week from this weekend, so much the better, although I doubt it will happen). No, it's because Lance Alworth played on the Chargers, and I love Lance Alworth. He's awesome. Plus, it's a Tobin Rote sighting! Rote was the quarterback of San Diego, and he had a pretty good game. But I love individual greatness from players you don't expect, and Keith Lincoln destroyed the Patriots. Check it out: 13 carries for 216 yards, and 7 catches for 123, with a 56-yard run, a 67-yard touchdown run, and a 25-yard touchdown catch. He even threw a 20-yard pass! Excellent.
There have been some great NFC/AFC Championship Games (I count the Championship Games for 1966-69 as NFC/AFC Championship Games, because they just gave you the right to play in the Super Bowl), but that's not this post. Anyone have any I might have missed? Everyone reading this was alive in the 1940s, right?