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Monday, January 13, 2003
Updated: January 15, 12:27 PM ET
The List: Greatest NFL playoff upsets

Page 2 staff

Underdogs and upsets -- the stuff the playoffs are made of.

The NFL has witnessed its share of unlikely victors, come postseason play. This year is no exception. Heck, we're still wondering how Hot-lanta beat the Pack, in January -- at Lambeau?!

Joe Namath
Jets quarterback Joe Namath backed up his boast in Super Bowl III.
In light of season-ending shockers, we browse the upset archives for the greatest in NFL playoff history. Check out our list, then be sure to vote in the poll on the right to crown the biggest NFL playoff upset of all-time.

1. "I guarantee it" -- Jets over Colts in Super Bowl III
You've seen the photos -- Broadway Joe in Miami, lounging by the pool. Joe Cool, uttering the preposterous without a blink: The Jets will beat the Colts, I guarantee it. And then the game, in which the new guard (Joe and the AFL) showed the old guard (Johnny U. and the NFL) that it ain't bragging if you can do it. And then the aftermath, Joe One, exiting the stage, right index finger raised high in the universal symbol of eat-our-dustness.

2. The SI Cover jinx strikes early -- Browns trounce Colts for 1964 NFL title
Sports Illustrated is so sure that the Colts will beat the Browns in the 1964 NFL Championship game that its cover for next week, featuring NFL MVP Johnny U. and Colts Head Coach Don Shula, is in the can before the game starts.

Frank Ryan
Oops, they jinxed 'em again. Johnny U. and Shula were supposed to grace this cover.
Oops. SI has to do some quick work to get Browns QB Frank Ryan on the cover, after Cleveland drubs the heavily-favored boys from Baltimore (spread: 7 points), 27-0. The Colts, with a powerhouse aerial attack (U's targets: Raymond Berry, Jimmy Orr, and John Mackey) and a solid running game, went 12-2 in the regular season. The Browns had gone 10-3-1, a surprise considering the team's weak defense.

But the defense is ready as the teams battle in sub-freezing weather. A 20-mph wind and a tenacious Browns secondary shuts down the Colts passing game -- Unitas throws for only 95 yards -- and after a scoreless first half, it's all Cleveland. Johnny U. is his usual succinct self after the game.

His analysis: "They just beat the hell out of us."

3. The AFC is here to stay -- Chiefs defeat Vikings in Super Bowl IV
The Chiefs, who finished second in the AFL West, come into the Super Bowl 13-point underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings, who were 12-2 during the regular season. What do Len Dawson and the Chiefs have to fear? To begin with, the Vikings defense, anchored by the "Purple People Eaters" (Carl Eller, Alan Page, Gary Larsen and Jim Marshall), which is one of the stingiest in NFL history, allowing only 133 points all season. To end with, the Vikings running game.

But the game is all KC. Jan Stenerud kicks three field goals and Mike Garrett runs five yards for a TD to give the Chiefs a 16-0 halftime lead. The second half is all Chiefs, also, and the Vikings manage to score one TD, but no more. The Chiefs D allows the Vikings only 67 yards on the ground, picks off three passes, and recovers two fumbles.

Final score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7.

"The Kansas City defensive line resembled a redwood forest," says Vikings QB Joe Kapp. "I don't remember that one individual stood out -- they were all very active. They took the running game away from us. We went into the game wanting to run the ball, and they were able to take it all away with great defensive play."

4. The Replacements -- Oilers, sans Pastorini and Campbell, upset Chargers in 1979 AFC divisional game
The Chargers are very, very good, and it seems like they are on the road to the Super Bowl. The Oilers are just a speed bump, especially playing without QB Dan Pastorini and All-Pro RB Earl Campbell, both out due to injuries suffered in a 13-7 wild-card win over Denver six days earlier. But Dan Fouts is nice enough to make Houston rookie defender Vernon Perry his primary receiver, and Perry's record four INTs lifts the Oilers to a 17-14 win.

Adam Vinatieri
"We shocked the world. We didn't shock ourselves," said Vinatieri. ... Suure.
5. Everyone's a Patriot -- The Pats beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI
Does it get any better? Adam Vinatieri kicks a 48-yard figgie with seven seconds left to lift the Pats over St. Louis in last year's Big Game. New England's win over Oakland in the snowy AFC divisional game two weeks earlier, again thanks (in part) to some clutcheousness from Vinatieri, was also a surprise.

