Super Bowl History, 40 years ago: Super Bowl XV

Super Bowl History, 40 years ago: Super Bowl XV
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Super Bowl XV ~ The Raiders Day

The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LV will be upon us. Reflecting what we did last year, in the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.

For a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.

This is the second in the series, following our look back to Super Bowl V. So, we’ll stick to the Super Bowl era then and travel back 40 years to 1981. For the NFL this matchup was a championship game with 76,135 fans on hand at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

There they witnessed the 11-5 Oakland Raiders defeat the 12-4 Philadelphia Eagles 27-10.

The Lawsuit

The 1980 NFL season had started with some controversy. This followed a vote by NFL owners to ban Al Davis from moving the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles.

At the NFL’s annual meeting on March the 10th, 1980, team owners voted 22-0 against allowing the move, with the Raiders not participating and five teams abstaining. Davis, in typical fashon, said he intended to ignore the vote and move the team anyway.

If nothing else the lawyers were kept busy. As noted on Wikipedia relating to this, “The announced move was involved in four lawsuits: the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission sued the NFL charging antitrust violations, the NFL sued the Raiders charging breach of contract, Raider season ticket holders filed a class-action lawsuit, and the City of Oakland filed for eminent domain of the team.”

Eventually Davis got his way and the Raiders moved. But at the time relations between him and the league were strained.

Avoiding contoversy with the trophy

Before the Super Bowl there was specualtion about how awarding the trophy would go if the Raiders won.

But it was a non issue because Davis and Pete Rozelle just stuck to the business at hand.

In those days of course the trophy was presented in the locker room and not on the field. So Rozelle had to hand over the trophy in the boisterous confines of the Raiders winning locker room.

There was a perfunctory exchange. Rozelle handed over the silverware saying “As the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl, it’s a tremendous compliment to your organization because you had to win four postseason games.”
Davis responded, “Thank you, commissioner. When you look back on the glory of the Oakland Raiders, this was our finest hour.”

However onlookers did note that the two men did not shake hands. And that’s as close to being a story as that became.

The Run up to the Game – Raiders

On the field the Raiders had re-found their identity. Between 1967 and 1977 they had gone 119-28-7. A regular season purple patch that had seen them appear in the playoffs 10 times. As well as appearing in 9 AFL/AFC Championship games. They had also appeared in Super Bowl II and Super Bowl XI winning the latter.

But the past two years (1978-9) had seen them post back to back 9-7 seasons. Hardly lacklustre. But not what their fans were used to. Especially as they did not make the playoffs either year.

In 1980 however they overcame a 2-3 start when Jim Plunkett stepped in at QB for an injured Dan Pastorini. From a 5-5 position the team won 6 straight compiling an 11–5 record and qualifying for the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Plunkett was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Lester Hayes, who led the league with 13 interceptions was named Defensive Player of the Year. Both would make a mark in the playoffs.

With the offence safe in Plunkett’s hands and a defence that led the league in interceptions (35), turnovers (52) and yards per carry (3.4 YPA), the Raiders looked ready for the playoffs.

The Run up to the Game – Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles had last won an NFL title in 1960. After that they had gone into a steep decline.

Between 1961 and 1977 they posted an 83-146-9 record. A run that saw only 2 winning seasons and no playoff appearances.

But in 1978 they reached the playoffs for the first time in eighteen years, ending the longest postseason drought in the franchise’s history. That was Coach Dick Vermeil’s third year in charge and he was slowly turning the team around. His teams had gone 4-10, then 5-9 before the 9-7 season in 1978 put them in the playoffs.

By 1980, the Egales were making their third playoff appearance in a row. From 1978-1980 they had gone 32-16 to achieve this. Each year their recod had improved. And each year they went a little deeper into the playoffs.

The 9-7 1978 squad lost in the Wild Card game. The 11-5 1979 team had been beaten in the Divisional Round. And now the 12-4 1980 Eagles were making their first NFL Championship game appearance in two decades. And marking Philadelphia’s first participation in a Super Bowl.

Playoffs

Oakland became the third Wild Card team to reach the Super Bowl. They were also the first team to win three games on the way to the big game since the NFL expanded to a 10 team playoff format in 1978.

In 1980 ten teams in a 28 team league made the playoffs (36%). This year 14 teams in a 32 team league made it (44%). Clearly inflation makes it everywhere!

Oakland beat their old QB Ken Stabler and the Houston Oilers handily 27-7 in the Wild Card round. They then got lucky in an incredibly chilly game in Cleveland. Thanks to a banged up kicker and a contoversial play (red right 88) from Cleveland, the Raiders escaped with a 14-12 win.

In an AFC Championship game in San Diego the Raiders took a 28-7 lead thanks to big plays and turnovers. Although the Chargers came back the Raiders ran out the last 7 minutes of the final quarter and hung on to book a berth in Super Bowl XV with a 34-27 win.

The Eagles had tied atop the NFC East with Dallas on a 12-4 record. But had a higher seeding due to tiebreakers so got to sit at home on Wild-Card weekend.

They followed that with a 31-16 win against Minnesota. They had trailed 7-0 after one in this game, and 14-7 at halftime. But in the second half they shut the Vikings down outscoring them 24-2 after the interval on the way to victory.

An emotional win – but at what cost?

The NFC championship game brought the Cowboys to town. After being tied 7-7 at the half, the Eagles once again took over after the break. In the end Philadelphia defeated the Cowboys, 20-7.

