As iconic as some of the football events were in the 1960s, more of them existed in the 1970s. In this case quantity reigns a little over quality. The happenings were no better or worse, there were just more of them. While nowhere near as ubiquitous as today, television coverage was more extensive in the 70s, so perhaps our awareness was greater. So our list of the biggest football moments of the 1970s is 18 instead of 10.
18. The Eagles and Giants still had outside chances at the playoffs when the NFC East rivals met Nov. 19, 1978, at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The Giants nursed a 17-12 lead and had the ball in Eagles’ territory when the clock ran down towards 30 seconds remaining in the game. All the home team had to do was kneel, but they were ordered instead to run a blast up the middle. During the confusion, the ball was snapped before QB Joe Pisarcik was set, and while he grabbed it, he never had a firm grip. The ball came loose as he handed off, and Eagles DB Herman Edwards — the former San Diego State cornerback who went on to coach the Jets — scooped it up on a bounce and ran it in for a game-winning touchdown. Almost annually, the play and the unfortunate Pisarcik, who was hardly to blame, are referenced whenever there is a poorly timed fumble. Here’s a link to video.
17. Sometimes you’re not afforded the opportunity to casually run out the clock. You have to take a risk to ice a game. Notre Dame found itself in such a position in the 1973 Sugar Bowl when the Fighting Irish led Alabama 24-23, but were backed up against their own goal line late in the fourth quarter. At the three, the Irish faced third down and eight yards to go. Playing it safe meant the Crimson Tide would likely get the ball back in good field position with time to spare. And with both teams undefeated, the Tide ranked first and the Irish third, the stakes couldn’t have been bigger. And neither team threw the ball much. So it was a shock when Notre Dame QB Tom Clements dropped back and aimed a strike down the left sideline to Robin Weber, a backup receiver usually sent in to block on running plays — sounds a bit like A COACH AT HEART main character George Steele, by the way. Weber caught the ball for a 35-yard gain, allowing his teammates to run out the clock. Notre Dame was later given a share of the national championship. Here’s a link to a 30-minute highlight video, advance it to 26:00 for some context and the play.
16. It seems like Notre Dame is involved in many of the epic stories of college football, and the 1979 Cotton Bowl is one of the best of the bunch. Irish QB Joe Montana already had a reputation for engineering comebacks before the contest against Southwest Conference champion Houston. He would need to dig out another miracle on an icy New Year’s Day in Dallas as the Cougars used their veer offense to forge a 34-12 lead halfway through the fourth quarter, with Montana in the locker room suffering from the flu. But as Montana returned to the field, a Cougars’ punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. He threw for a two-point conversion. A 61-yard drive was capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Montana, followed by another two-pointer. Down six points as the clock struck zero, Montana found Kris Haines for an eight-yard scoring pass, and Notre Dame won 35-34. Steele would certainly have bee able to understand the Cougars’ pain. A video of the entire game is here. Here is the final play.
15. The University of Pittsburgh was not thought of very highly in the early 1970s as they compiled a two-year record of 4-18, and East Coast football in general was dismissed nationally with the exception of Penn State. But Pitt hired Tennessee legend Johnny Majors as head coach and recruited a dynamic running back named Tony Dorsett. By 1976, expectations were high following an 8-4 campaign the year before, and they only got bigger when they opened the season with a 31-10 walloping of Notre Dame below the Golden Dome. Win after win followed until the finale at home against the Nittany Lions. Dorsett, who would win the Heisman Trophy, was contained in the first half, which ended with the score tied at 7. In the second half, Majors moved Dorsett to fullback in the I-offense, and the extra quickness to the line of scrimmage made all the difference for the Panthers. Pitt won 24-7 and subsequently won the national championship with a 27-3 rout of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. It show you how one play call, one little adjustment, can make all the difference in a game or a season. Here’s a very short documentary with interviews and a Dorsett highlight.
