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Original Issue

Sweet 16? It'll Never Be Missed

The early returns read more like the results of referenda on dumping Ed Garvey than NFL playoff scores. Washington 31-7. Green Bay 41-16. Miami 28-13. Los Angeles 27-10. This pro football playoff business—Super Bowl Tournament, Round of 16, conference quarterfinals, regional semifinals, Stanley Cup playoffs, whatever—didn't seem capable of producing a winning margin of less than two touchdowns. By throwing open its postseason party to a saccharine Sweet 16 that included two teams with losing records, the league was admitting that you simply can't do the requisite weeding out in a nine-game season. If the NFL really has parity, Saturday's results were parody. Every host team, every favorite won easily.

And then came Sunday. Like the lady sang: Sunday will never be the same. Instead of routs, we got Fouts. America trailed Tampa Bay with eight minutes left before winning. The Vikings were awfully kindly hosts before barely downing Atlanta. And the Jets gave us Neil, McNeil and a 44-17 bouncing of the favored Bengals in Cincy that was actually a game for three quarters.

"A better question would be, Where doesn't it hurt?" said Cincinnati Quarterback Ken Anderson of the pounding he took against New York, whose Sack Exchange treated him as a particularly active share. He was nailed four times, intercepted thrice and forced from the game twice. For their part, the Jets' linebackers and secondary, knowing that more than 80% of Anderson's completions are for 10 yards or less, dared him to go long. Cheating up. Nickel Back Johnny Lynn stepped in front of an Anderson pass at the Jet one when the Bengals had a 14-10 lead in the first half, and Free Safety Darrol Ray ran back another interception 98 yards for the score that put the game away.

The defensive front was especially bullish, even without Exchange partner Joe Klecko, who had been rushed back from a knee injury but appeared in only four plays. Kenny Neil, a Cincinnati native, played with walking pneumonia and made seven stops in Klecko's stead. Said Defensive End Mark Gastineau, whose late hit accounted for one of Anderson's trips to the sidelines, "Quarterbacks don't wear skirts."

The Jets' Richard Todd could have; he was hardly touched, throwing 28 times and completing 20 for 269 yards and one touchdown. So could NFL rushing-champ Freeman McNeil in his bit role as a passer. He threw 14 yards on an option to Derrick Gaffney for the first New York touchdown and rushed for 202 yards and another touchdown on 21 carries. Of McNeil's offensive show, Coach Walt Michaels said, "I always said if I had a cannon I'd fire it. Today I had one. I fired it." McNeil called Todd "a great man and a great general." Neil, Captain Pneumonia, got the game ball; to hear the Jets tell it, it probably should have been a purple heart.

The most generous purple heart belonged to the Vikings, who treated Atlanta lavishly in their 30-24 win. Minnesota allowed the three Falcon touchdowns on a blocked punt, a fake field goal and an interception return, and late in the fourth quarter found itself down 24-23 after a 41-yard field goal by Atlanta's Mick Luckhurst, a sometime rugger in his native England who had scooted 17 yards with a lateral from Mike Moroski, the holder, on the phantom field goal. But Running Back Ted Brown, carrying five times on the Vikings' final drive, went over from the five with 1:44 left, and Defensive Back John Turner's second interception off Steve Bartkowski extinguished Atlanta 47 seconds later.

Brown and Turner were nearly hors de combat for the last two mintues. Brown had aggravated a pinched nerve in his shoulder during the first half and temporarily left the game. Turner injured his right ankle and was rushed the two blocks to the Metropolitan Medical Center just before the half. Fitted with a special cast for a slight sprain, he missed just five minutes of action.

The Vikes played before a crowd whipped up by a 38-year-old former high school electronics teacher who beat a loud drum, and a banner which read THE PURPLE PEOPLE-EATERS ARE BACK. Could be; Minnesota's defensive line contained Falcon Fullback William Andrews (48 yards on 11 carries), and so pressured Bartkowski that he didn't complete a pass until the second quarter and finished 9 for 23. But Nose Tackle Charlie Johnson wanted no part of resurrecting the People-Eater tag of yore. "We don't want a name," he said. "When you start getting names, you start putting contracts out on yourself."