For years Dallas had held sway over the Eagles. So for the team and fans this was an emotional and huge win. That night after the game, owner Leonard Tose threw a lavish victory party. But the job wasn’t done.

In fact there was speculation after the Super Bowl that the Eagles had put so much into beating Dallas that they were emotionally spent. A sentiment echoed by Eagles LB Bill Bergey interviewed later when he said, “the thing of it was, we had put so much mentally and physically into that Dallas game, and guess what? We couldn’t get back, not even close, to that level.”

Super Bowl XV – different approaches to preparation

The two Head Coaches had very different approaches to getting ready for the big game.

Dick Vermeil took the Eagles to Tampa for a week before going to New Orleans the week of the game. Throughout he kept the team focused on the game with long practices.

Tom Flores took a looser approach with his Oakland team. After consulting his captains, he set an 11 p.m. curfew starting Tuesday for the rest of the Super Bowl week.

But the Raiders lived up to their image. For example, John Matuszak was caught out partying at 3 a.m. the Wednesday before the game. He famously told his coach  ‘Coach, I was just out making sure everybody else was getting in.’

The Game Itself: Super Bowl XV

Going into this game some of Las Vegas’ oddsmakers had the Eagles as a three-point favourite. Perhaps in part based on the teams meeting during the regular season. Then, the Eagles had won 10-7 at Veterans Staidium in Philly. Jim Plunkett had a terrible showing in that game going 10 of 36, with 2 INTs, & 0 TDs. This game would be very different.

If the Eagles needed a strong start they didn’t get it. After two runs brought up a First Down at the 35 yard line the Eagles called a pass play. Only to see the D with the most interceptions in the league do it again.

OLB Rod Martin stepped in front of the receiver, caught the ball, and ran it back 17 yards to the Eagles 30. He would have three picks in the game. The Raiders converted that into a 7-0 lead when Plunkett capped a 7 play drive with a toss to Cliff Branch in the End Zone.

After an exchange of possessions the Eagles threw long on third and 10 and appeared to have a tying TD. Instead an illegal motion penalty called the play back.

With the socre at 7-0 later in the first period Oaklnad faced third and 4 from their own 20. Plunkett, who was flushed from the pocket on the play, scrambled left and hit Kenny King who outpaced CB Herm Edwards and raced 80 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead. The Eagles argued for a ‘blatant hold’ on the play but the score stood.

Philadelphia get on the board

In the second quarter the Eagles went 61 yards in 8 plays. Much of it coming in 22 and 25 yard chunks on passing plays. They would hit on a Field Goal from Tony Franklin to make it 14-3 with 10 minutes of the half left to play.

The Raiders missed a 45 yard Field Goal attempt of their own before late in the first half the Eagles got moving again. They had a 62 yard drive. Again, chunks came thorugh the air on 29 and 16 yard passing plays. After three shots at the End Zone Franklin had his second FG attempt. But he hit it low and 6’7″ Ted Hendricks knocked the ball down.

Oakland stamp their authority

The Eagles complained bitterly about Oakland players holding in this game. So when the Raiders overcame a first and 20 having been called for holding it may have sapped the Philly player morale.

In fact coming out of the locker room after the half the Raiders went 76 yards in five plays. Capped by Plunkett hitting Cliff Branch for a 29 Yard TD. At 21-3 this one looked in the bag for the Silver and Black.

The Eagles actually moved downfield pretty well in response. But Rod Martin’s second interception took the momentum away. After driving 56 yards to the Raiders 34-yard line, on third down and 3 Jaworski gave Martin his second pick. Oakland drove 40 yards & Matt Bahr hit a 46 yard Field Goal to make it 24-3.

Early in the final frame of Super Bowl XV the Eagles finally breached the End Zone. A 12 play 88 yard drive was punctuated by 43 and 19 yard passing plays. The drive was capped by QB Ron Jaworski hitting TE Keith Krepfle for an 8 yard TD.

The Raiders again found a response. This time going 72 yards in 11 plays and capping the drive with another Bahr Field Goal for a 27-10 lead.

The Raiders D sealed the deal with a fumble recovery and Martin’s third pickoff on the subsequent Eagles drives.

Plunkett, who had been Comeback player fo the Year took the MVP award. He went 13 of 21 for 261 yards and 3 TD’s, as well as rushing 3 times for 9 yards. He also became the second Heisman winner to be named Super Bowl MVP.

What came next

The Raiders had a bit of a deflating 1981 season regressing to 7-9. However, they got their move to Los Angeles and enjoyed their new surroundings going 43-14 in their first 4 years there. That included winning Super Bowl XVIII too with Flores and Plunkett once again at the controls.

The Silver and Black would return to Oakland in 1995, only to leave town again and become the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. They have not won a Super Bowl since 1983 or made a Super Bowl appearance since the 2002 season.

The Eagles would go 10-6 the followong season and lose in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Vermeil would leave after the 1982 season citing burnout.

After his departure the Eagles would go 30-47-2 over 5 seasons. They would not return to the Super Bowl until 2004 & finally won their first Lombardi Trophy in 2017. But that first Super team, the team from Super Bowl XV would always have a place in Eagles fans hearts.

Banner Image Super Bowl XV MVP Jim Plunkett throws a pass. Image from dailylocal.com

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