Colts' hits, errors

Super Bowl V: Baltimore's last pre-Raven Super Bowl, 30 years ago, was a hard-fought, ugly game appropriately decided by a boot.

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens Vs. Giants

January 22, 2001|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Maybe the Ravens have needed a lucky play or two to advance this postseason, but it's doubtful they can give Baltimore football fans a flukier Super Bowl than their predecessors did the last time around.

They called it the Stupor, Blooper or Blunder Bowl. Still do.

Thirty years later, the Baltimore Colts' 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys has achieved cult status for all of its bizarreness - a "Rocky Horror Picture Show," with halftime. Ten turnovers. Six interceptions. Five fumbles. A double-tipped touchdown pass. A blocked extra-point attempt. Fourteen penalties. A bonehead call by officials that probably cost Dallas the game.

With five seconds left, Jim O'Brien, the Colts' long-haired kicker, drilled a 32-yard field goal to win it.

Purists like to remember the finish and forget the rest.

For the 79,204 fans at the Orange Bowl in Miami, and 64 million more tuned in on Jan. 17, 1971, the game took on a sort of slapstick surrealism, as if Andy Warhol were coaching the Stooges.

Not so, say the players, who blame many of the gaffes on Ravenesque hits by both clubs.

"It was a wild game, totally disjointed, with no real ebb or flow," said Sam Havrilak, then a Colts running back. "What people don't realize is how hard the hitting was. That caused the fumbles."

The ground shook on the sidelines, recalled O'Brien, who said: "They were poppin' some pads. Those blunders were caused; there were very few unforced errors."

The public thought otherwise.

"Space does not permit a catalogue of the crimes and misdemeanors, the mortal and venial sins, the errors of commission and omission that made up this exercise in foolishness," wrote Red Smith, dean of American sportswriters.

Congratulating the Colts afterward in the locker room, President Nixon, himself a former college player, deadpanned, "I hope I don't make that many mistakes in one day."

Not all the bungling occurred on the ball field.

On Super Sunday, Alex Wojciechowicz, one of Fordham's famed Seven Blocks of Granite, was charged with scalping tickets. At the stadium, game programs were scarce; most had been destroyed when the truck hauling them careened into a ditch. Four Air Force jets slated to roar overhead during opening ceremonies arrived too late.

Tommy Loy, a trumpeter from Dallas, played the national anthem but never got credit for it. Instead, annals of the game listed soul singer Marvin Gaye as the performer. It took Loy, 70, until last year to clear up the mix-up.

Ain't that peculiar.

Even the oddsmakers blew it, making Baltimore a 2 1/2 -point underdog despite its 13-2-1 mark. The Colts won six games by a touchdown or less, off a stifling defense.

Underwhelming teams

The attack was, um, suspect. John Unitas was 37, his golden arm graying. The running game had all the punch of a sorority rush. It took five Colts backs to exceed the season yardage total of the Washington Redskins' Larry Brown, the NFL leader.

"We really didn't have a good offense," center Bill Curry told a reporter years later. "In fact, [defensive tackle] Billy Ray Smith said if we ever got to the Super Bowl we'd be a lock because the other team would be laughing so hard they'd never be able to beat us."

Baltimore appeared less driven by its coach, Don "Easy Rider" McCafferty, than by linebacker Mike "Mad Dog" Curtis, who had sworn in midseason to kick butt if the club failed him. Two years earlier, in the Colts' humbling Super Bowl loss to the New York Jets, a rabid Curtis had run onto the field, shaking a fist at quarterback Earl Morrall for overlooking an open receiver in the end zone.

But the Colts kept winning in the 1970 season, defeating the Oakland Raiders for the AFC title as receiver Roy Jefferson crowed:

"Baltimore can't do this, they say, Baltimore can't do that. But Oakland and all those other great teams are going home, and Baltimore's going to Miami."

The Cowboys, having failed twice in NFL title games, rode into town with skeletons of their own. Rumors of alleged drug use hung over the team. And receiver Lance Rentzel had been charged with indecent exposure. America's Team - or America's Most Wanted?

Despite the running of rookie Duane Thomas and the play of two future Super Bowl coaches (Dan Reeves and Mike Ditka), Dallas (12-4) had lost regular-season games by scores of 54-13 and 38-0. When the Cowboys stubbornly played quarterback Craig Morton, who threw like Trent Dilfer, instead of the scrambling Roger Staubach, who didn't, fans began to wonder about the mind working beneath coach Tom Landry's fedora.

Mistakes from the start

The opening kickoff set the tone. Dallas' Calvin Hill received the ball and might have broken free had teammate Mark Washington (Morgan State) not cut in front to make a block. Instead, the return netted 14 yards.

Said Hill, a Baltimore native: "I still kid Mark, `You probably cost me the new car [given to the MVP].' "

Some would wonder, that day, why the award was given at all.

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