Dallas Safety Monty (Big Game) Hunter likes his name just fine. "I hope it sticks," he said after his 19-yard touchdown return of an intercepted Doug Williams' pass helped the Cowboys stave off Tampa Bay 30-17. "The only way to make a name for yourself is to come up with a big game now and then." Hunter's moment came soon after the Bucs had gone up 17-16 on Gordon Jones's spectacular 40-yard dash with a nine-yard pass. Williams was trying to hit Wide Receiver Kevin House, but his throw didn't have enough loft. Hunter, a fourth-round draft choice out of Salem College in West Virginia, made a leaping grab. The rookie had worn Coach Tom Landry's dog tag for oversleeping on Saturday and missing a 9:30 a.m. team meeting.

Cowboy Quarterback Danny White could have used some extra sleep. As if a grotesquely swollen thumb that kept him out of two practices wasn't enough, a toothache roused him at 3 a.m. Sunday. He took a shot of Novocain for the tooth before the game. "The best medication for pain is adrenaline," he said after providing much of the remedy himself. White set team playoff records for passes (45) and completions (27) and threw for TDs to running backs Ron Springs and Timmy Newsome on bootleg rollouts. He said his thumb led to two Tampa Bay touchdowns: one when the ball slipped out of his hand and Buc Linebacker Hugh Green plucked it from the air and went 60 yards for a score, and another when Safety Mark Cotney returned an interception 50 yards to set up Bill Capece's 32-yard field goal. When the Novocain he'd gotten from the dentist wore off, the tooth pained White more than the thumb.

The previous day's games were painfully one-sided. After the Dolphins thumped New England, there was no suppressing the comparisons—of David Woodley to Bob Griese, of Andra Franklin to Larry Csonka, of a defense with only one Pro Bowl member to the No-Name Defense, and of Don Shula the Elder to Shula the Younger. "We have more no-names than the No-Names," said Dolphin Linebacker Earnest Rhone, whose six tackles helped the NFL's top defense keep the Patriots out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Franklin, the 5'10", 225-pound fullback Shula calls "a throwback to Csonka," rumbled for 112 yards on 26 carries. And Woodley, the rollout artist—who studied last season under Griese, a quarterback as fond of the pocket as a kangaroo joey—was nearly perfect: 19 attempts, 16 completions, 246 yards, two TD passes, no interceptions.

Woodley mixed a little Griese with his own kid stuff. Early in the second quarter, pocket-bound, he threw 35 yards to Tight End Joe Rose, who made a diving catch at the New England 40. Seven plays later, from the two, he rolled right to find another tight end, Bruce Hardy, in the end zone for Miami's first score. On the Dolphins' next possession Woodley kept a drive alive on third-and-six with a 16-yard bootleg, then threw a drop-back pass 36 yards to Duriel Harris, who made a spinning catch. Two plays later Franklin csonked over from the one.

New England tends to cover backs and tight ends man-to-man with linebackers, so 11 of Woodley's completions were to Rose, Hardy (who caught another two-yard rollout pass for Miami's final TD) and running backs Rich Diana and Tony Nathan. Nathan began the game with a hangover from a mild concussion suffered the week before; he left it with the offensive game ball after catching five passes for 68 yards and running 12 times for another 71. "I realized it was a hunger headache," he said. Nathan's five catches were exactly five more than Stanley Morgan, New England's top receiver, made against the Dolphin secondary.

To Shula's chagrin, Miami owner Joe Robbie added an unexpected wrinkle to the Dolphin game plan. To commemorate the Pats' 3-0 defeat of the Dolphins in blizzardy Foxboro on Dec. 12, he had a truck dump five tons of man-made snow in a corner of the end zone. Shortly before the kickoff a man in jailhouse stripes astride a snowplow arrived to remind Dolphin fans how a convict on work-release had cleared a spot at Coach Ron Meyer's behest so the Pats' John Smith could kick the game-winner. A second man, on a lawn mower, was on hand for Miami's Uwe von Schamann, in case he wanted the turf trimmed for a late field-goal attempt. "I don't want anything to do with what happened," said Shula afterward. "I don't want to be associated with it."

