Spot On: Lovin’ the ’80 Championship Games

Russell S. Baxter

Spot On: Lovin’ the ’80 Championship Games

By Brandon Fazzolari

Special to Pro Football Guru

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

This Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles host the Dallas Cowboys in a crucial matchup for NFC East supremacy. At the same time in Los Angeles, the Chargers take on the Oakland Raiders in a game destined to be much less interesting. On January 11th, 1981, it was these four teams vying for the NFC and AFC championship respectively. Let’s take a look back at that exciting day in NFL history!

Fly Eagles Fly

The world was a much different place during the autumn of 1980. The United States was in the process of voting Ronald Reagan into office and the Middle Eastern nation of Iran held hundreds of U.S. Citizens hostage. In the less important world of sports, there was no team more popular than the Cowboys. On the other end of the spectrum, the Eagles and their fans suffered through years of losing football until Dick Vermeil arrived on the scene. He built his squad around an opportunistic defense captained by the enthusiastic Herman Edwards.

The Cowboys came into this game with the identical 12-4 record as the Eagles but lost out on the division title on the fifth tiebreaker (point differential in games versus division opponents). After a convincing wild card game victory over the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, Dallas eked out a spectacular comeback win in Atlanta against the upstart Falcons. Philly came back from two scores down in their divisional round game against a much-lesser Minnesota Vikings’ ball club.

The weather was absolutely bone-chilling in Philadelphia as Vermeil looked to slay “America’s Team” coached by the man under the fedora, Tom Landry. The game couldn’t have started better for the Eagles when Wilbert Montgomery ran untouched for a 42-yard touchdown just minutes into the contest. The Cowboys came into the ball game with the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, but the Eagles defense held them to 206 yards and a measly seven points. Quarterback Danny White and the sensational running back Tony Dorsett were almost completely held in check. In fact, Philadelphia forced a whopping five fumbles, recovering three.

On the offensive side of the ball, Montgomery was the engine of the Eagles offense with 26 rushes for 194 yards and that scoring run. Tony Franklin kicked a pair of field goals and Leroy Harris rushed for a touchdown in the second half to give Philadelphia a 20-7 win and their first Super Bowl berth. This win truly goes down as one of the greatest in franchise history.

Commitment to Excellence

A consensus of sportswriters chose Oakland to finish fifth in the AFC West before the season. They no longer had John Madden and Ken Stabler. Stabler’s heir-apparent Dan Pastorini broke his leg and the Raiders couldn’t seem to score with any consistency. Enter journeyman Jim Plunkett and the rest was history.

The Raiders recovered to qualify for the postseason, like Dallas, as a wild card entry. Led by the incomparable talents of Lester Hayes, the Raiders defeated Stabler and the Houston Oilers at home. Their next game would take place in frigid Cleveland where they would face the NFL’s MVP Brian Sipe and the Browns. In a rugged affair, Oakland survived 14-12 when they picked off Sipe in the end zone with just seconds remaining. Next stop: San Diego and the Super Chargers.

The Chargers had no such struggles on offense in 1980. Don Coryell’s team was the “Greatest Show on Turf” of that era and broke tons of passing records thanks to the receiving royalty comprised of Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson. After a devastating playoff loss in 1979 to the Oilers, San Diego would accept nothing less than a Super Bowl in 1980 and were heavy favorites to make that a reality. Still, they would just sneak past the resurgent Buffalo Bills in the divisional round.

On championship Sunday, however, it was the Raiders offense that erupted in the first half bounding out to a 28-7 lead. Raymond Chester was the unlikely hero scoring on a deflected ball early. The Chargers were valiant in their comeback attempt, but fell short by the painful final tally of 34-27.

The Chargers of that era will go down in history as one of the great teams to never even get to a Super Bowl, let alone win one. As for the silver and black, they were on to their third Super Bowl and would be pegged as the slight underdog. The game was never in doubt, though, as the Eagles were wound tighter than a drum while Oakland played confidently and powerfully. Rod Martin intercepted Ron Jaworski three times as Oakland won Super Bowl XV, 27-10.

Brandon Fazzolari (@spot_bills) is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan and a Vegas sports reporter for Vegas the Network.

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