14. The 1977 season was the kind that BCS-haters could have only dreamed of. Only one team, Texas, finished the regular season and eight teams in the Top 20 had just one loss before the holidays. So who would you have put up against the Longhorns in a championship game? Oklahoma was No. 2 but had already lost to Texas. No. 3 Alabama was arguably playing as well as any team in the country by season’s end and would lay claims to the national championship in the next two years. Michigan, Notre Dame, Arkansas, Kentucky and Penn State were all in the mix. San Diego State, as Steele would lament, was still seeking respect with a No. 16 ranking. Who would you put in a four-team playoff? Ultimately, Notre Dame blew out Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl and, with Oklahoma getting crushed by Arkansas in the Orange Bowl and Michigan performing its usual Pasadena pratfall, the Irish rose from No. 5 to win the national title.
13. The 1970s featured a series of epic clashes between USC and, yep, Notre Dame (no, I’m not an Irish honk, in case you’re wondering by now). In 1972, USC fielded one of the best teams in college football history, and RB Anthony Davis scored six touchdowns — two on kickoff returns — in a 45-23 rout. The following year, the Irish held Davis to just 55 yards in a season that ultimately led to item No. 17 on this list. The big hits kept on coming for Notre Dame in 1974, cruising through most of the second quarter with a 24-0 lead. But Davis caught a TD pass right before halftime and returned the opening kickoff of the second half for another score, and the Trojans rolled to a 55-24 win. In 1977, the Irish brought out green jerseys and routed Troy 49-19. In 1978, not long before Montana performed his Cotton Bowl magic, he led a comeback in LA, with the Irish only needing a defensive stop to get the ball back for what seemed like certain victory. USC QB Paul McDonald dropped back to pass and fumbled, but officials erred by calling it an incomplete pass, and USC held on. That was one of the events that provided early impetus for officials to use instant replay in sports.
12. It was one of those moments only the free-spirited, quick-thinking Raiders could have pulled off. It was 1978, and a series of hugely successful drafts had the formerly sad-sack Chargers on the brink of greatness. San Diego’s first chance to serve notice came in a September game at home against Oakland and the fans showed up primed for a coming-out party. Indeed, the Chargers led 20-14 in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders had possession and were driving into San Diego territory. As the final seconds seeped off the clock, Oakland QB Kenny Stabler dropped back to pass and was rushed hard by LB Woodrow Lowe at the Chargers 25-yard line. As the Pro Football Hall of Fame tells it, Stabler hurled the ball forward, Pete Banaszak swatted it toward the end zone, tight end Dave Casper continued the ball’s forward motion with a kick at the five-yard line and fell on in it in the end zone for a touchdown as the clock ran out. The play was ruled a TD and the Raiders won with the extra point. That type of intentional fumble was later ruled to be illegal. The Chargers finished the season 9-7, and would have gone to the playoffs if they’d won that game. The Bolts did made postseason appearances the next four years, though, with QB Dan Fouts and their “Air Coryell” offense. Here’s a highlight video.
11. There are some seriously athletic players who kick the ball in the pro and college ranks these days, but that wasn’t the case back in the 1960s and ’70s. Back then, you had guys over from Europe who really knew very little about American football but could place the strangely shaped pigskin between the yellow uprights. Garo Yepremian of the Dolphins was chief among them. In Super Bowl VII, Miami was trying to complete its perfect season and led Washington 14-0 when the native of Cyprus was sent in to try a 41-yard field goal. Redskin Bill Brundage blocked Yepremian’s kick, and the diminutive Dolphin grabbed the ball and tried to throw. To say he tossed a duck would be an insult to the mallard population. Washington’s Mike Bass grabbed the “pass” and ran it back for a touchdown. Miami’s no-name defense stifled the Redskins all game long, however, and held on for a 14-7 victory. That 17-0 record is still the only unblemished mark in NFL history. Here’s a video link.
Items 10 through one will be presented shortly.