The Packers also had a small family squabble, and it was St. Louis' misfortune to visit Green Bay on the day it got ironed out. John Jefferson, the touchdown man, hadn't scored all season, and after Green Bay lost 27-24 to Detroit in its final game on Jan. 2, J.J. ripped into Coach Bart Starr and Offensive Coordinator Bob Schnelker. The Packer offense was too conservative, he said, and didn't involve enough people—like John Jefferson, for instance.

At least two teammates found Mr. Jefferson's declarations too independent. "J.J. still makes mistakes on his routes," said one. "He doesn't know the plays." Added Quarterback Lynn Dickey, "Our offense isn't geared to San Diego's type of attack. We're not geared to the pass." But in the Packers' romp past St. Louis, Dickey did some placating with his play calling. He threw six of his 17 completions and two of his four touchdown passes to Jefferson. J.J. juked past Cornerback Carl Allen to grab a 60-yarder for the Packers' first TD, caught 17-and 39-yard passes on Green Bay's next two scoring drives and a seven-yard toss late in the third that put the Pack up 38-9.

"We run the same plays against every team," said Packer Wide Receiver James Lofton, who caught a 20-yard touchdown pass. "The difference today was that St. Louis' defense stunk." Green Bay's wasn't much better, allowing 453 yards. But the Pack defense was in an ornery mood. The Cards had second-and-goal at the one on their first possession, yet had to settle for Neil O'Donoghue's 18-yard field goal. St. Louis Quarterback Neil Lomax had his best passing stats as a pro—32 of 51 for 385 yards and two TDs—but suffered five sacks and two interceptions. And a Packer reserve tight end named Gary Lewis was a big-play boy, blocking a point after and a 44-yard field-goal try. At least one of the Packers thought panty hose, which several Green Bay defenders wore under their uniform pants in the 20° weather, kept them from playing pantywaist defense. "I had a run in mine that was three or four inches, and that really made me mad," said Packer Defensive End Casey Merrill.

Cleveland Brown Coach Sam Rutigliano's three-point plan to make a run at the top-seeded Los Angeles Raiders came down to stopping (1) the special teams, (2) Cliff Branch and (3) Marcus Allen. L.A.'s Cle Montgomery ran the opening kickoff only back to his own 21. (So far, so good.) On the first play from scrimmage, Raider Quarterback Jim Plunkett found Branch, his split end, for 64 yards over the middle, setting up Chris Bahr's 27-yard field goal. (Scratch point 2.) And before the afternoon was over, Allen had run for 72 yards, caught six passes for 75 more and scored two touchdowns. (Scratch point 3; game to the Raiders.)

On Allen's first touchdown, a two-yard sweep in the second quarter, he put a boogie move on Brown Safety Mark Kafentzis, who never touched him and was left behind on his knees with his hands raised to the sky in frustration. "Marcus has what I call controlled momentum," moaned Brown Linebacker Chip Banks, a former teammate of Allen's at USC. "He sees the defense form, and then he takes it apart."

Even with their defensive strategy torn to shreds, the Browns trailed just 13-10 at the half. Quarterback Paul McDonald had passed to Split End Ricky Feacher on a 43-yard scoring bomb, and Matt Bahr had swapped field goals with his brother. When Cleveland drove to the Los Angeles 14 on its first possession of the third quarter, McDonald sent Charles White up the middle on first-and-10. But Defensive End Lyle Alzado, whom the Browns traded to the Raiders during the off-season, hit White with a bark-stripping tackle. Jeff Barnes recovered White's fumble, and Allen handled the ball on seven of the dozen plays it took for L.A. to go 89 yards, for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead. Allen ran that one in, too, from three yards out. Raider Fullback Frank Hawkins' fourth-quarter, one-yard plunge ended the homecoming for five Southern Cal-bred Browns. Said Raider Coach Tom Flores, who is now 5-0 in postseason play, "Well, we had the Horse today."

In fact the Raiders may have the horses to go all the way.


McNeil weaved through the Bengal defense for 202 yards rushing and threw a TD pass.


Allen hurtled and hurdled for 147 total yards and scored twice against the Browns.


Tommy Kramer helped foil the Falcons by throwing for 253 yards and two scores.


After his 20-yard touchdown catch, Lofton gave Packer fans reason to get high.


Franklin, whom Shula calls "a throwback to Csonka," pounded out 112 yards rushing.


The Cowboys' Tony Dorsett ran for 110 yards, but his longest pickup was just nine.