The Super Bowl was a fascinating and superb game last night. I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy that event as a pure football fan. The play on the field was very reminiscent of the 1987 AFC Championship Game between the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos, affectionately known as “The Fumble.”
Just like the Ravens did last night, the Broncos, behind a host of Browns turnovers various lapses in judgement, jumped all over the Browns from the start. On the Browns first possession, Webster Slaughter let a pass go through his hands and off his knee on a crossing route, right into the arms of Denver’s Freddie Gilbert. John Elway hit Ricky Nattiel for a TD pass and in the blink of an eye, the Browns trailed 7-0. On the next series, Kevin Mack, grinding for extra yards, was stripped of the ball with Denver recovering. The Browns thought they had the bleeding stopped, but a defensive holding penalty on third and goal, gave the Broncos first and goal at the one and Steve Sewell scored a touchdown to put the Browns in a 14-0 hole on the road in a hostile Mile High Stadium.
The Niners start mirrored those ’87 Browns. Their first offensive play was a beautiful 20 yard completion from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis which was called back by an illegal formation penalty. After a punt, the Ravens drove the ball down the field, but after holding the Ravens on third down, the Niners again were flagged a penalty (offsides). Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco capitalized on the second chance, hitting Anquan Boldin for a 13 yard touchdown. On San Francisco’s third series, trailing 7-3, LaMichael James fumbled at the Baltimore 25. The Ravens took that key turnover and eventually scored a second touchdown.
The Ravens led the Super Bowl 21-6 at the half. The Broncos led the ’87 AFC Title game 21-3 at the half.
Both teams had tremendous second half comebacks. The Browns scored 21 points in the third quarter and tied the game early in the fourth behind the arm of Bernie Kosar (three second half TD passes) and the legs of Earnest Byner. Byner’s over the shoulder catch on a perfect touch pass from Bernie was the stuff of legends. With shades of Kosar 25 years ago, Kaepernick took over in the second half. People inexplicably were asking for Alex Smith on Twitter at halftime and yet the kid from Nevada struck for 17 third quarter points to cut a 28-6 deficit to 28-23.
But again, the parallels between those ’87 Browns and the ’12 49ers would continue. The hat was on the defense on both ends. The Browns, after tying the game at 31 on a Kosar to Slaughter TD pass, badly needed a defensive stop. But as we painfully remember, Elway took the Broncos right down the field, hitting Sammy Winder with a 20-yard touchdown strike, leaving the Browns four minutes and 75 yards to tie the game or end their season.
Trailing by eight early in the fourth last night, Kaepernick and his workhorse back Frank Gore went 76 yards in five plays, with Kaepernick capping off the drive on a lightening quick 15 yard TD run. The Niners went for two (early in the fourth, unlike Pat Shurmur who would have kicked the extra point) and failed, they now trailed by just two points. Their defense badly needed to stop the Ravens from scoring, which would then allow San Francisco to just need a field goal for the win. However, Flacco used a 10 play, 60 yard drive to net a Justin Tucker field goal. The score was 34-29 and the Niners needed a touchdown to win. There was just over four minutes for Kaepernick to make history.
Kosar and Kaepernick both did their best to get their respective teams in a position to succeed on their ill-fated final drives.
Behind two passes to Brian Brennan and runs by Byner, Kosar had taken the Browns 67 yards in two minutes and 41 seconds to within striking distance. They were at the eight-yard line. You all know what happened next.
An eight-yard scramble from Kaepernick, two carries and 15 yards from Gore, a 24 yard pass to Michael Crabtree had the 49ers on the doorstep of a title. First and goal at the seven yard line with just under two minutes to go. Then the odd playing calling and a feisty Ravens defense stopped Kaepernick from becoming a champion in just his 10th career NFL start.
Ironically, in both of these games, the scoring ended on safeties where the punter – Denver’s Mike Horan and Baltimore’s Sam Koch – ran time off the clock and then out of the endzone.
Both games were highly entertaining, back and forth, up and down, emotionally draining contests. Luckily for San Francisco fans, they have won five Super Bowls and two of the last three World Series Titles with the Giants, so I can’t really feel all that sorry for them this morning.
With that said, I won’t go to the woe is me, Cleveland card this AM. While I was clearly rooting for the 49ers, life goes on. Since the Browns return in 1999, the Ravens now have two Super Bowl titles, as do the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. The spotlight turns to Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner to get the Browns completely turned around. You have two model franchises in your division. The time is now. Get us back where we belong, gentlemen.