In their own words Great NFL rivalries
In advance of the renewal of the Colts-Patriots rivalry Sunday in Indianapolis, ESPN.com revisits some of the NFL's greatest duels with the key players and coaches.
Washington Redskins Hall of Fame wide receiver Charley Taylor could only sit back and laugh when he heard about the New England Patriots' recent spying scandal. He was, after all, part of the Redskins-Dallas Cowboys rivalry of the 1970s."This stuff has been going on for years," Taylor said.
Taylor was referring to the gamesmanship between then-coaches George Allen of the Redskins and Tom Landry of the Cowboys. They constantly tried to one-up each other -- like New York Jets coach Eric Mangini and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have done the past two seasons. Landry rented certain floors of a motel overlooking the Cowboys ' practice facility to prevent Redskins "spies" from watching practice the week before the two teams played. Redskins players changed jersey numbers in practice before playing the Cowboys.When the Indianapolis Colts play the Patriots this weekend, there inevitably will be questions about gamesmanship. Did the Patriots purposefully leave their field uncovered in the week before the 2004 AFC divisional playoffs to expose it to the elements to slow down the Colts' high-powered offense? Did the Colts turn up the heat in the RCA Dome in the second half of last year's AFC championship to wear out an already-exhausted Pats defense? Gamesmanship aside, rivalry games are what many players look forward to from the start of training camp. They are the games players circle when the schedule first comes out. Said former San Francisco 49ers defensive back Eric Davis about the 49ers' rivalry with the Cowboys in the 1990s: "That is why you play. You want to match up against the best." To gain insight into heated matchups, ESPN.com interviewed players from three great rivalries: the Oakland Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the Cowboys-Redskins of the 1970s and the Cowboys-49ers of the 1990s.
Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers rivalry of the 1990s
Former Cowboys defensive coordinator and head coach Dave Campo:
"We might not have been able to get away with some of the stuff today because the officials worry about contact a lot more. You were able to keep your hands on the receiver down the field, so you knew when the receivers would make their breaks. It was huge for us to throw off the timing of [49ers quarterback] Steve Young and make him throw to a running back or tight end instead of a receiver. Their running back, Ricky Watters, though, was really good. He was fast, tough and could catch the ball out of the backfield. He was a really good receiver. He was the type of running back you really look for in a West Coast attack. When we finally lost to the 49ers in the 1994 NFC championship, they swung a long pass to him on their way a 21-0 lead."One of the things you always worried about with the 49ers was preventing the big play. I can remember one time we played them in the regular season and we did something a little different, scheme wise, and [49ers wide receiver] Jerry Rice beat us for a 70-yard touchdown on a slant route. Playing against the 49ers back then is a lot like playing the Indianapolis Colts today. You know what they are going to do, but you have to stop them. The 49ers -- like the Colts -- did a good job of running a reverse or an unusual play to keep you on our toes. "
Former 49ers defensive back Eric Davis:"I have a lot of fond memories of those days. The rivalry got so intense with the Cowboys that after losing two straight NFC championship games in 1992 and 1993, we brought in a bunch of guys and pretty much put together an all-star team just to beat the Cowboys in 1994. We needed to win the 1994 NFC Championship Game for our organization. I will always say that we had the better team in 1992, but some bad bounces prevented us from going to the Super Bowl that year. "The Cowboys' 1993 team was the best team I ever competed against at any level. When we played them in the NFC championship in Dallas, it was like body blows. We just kept taking shots and taking shots, and before you knew it, Dallas would be on the 2-yard line. That team was a machine; they had one of the best offensive lines ever assembled, excellent receivers and an explosive running game. We knew that Troy [Aikman] was one of the league's most accurate quarterbacks, and you knew [wide receiver] Michael [Irvin] was going to move the chains. If you didn't knock the ball down, Michael was going to catch it. Troy was also really good at putting the ball in tight spots. He did not give you much of an opportunity to knock the ball down because he was so accurate.
"During training camp, we would always find the Cowboys on our schedule and would say, 'We should be 8-0 and they should be 7-1,' by the time we play them. We didn't want to give any other team a chance. That was the game everyone pointed to because we knew it would determine home field in the playoffs. That showed the ultimate respect I had for those guys, because I didn't think anyone was going to beat them and they probably did not think anyone was going to beat us."
Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins rivalry of the 1970s
"My whole attitude towards Dallas -- like a lot of my Redskins teammates -- was different, because I was from Dallas and so I had to play well in front of Mom and Dad. You wanted to beat Dallas. I can remember having trash thrown on my parents' front lawn before playing the Cowboys. Everybody was really into these games, from the owner on down to the trainer. There was a lot of gamesmanship in the rivalry.
"I remember [former Cowboys president] Tex Schramm making a rule at one of the owners' meetings that a player could not come back once he was on injured reserve. I got hurt in the preseason and was placed on injured reserve. I could have come back and played that season, but because of the rule, I had to miss the whole season. George Allen and Tom Landry were very superstitious of one another. When we would practice, Allen would have us wear different jersey numbers. I would switch my jersey with one of the linebackers. Allen also had an ex-police officer as a security guard to chase away any 'spies.' We had so much security, though, that I could not imagine anybody sneaking into the place.
Oakland Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry of the 1970s
Raiders Hall of Fame center Jim Otto:
"How can one forget the Immaculate Reception game? That was the game that really started the Steelers' dynasty. I remember the night before the game, they beat up a couple of our players in the street. I remember the Immaculate Reception [Franco Harris' game-winning ricochet TD catch in the 1972 AFC divisional playoffs]. I was looking for a place to hide, because if the call had gone the other way, somebody would have definitely gotten hurt. The fans were so feverish at the point. It was the only time in football that I thought there was going to be a problem and I wanted no part of it. "
|Clayton on Raiders-Steelers|
Bill Belichick wouldn't have gotten away with running up scores in the 1970s, when the Raiders and Steelers were battling each other for AFC superiority. From the physical play on the field to the verbal and legal battles off of it, Steelers-Raiders was great drama.
Covering the Steelers while I was in college, I'll never forget the AFC Championship Game in January 1976. That's when the series bubbled over. I'll never forget Raiders coach John Madden speaking about the anticipation of the game. On the plane, the team and coaches watched a violent movie, and Madden compared the anxiety of the game to soldiers going to war.
Although the Steelers won, wide receiver Lynn Swann was taken out on a cheap hit by Raiders safety George Atkinson. Swann had to spend a couple days in the hospital with a concussion. At the time, there were concerns that Swann's injury was career-threatening.
Later, Steelers coach Chuck Noll said Atkinson was part of the "criminal element" of the league, a comment that led to a defamation of character lawsuit in 1977, filed mostly to distract the Steelers.
It was a different age. It was an age of cheap shots, hard hits, forearm shivers, clothes lines and head slaps. In those days, if a coach ran up the score, one of his players ended up paying the price.
-- John Clayton
San Francisco 49ers-New York Giants the 1980s, early '90s
Former New York Giants RB Ottis Anderson on playing the 49ers. "(Former Giants head coach) Bill Parcells came to us the Thursday before the 1990 NFC Championship Game between the Giants and 49ers and said, "I don't know about you, but I have a suitcase full of clothes. I am packing for one week. We are going to leave New Jersey on Friday for San Francisco and after we beat the 49ers, we are going straight to Tampa Bay (where the Super Bowl was)." He showed us his suitcase full of clothes, and that was all the motivation we needed. We knew we had to pack for a whole week instead of a couple days.
"When we got out to San Francisco for the game, everybody was talking about the 49ers becoming the first team in NFL history to win three straight Super Bowls, and that just gave us additional motivation. The 49ers had shipped a lot of their video equipment to Tampa and the city had already banners saying Bills/49ers Super Bowl. It (the NFC Championship) was a late game and when a lot of people went to bed, the 49ers were running out the clock, so they thought the 49ers were going to the Super Bowl. Nobody expected (49ers RB) Roger Craig to fumble the ball. When we got to our hotel (in Tampa Bay) early the next morning, nobody knew who we were. They all thought we were 49ers."
Former San Francisco 49ers OL Randy Cross on playing Giants:
"You need to remember that up until the early 1980s, both teams were not very good. In 1981, we beat the Giants in the playoffs, won the Super Bowl, and that was sort of the first go-round. After that, it become an annual thing. If we weren't meeting them in the regular season then we would be meeting them in the playoffs. Those were the days of smash-mouth football. A lot of people talk about the contrast of styles, but I think that was more for the media than the participants. The media would say it was the unstoppable force of the Giants against the great 49ers offense. That ignored two things ---one, how well we ran the ball and two, how good our defense was.
