The best football game I attended was in the 1974 playoffs and a game between the Miami Dolphins and home standing Oakland Raiders.
Over the past two weekends, a number of fans saw the game they will remember as their favorite. The National Football League has served up six consecutive postseason games that has seen every contest include a dramatic finish.
For a game to qualify as one’s favorite, it no doubt has to include a win for their team. In 1974, I was working for the Oakland Raiders when Clarence Davis pulled in a Ken Stabler wobbler to end the two year run of the Miami Dolphins as Super Bowl Champions. The game gained a name, Sea of Hands.
Whether working for or drawn to, a fan's relationship with his or her team is personal. This month, Buffalo Bills fans went from celebrating their romp over Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots to a shocking end to their season in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
A Chiefs fan, who observed their hometown quarterback pull together a two play 44-yard drive that set up a game-tying field goal as time ran out … and followed that with a coin flip win and quick deciding touchdown, could easily embrace that contest as his or her favorite of all time.
I suspect that game will gain a nickname, following The Catch, Immaculate Reception, Music City Miracle, Sea of Hands, and others that identify past NFL contests. The game’s name will probably include a reference to 13 seconds.
Chiefs fans didn’t have long to enjoy that triumph before their opponent gave their followers the thrill of a lifetime. The Cincinnati Bengals reversed a 21-3 hole to pull out an overtime victory by three points, 27-24, to earn their franchise’s third Super Bowl trip. Suddenly, there is a new sheriff in town, and Joe Burrow has replaced Patrick Mahomes as the most celebrated quarterback.
While Mahomes is established as one of the best ever in his first five seasons, Burrow is where the Chiefs quarterback was when he could overcome a three touchdown deficit and cover a double-digit point spread.
If you were one of the fans of the Bengals that ventured to Kansas City to attend the Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium, you have a lifetime memory you’ll be telling your grandkids about.
Don Shula was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1974, he had led the Csonka, Kiick and Warfield train to a pair of Super Bowls, including the 1972 perfect season. John Madden was the head coach of the Raiders in 1974, and these two football giants went head-to-head in 1973 and 1974 three times. The Raiders had ended the Dolphins record 16 game regular season winning streak with a victory early in the 1973 season, and the Dolphins got revenge that year in the AFC Championship Game, 27-10.
In the 1974 AFC Divisional Round, the Raiders had taken a lead with just over five minutes remaining in the game when Cliff Branch caught a pass, fell to the ground, jumped up and raced into the endzone before a Miami defender could stop him. My supervisor with the Raiders was Tom Grimes, and he had gotten a request from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Glenn Dickey on what yard line Branch caught the ball, and how many yards he ran after getting up to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Grimes asked me to retrieve that information from the stat crew which was located a floor below in the bowels of the Coliseum stadium. After gaining that information from one of the stat crew, I headed back up to deliver the information to Grimes. On my way, I saw on the television in the press room Dolphins runningback Benny Malone sweeping around the end for a touchdown that restaked the Dolphins to the lead, 26-21.
The enthusiasm Grimes showed when asking for the Branch information was replaced by solemn acceptance now that the catch, jump-up, and run was not the winning score.
That came a few minutes later, when Davis caught the pass that sent the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game and the Dolphins home with their first meaningful loss since they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI.
The Raiders win over the Dolphins was the best football game I ever attended; any of the previous six NFL contests could earn that distinction in the memory of a winning fan.
Could Super Bowl LVI be another thriller?
Will it be?
Only if your team wins.