On Wednesday, Ron Jaworski, who was the quarterback on the losing end of Super Bowl XV, spoke about how he the pain of losing this Super Bowl gets worse as the years pass. He was asked because he is covering the Super Bowl for ESPN in New Orleans and it brought up his old memories about the game.
This article is not about rubbing it in Jaworski's face. It's about taking you back to that day in 1981 in New Orleans and reliving the performances which helped the Raiders to win their second Super Bowl.
As dominant as the Raiders were in those days of the NFL, no one was quite prepared for the absolutely one sided victory they were about to execute at the Eagles expense. The Raiders were a good team no doubt about it. But Jaworski and the Eagles were heavily favored to win the game over the upstart Raiders. After all, the Eagles beat the Raiders during the regular season.
The Raiders came into post season as a wildcard team. They had started the season with the highly touted Dan Pastorini at quarterback. He went down injured in the fifth game of the season with the Raiders at 2-3 on the season. The last two games Pastorini started were blowout losses to the Bills and Chiefs. To be fair though, the blowout to the Chiefs was due to Plunkett throwing a whopping 5 interceptions in the game.
But that didn't deter Tom Flores from giving Plunkett the start the next game. Plunkett rewarded Flores' faith as he took the ball and led the Raiders to six straight wins. In total they would only lose two close games the rest of the season. Then they finished off the season and the playoffs on another six game win streak -- the last of which was Super Bowl XV. And that game proved to be the most dominant performance of the postseason.
Here are the guys who proved instrumental in winning that game as well as those who may not have had their best day but the Raiders were able to overcome.
Rod was a man on fire in this game. He was like Eagles' Visa card-- everywhere they wanted to be. He ended the first Eagles possession after three plays and one first down when he intercepted Jaworski and returned it to the Eagles 30 yard line. It put the Raiders in scoring position in the opening minutes of the game. And the Raiders would drive it in for a TD to get the shellacking started. When the Eagles got the ball back, they started off with a run play and Martin was right there to stuff it for a short gain. The Eagles would go three and out.
The following Eagles' possession, Rod had a couple of nice plays as well. The first play saw him in the Eagles' backfield as soon as the running back was handed the ball. He forced him inside where Ted Hendricks was there to meet him and tackle him for a loss. Three plays later on what looked like a play the Eagles had escaped pressure, there was Rod to stop the play for minimal gain. The drive would end on the next play.
Next time we saw him, he was contributing on special teams. The Raider return man was nailed on the return and fumbled the ball. And Rod was right there to fall on it and keep possession.
After half time, he was at it again. After the Raiders took the opening drive for a touchdown, the Eagles got the ball back down 21-3. And Rod was not going to let them get any closer. On the third play of the drive he had a run stuff. Then after the Eagles got two consecutive first downs on a penalty and a long catch, he ended their chances of scoring with his second interception of the day. The Raiders would take over on offense and drive for a field goal to go up 24-3.
The Eagles would score a touchdown after that. But Rod wasn't done. He had another run stuffing tackle for a loss on one drive and then put the exclamation point on the game when he intercepted Jaworski's final pass of the game to seal the victory for the Raiders.
He didn't completely come out of nowhere for this performance, but darn close. He started ten games that season and had a total of 2 interceptions. Pretty amazing considering he had 3 in the Super Bowl alone. One of the most dominant performances by any defensive player ever in a Super Bowl. Even to this day.
As has been said many times before, he never looked pretty when he threw the ball. Before he joined the Raiders in 1979, the former number one overall pick had been given up on by two other teams. His stats didn't wow anyone either. Up to the 1980 season he had never had a season where he threw for more touchdowns than interceptions. But he proved his entire career that come crunch time, he could get it done. He just looked like he was relaxed and locked in at all times. It helped to have a great offensive line in front of him to give him time but there is no denying he was the ideal quarterback for this offense.
So what did 'Plunk' do in this game to make this list? Well, he started off the game 4 for 4 with 100 yards passing and a two touchdowns. The first three passes went for 20 total yards and the fourth went for 80 yards. It was a perfectly placed ball on an out route to Kenny King that completely fooled the Eagle defense as they watched him sprint to the end zone for the longest touchdown pass in Super Bowl history at that point.
His first pass went for 15 yards to Cliff Branch to set the Raiders up at first and goal at the 5 yard line. Three plays later, he threw a short pass to Branch for the first touchdown of the game.
Just before halftime he had the Raiders on the move again with an 18-yard pass to Branch and a 5-yard scramble that set them up in field goal range.
The Raiders had possession to start the second half and Plunkett was back to work. He put a pass over the shoulder of receiver Bob Chandler that looked like Plunkett could have dropped that thing down a well. It was a perfect ball that Chandler took for 32 yards to put the Raiders is scoring position again. The very next pass was a long high jump ball that Cliff Branch leaped and hauled in for the Raiders third touchdown of the game.
He would have a few more nice long completions that resulted in the final two field goals, but that was pretty much the end of Plunkett's heroics. Just over a half was all the Raiders would need to get a convincing win and for Plunkett to be named the Game's MVP. He finished the game with 261 yards passing and 3 TDs with no turnovers.