"When you played the Giants, you knew you were going to be sore the next day...As a guard, I had to take on (Giants LB) Harry Carson, which was an instant headache or (LB) Carl Banks or (LB) Lawrence Taylor. It was almost like naming your favorite cavity. The rivalry really does not bring back scintillating memories. "
William Bendetson covers pro football for ESPN.com.
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PATRIOTS BEAT COLTS, 24-20
It's a battle of unbeatens ... and a possible AFC title game preview. It's Brady vs. Manning. Belichick vs. Dungy. It's 8-0 New England vs. 7-0 Indianapolis in Week 9 at the RCA Dome.
Sunday Countdown, (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET)• In a report by Greg Garber, Hall of Fame QBs weigh in on the matchup of future Hall of Fame QBs Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Also, special guest analyst Bill Parcells joins the crew to help cover every crucial angle of the epic matchup.
Commentary/features• Predictions: ESPN experts make their picks
• Pasquarelli: Colts, Patriots take different paths
• Clayton: Colts face Pats' big weapons
• Sando: Manning or Brady? Experts make the call
• Garber: Hall of Famers assess Manning, Brady
• Drehs: Colts' Sanders a small wonder
• EA Sports video: How they use Sanders
• Chadiha: NFL's Top 5 rivalries
• Power rankings: Pats No. 1, Colts No. 2
• AccuScore: Pats have the edge
• Clayton: Belichick seeks to run it up
• Pasquarelli: Colts can finally focus on Pats
• TMQ: It's an NFL battle of good vs. evil
Page 2• Got a problem? Ask coach Belichick
• Inside the brain of ... Adam Vinatieri
• Hill: Just call him Suge Belichick
• Gallo: Secrets facts about Colts and Pats
• Animation: Belichick's Cleveland years
Video• Colts, Patriots gamebreakers
• EA Sports: How Colts use Sanders
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• Cowboys' Crayton wants Colts to beat Pats
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• Schlereth: Belichick breaking unwritten rules
• Ismail: Colts, Pats right there together
• Fassel: Teams must block out hype
• Colts' Jackson ready for the Pats
Audio• Mike & Mike: Jimmy Johnson's preview
• Jaws: Previewing Super Bowl XLI½
• Freeney: Colts won't change approach
• Patriots-Colts debate
• Crayton: Colts have a great shot
• Phil Simms on Brady-Manning
• Jaws: QBs are pleasure to watch
Scouts Inc.• Horton: Both offensive lines are underrated
• Green: Addai is offensive X-factor
• Kidd: Maroney gives Pats another weapon
• Maalouf: Pats have edge in punt game
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• Seymour's return big for Pats
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SportsNation• Who will win? Who's the better QB?
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Community• Got an opinion on the game? Let's hear it
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Manning vs. Brady: Previous results• Sept. 30, 2001 (at NE): Patriots 44, Colts 13
• Oct. 21, 2001 (at Indy): Patriots 38, Colts 17
• Nov. 30, 2003 (at Indy): Patriots 38, Colts 34
• Jan. 18, 2004 (at NE): Patriots 24, Colts 14 *
• Sept. 9, 2004 (at NE): Patriots 27, Colts 24
• Jan. 16, 2005 (at NE): Patriots 20, Colts 3 **
• Nov. 7, 2005 (at NE): Colts 40, Patriots 21
• Nov. 5, 2006 (at NE): Colts 27, Patriots 20
• Jan. 21, 2007 (at Indy): Colts 38, Patriots 34 *
* = AFC championship game
** = AFC divisional playoffs
NEW ENGLAND (8-0)• Game 1: Patriots 38, Jets 14
• Game 2: Patriots 38, Chargers 14
• Game 3: Patriots 38, Bills 7
• Game 4: Patriots 34, Bengals 14
• Game 5: Patriots 34, Browns 17
• Game 6: Patriots 48, Cowboys 27
• Game 7: Patriots 49, Dolphins 28
• Game 8: Patriots 52, Redskins 7
• Patriots clubhouse page
INDIANAPOLIS (7-0)• Game 1: Colts 41, Saints 0
• Game 2: Colts 22, Titans 20
• Game 3: Colts 30, Texans 24
• Game 4: Colts 38, Broncos 20
• Game 5: Colts 33, Bucs 14
• Game 6: Colts 29, Jaguars 7
• Game 7: Colts 31, Panthers 7
• Colts clubhouse page