6. Just do it -- Giants beat the mighty Bears in "Sneakers" game for NFL title
The Bears, powered by the running duo of Bronko Nagurski and Beattie Feathers, won 13 games in the 1934 regular season, and became the first NFL team to complete a season without a loss or a tie. Nagurski was a blocking terror, clearing a path for Feathers that helped the halfback average 9.9 yards a carry.

The Giants lost five games in 1934, including two to the Bears, and a Chicago win seems a near certainty. Then the Polo Grounds weather gets all funky -- game-time temp is 9 degrees -- and the teams battle it out on a sheet of ice before 35,000 hearty fans. The Bears lead 10-3 at halftime, but the Giants come back in the second half with a surprise: They've left their useless cleats in the locker room, and now wear sneakers. While the Bears continue to slip and slide, the Giants ride their sure-grips to 27 points (including two Ken Strong TDs) in the fourth quarter to win going away, 30-13.

7. Pinto vs. Corvette: Seahawks stun Dolphins in 1983 divisional game
The 9-7 Seattle Seahawks sneak into the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history, as a wild-card team. The 12-4 Dolphins, last year's AFC champs, seem a lock, especially playing in front of a home crowd at the Orange Bowl with star rookie QB Dan Marino at the controls.

Dave Kreig
Dave Kreig was a Ford Pinto up against Marino's Corvette.
The day before the game, Michael Wilbon writes in the Washington Post that the QBs exemplify the differences between the two teams: "Marino drives to work every morning in a new gold Corvette that matches his hair and arm. [Dave] Krieg, signed as a free agent, comes in a Pinto."

But this matters not to Seattle. They keep it close. Trailing 20-17 with 3:43 remaining, Krieg and wide receiver Steve Largent connect on 16- and 40-yard passes, and Curt Warner (who ends the day with 113 rushing yards and two TDs) dives two yards for a score that puts the Seahawks ahead 24-20 with 1:48 left. The Dolphins still have a chance -- but not for long. Fulton Walker fumbles on the ensuing kickoff, the Seahawks recover and kick a figgie, polishing off a 27-20 win.

"When we came down here, nobody gave us a chance," says Seattle coach Chuck Knox. "They thought we were going to be blown out. Even after the Dolphins went ahead late in the fourth quarter, I thought we could come back. Our whole bench thought we could come back. We have been coming back like that all season. I can't tell you how proud I am of this team."

8. Diaper dandies -- Jags beat Broncos in 1996 divisional game
In only their second NFL season, the Jags upset the Bills and then the Broncos, both by scores of 30-27, both on enemy turf -- to advance to the AFC Championship game. Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe: ''No matter what happens in the next three or four years, we'll always look back and say, 'I can't believe we lost this one.' "

9. The Pack ain't back -- Denver beats Green Bay in a thriller in SB XXXII
The Packers, with uber-MVP Brett Favre at the controls, seem a lock for a second straight Super Bowl title. The Broncos have an ugly Super Bowl history, having lost four of the big games by a combined score of 136-50, and they arrive in San Diego 13-point underdogs. But John Elway, who QB'ed Denver to three of their Super Bowl defeats, drives the Broncos to a game-winning TD with 1:45 left on the clock, and finally gets to hug the Vince. Terrell Davis, who, despite suffering from a sometimes debilitating migraine, carries 30 times for 157 yards and three TDs.

Elway provides one of our most dramatic Super Bowl moments, too, late in the third quarter: Denver faces a third-and-6 at the Green Bay 12. Elway sprints from the pocket and leaps for the first-down marker, where he's met by two Packers defenders and sent flying -- past the first-down marker. Without a pause, he jumps up, pumps up, and gets back to work.

10. Slip-sliding away -- Vikings Carter burns 49ers in 1987 NFC divisional game
"On a wet field like this, the receiver really has the advantage. The defensive backs really looked like they didn't want to slip and fall down. They were a little tentative." That's Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter after he catches 10 passes for 227 yards on a wet Candlestick Park field as wild-card Minnesota shocks San Fran, 36-24.

But Carter isn't the only story. The Vikings D stops Jerry Rice, who catches only three passes for 28 yards. The Niners led the NFL in rushing during the regular season; in this game, they net 23 yards on the ground. Finally, an ineffective Joe Montana is benched for the first time in nine years, exiting midway through the third quarter. Bill Walsh hopes that his replacement, Steve Young, can stir things up. No go.

The 49ers are a bit philosophical after being beat by the wild card team. SF safety Jeff Fuller: "The Vikings' performance makes this a little easier to swallow. We didn't beat ourselves. And Anthony Carter. He almost beat us by himself."