It was really impossible to single out any one guy or even a few. The kind of protection that Plunkett received all day was a group accomplishment. That group was LT Art Shell, LG Gene Upshaw, C Dave Dalby, RG Mickey Marvin, and RT Henry Lawrence. There were very few times in which the pocket collapsed but even then, Plunkett almost always had a nice lane to tuck it and run. Shell had to take on the fierce pass rush of Carl Hairston and he was completely neutralized. Upshaw, Dalby, and Marvin had to contend with All-Pro nose tackle Charlie Johnson. There was one sack credited in the game and it was credited to Charlie Johnson but it was a coverage sack. Plunkett had plenty of time in the pocket on the play but no one came open. He started to run with it and came up just shy of the line of scrimmage. In years past, the Raiders would usually run thru "Highway 63" named after #63 Gene Upshaw. But Mark Van Eeghan and Kenny King were finding some good gaps all along the line in this game.
Earl Leggett, Charlie Sumner
Some of you may be thinking to yourself "Who?" These two guys headed up the defensive coaching staff for the Raiders. This Raider defense had great players but what gave the Eagles offense fits all day was the confusing schemes that were thrown at them constantly. The Raiders ran a 3-4 defense but would often line up in a 4-3 look and even throw in some timely blitzes. The Eagles never seemed to have a clue who would be charging into the backfield next. They never knew if Rod Martin, John Matuszak or Ted Hendricks were going to stay at home, rush the edge, or drop into coverage. And the Raiders would throw in a few safety and corner blitzes for good measure. The Eagles' offensive line didn't stand a chance. Ron Jaworski had a good total as far as passing yards (291) but he was done in by turnovers and the inability for the Eagles to rush the football and sustain drives. And it was a team effort thanks to the masterful game planning by the defensive staff.
He scored 2 of the 3 Raider touchdowns in this game and there were times when you wondered if Plunkett and Branch were just out there all by themselves. Plunkett would sit back in the pocket and Branch would break open and catch a long pass.
One of the best plays of the day belonged almost solely to Branch. Plunkett's throw was a high arching pass that was falling short of Branch's endzone route. The defender was standing there watching the ball as if he thought it would just fall into his hands. But Branch pulled a savvy veteran move as he ran up behind the would-be intercepter, leapt in the air, and stole it away. Then he leaned and drove over the goal line for the Raiders third and final touchdown of the day. That would have been an interception or at very least an incomplete pass for most receivers. It could have been a play that turned the tables and let the Eagles back in the game. But instead, it slammed the door on their hopes of making a game of it. The Raiders cruised through the rest of the game. Branch finished the day with 5 catches for 67 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Mark van Eeghen
He came into the game as the Raiders all-time leading rusher. Although he was never flashy and he was never named to the Pro Bowl. In this game he did was he was always known for-- ramming it down their throats. He had 19 carries for 80 yards on the day and most of them were of the "3 yards and a cloud of dust" variety. Well, it would have been dust had the game not been played in the Super Dome on artificial turf. His first carry went for 3 yards and gave the Raiders a first down. That set up a nice pass play that put the Raiders at the 5 yard line and an eventual score.
Just before half time, he had a 7-yard run followed by a 3-yard run to pick up the first down. That set up another long completion and a field goal attempt. The first drive after half time, he had an 8 yard run to keep the Raiders out of third and long and the drive resulted in a touchdown. Two drives later he had three carries for 18 yards and a first down to set up a field goal. And finally, he ended the game with two straight 5 yard runs and a first down to seal the victory. It would be his final season as the Raiders full time starter and his final full season in Oakland. So it was a fitting end to a fantastic career in Silver and Black.
He didn't do a lot as far as rushing is concerned. He only had 6 carries for 18 yards. But as is the case many times, he is a Baller for one really amazing play. I am of course talking about the record setting 80-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He set the all time Raider record for the longest run from scrimmage earlier in the season when he took a handoff 89 yards for a score. But there is nothing like setting records on the biggest stage of them all. The speedy back would only spend a few seasons as a Raider but he only needed one to become a Raider Legend.
Despite Cliff Branch's heroics and touchdown catches, Chandler actually led Raider receivers in yards in Super Bowl XV. He had his first catch in the third quarter with his over-the-shoulder catch that went for 32 yards and put the Raiders in position for their third and final touchdown of the day. He had a total of 4 catches on the day and they all came in the second half. His next catch was a 17 yard comebacker that put the Raiders in field goal range and Chris Bahr converted to put the Raiders up by three scores. The next Raider drive he had two straight catches for a total of 27 yards and the Raiders added another field goal for the final score of 27-10.
Now, usually Mike Davis is a pretty solid strong safety. But by any standards, he had a dismal game. Actually the Raiders secondary was by far their weak spot in this game. Even with Jaworski under constant pressure, he still was able to get 291 yards passing. And 89 yards of that belongs to Mike Davis. He was also responsible for the Eagles only touchdown of the game. He was covering the Eagles tight end and Davis looked back to the quarterback and lost his man. While Davis was going outside, the tight end was going inside and was wide open for the score.
That touchdown was the culmination of a drive that featured the longest play of the day for the Eagles-- a 45-yard completion. Davis was sent on a safety blitz on the play. Jaworski saw him coming and pump faked at which point Davis jumped in the air and 'Jaws' ran past him. The play took so long that the receivers broke off their routes and were able to shake their man coverage in the process. You give a Pro Bowl quarterback that much time, he will make you pay. The Eagles were pinned at their goal line and should have stayed that way. Davis also was victim of two other catches of 17 and 19 yards.
For a guy (no pun intended) who is known as a model of consistency, Mr Guy picked the wrong day to have a bad day. The Raider coverage teams had to bail him out several times as he uncharacteristically booted short end-over-end punts with very short hang times. Luckily the Raider offense scored 5 times and Guy only punted 3 times.