SO OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
New faces—and new facelifts—were popping up all over. Especially those of quarterbacks. Cut by San Francisco two seasons earlier, Jim Plunkett took over a 2-3 Oakland team on Oct. 12 and led it to a 27-10 victory over Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. Born-again Steve Bartkowski made Atlanta the scourge of the NFC West. Danny White replaced the retired Roger staubach and carried the Cowboys into the NFC finals. Coming into full bloom, Brian Sipe of Cleveland, Tommy Kramer of Minnesota and Vince Ferragamo of Los Angeles were also playoff performers. And Running Back Chuck Muncie was just a step behind. Once left for dead in New Orleans, in San Diego he gave the pass-oriented Chargers a ground threat—and they won the AFC West title.
LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND ENMITY
Parity was what Commissioner Pete Rozelle wanted, and parity was what he got. By giving the teams with the best records the toughest schedules and the weakest teams the easiest schedules, Rozelle produced generally balanced standings: the winners and runners-up in two divisions had the same records; six teams were 11-5 and three were 12-4; champions fell and also-rans surfaced. While four-time Super Bowl winner Pittsburgh failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1972, Oakland became the first wild-card team ever to go all the way. In other surprising developments, AFC Rookie of the Year Joe Cribbs led East champion Buffalo to its best record (11-5) in 14 years, and another running back, NFL Rookie of the Year Billy Sims, helped Detroit attain its first .500 record since 1975.
Among the most equal of the equals were the Minnesota Vikings, who won the NFC Central title, clinching it with a week to go by beating Cleveland 28-23 on a 46-yard Hail Mary pass from Tommy Kramer to Ahmad Rashad as time expired. Climaxing a five-year drive under Coach Dick vermeil, Philadelphia won the NFC championship, whipping Dallas 20-7 behind the running of Wilbert Montgomery, who gained 194 yards. Less equal were the New York Jets, who went 4-12 after being picked to make the playoffs. And no amount of favorable scheduling could help the inept New Orleans Saints, who won one game all year.
Nor did the end of the season follow a Rozellean script. The commissioner's Super Bowl favorites were plainly the well-scrubbed, curfew-observing Eagles, who had twice-a-day practices the week before the game. By contrast, the commissioner could find no beastlier bunch of b‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢tes noires than the Raiders, whose managing general partner, Al Davis, had activated a suit against the NFL, claiming the right to move his team to Los Angeles, and had accused Rozelle of involvement in a ticket-scalping scheme, which Rozelle emphatically denied. Yet Oakland won handily as its offensive line limited the Eagles to one sack, Jim Plunkett completed 13 of 21 passes and Linebacker Rod Martin intercepted three throws by Ron Jaworski, the NFC's leading passer.
The Campbell is coming, but good. Earl led the NFL with 1,934 yards rushing.
Flippin' Billy Sims got the Lions off to their best start (4-0) since 1956 and scored 16 touchdowns.
Atlanta's swarming defense was the toughest in the NFC west.
Muncie's 4.7 yards per carry was second only to Campbell's 5.2 in the AFC.
With White dealing in a wild-card game, Dallas decked L.A. 34-13 to avenge an earlier Ram rout.
On an arctic day in Cleveland (the wind-chill factor was 37 below), Plunkett passed for 149 yards as the Raiders roared on toward New Orleans.
A stalwart for the balanced, much-improved Browns, unheralded Mike Pruitt averaged 4.2 yards a carry and gained 1,034, third among AFC runners.
Burgeoning Buffalo vaulted from fourth to first in the AFC East as Cribbs ambled in from Auburn and became No. 2 AFC rusher, with 1,185 yards.
In Dallas' wild-card win, Tony Dorsett scooted for 160 yards.
Montgomery, here motoring against Dallas, revved up the Eagles' rushing.
San Diego's dangerous Dan Fouts passed for a record 4,715 yards.
Fouts' top target, John Jefferson, led all receivers in yards (1,340) and touchdowns (13), but Oakland held him to four catches, no TDs in the playoffs.
King held onto Plunkett's 19-yard pass. Result: 80-yard Super Bowl TD.
Saint Don Reese found the Falcons' 1,000-yard man, William Andrews, tough to get a grip on.
Oakland's Lester (Stickum) Hayes had five postseason interceptions.