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What Parity?
Peter King
December 04, 1995
With 11 Super Bowl losses in a row, the AFC has a way to go to beat NFC powers Dallas and San Francisco
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December 04, 1995

What Parity?

With 11 Super Bowl losses in a row, the AFC has a way to go to beat NFC powers Dallas and San Francisco

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The NFC (Yawn) Rules

While it's widely known that the AFC hasn't won a Super Bowl in eons, it hasn't done all that poorly in regular-season games.

The Quandary
The NFC's record against the AFC in regular-season and Super Bowl games since the 1984 season began:

 

W

L

T

PCT.

REGULAR SEASON

310

297

1

.510

SUPER BOWL

11

0

0

1.000

The Big Game
These stats help explain the NFC's Super Bowl dominance since the 49ers' 38-16 win over the Dolphins in '85:

 

NFC

AFC

RUSHING YARDS

1,760

822

TURNOVERS

10

37

AVERAGE POINTS

39

16

TD PASSES

29

8

Three Daunting Days
In November, just as fans began to believe the AFC might have teams capable of breaking the Super Bowl schneid, the Cowboys and the 49ers reinforced the NFC's dominance.

DATE

SITE

SCORE

NOV. 19

Oakland

Cowboys 34, Raiders 21

Dallas streaki to a 31-7 lead in the third.

NOV. 20

Miami

49ers 44, Dolphins 20

San Francisco's Elvis Grbac throws for 382 yards, four TDs.

NOV. 23

Dallas

Cowboys 24, Chiefs 12

Dallas plays clockball, controlling the pigskin for 36:55.

Every year there are times of hope in the AFC. During the 1995 off-season hope sprang from the Miami Dolphins, who, with an eye toward winning the Super Bowl, signed every lukewarm free agent east of Deion Sanders. As fall arrived the Oakland Raiders looked particularly potent, blowing out the Philadelphia Eagles and most of the other teams that got in their way. In November the Kansas City Chiefs stretched a winning streak to seven games, using a solid running game and a turnover-mad defense, just the right underpinnings for a Super Bowl victory.

But every year—every year, that is, since the Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII in 1984—the AFC's hope is blown away. This season that hope all but disappeared in a five-day stretch during which the NFC's Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers easily handled the best the AFC had to offer. In Oakland on Nov. 19, Dallas built a 24-point third-quarter lead and rapped the Raiders 34-21. Then on Nov. 20 in Miami, where the defense's disappearing act at this time of year is as predictable as the snowbirds flying south, the 49ers embarrassed the Dolphins 44-20. Finally, on Thanksgiving in Dallas, the Cowboys completed the NFC trifecta with a 24-12 defeat of the Chiefs.

Each game was more than just a win for the big, bad NFC, which has an 11-game Super Bowl winning streak; each showed how far in front of the rest of the league the Cowboys and the Niners are. The Raiders pride themselves on intimidation and a burly run defense, but Dallas receiver Michael Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith each had a 100-yard performance in Oakland. The Dolphins spent $17.3 million on signing bonuses in an effort to equal the talent of the Cowboys and the 49ers, but San Francisco sacked Miami quarterback Dan Marino on the first three plays of their game. Kansas City's ageless wonder, Marcus Allen, entered the game against Dallas with 577 rushing yards but ran for only four yards against the Cowboys. Let's face it: If the AFC breaks the Super Bowl schneid this season, it'll be an upset of near-Namathian proportions.

"A couple of weeks ago," 49er linebacker Gary Plummer said on Sunday, "everyone was saying this was the AFC's year. Then we dominated the Dolphins, and Dallas dominated Kansas City and Oakland. You don't want to say it's the same ol' story yet...."

Maybe we do. After Dallas and San Francisco, the list of the NFLs 10 best teams (Chiefs, Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers) includes more teams from the AFC than from the NFC. And the AFC has held its own, for the most part, in regular-season games against the NFC over the past 11 seasons, winning 297 to the NFC's 310 (box, page 44). So why hasn't it won a Super Bowl since 1984? To tell the story properly, you've got to go back 20 years, to New Year's Day '76.

Bill Walsh, then the Cincinnati Bengal quarterbacks and receivers coach, thought he had all the pieces in place for the offense of the late 1970s. He had Ken Anderson, a smart and egoless quarterback who was a tremendously accurate passer. He had one of the game's best young receivers, Isaac Curtis, and a cast of other offensive players good enough to help forge an 11-3 record that season. Then, on Jan. 1, Paul Brown resigned as Bengal coach. Walsh had expected to be the next coach, but Brown, who also owned the Bengals, picked Bill (Tiger) Johnson instead. History tells us that Brown probably did more than any other person to make pro football the game it is today. But history also tells us that Tiger Johnson over Bill Walsh might be the worst hiring decision ever made.

"I was disappointed, and I felt it was time to move on," says Walsh, who became the San Diego Charger offensive coordinator for one season, then coached at Stanford for two years before taking control of the 49ers in 1979. "If Bill Walsh takes over the Bengals," former Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson says, "who knows if they wouldn't have been what the 49ers became."

That's the first of three personnel decisions involving coaches that paved the way for this streak to happen. The others: Bill Parcells not getting canned in 1983, and Johnson going to work in Dallas in '89.

In Parcells's first season as the New York Giants' coach, 1983, his mother died. His running backs coach, Bob Ledbetter, also died. The Giants went 3-12-1. The truth about what happened next may never be known, but Parcells is convinced that New York general manager George Young secretly contacted Howard Schnellenberger, who had just won a national championship at the University of Miami, about becoming the Giants' coach. Young denies this, but Parcells and Schnellenberger had the same agent, and the agent warned Parcells that his job was in jeopardy. New York didn't make the change. If Schnellenberger had been at the helm, he might not have gotten as sterling a career out of Lawrence Taylor as LT's mentor, Parcells, did. And the Giants, who overachieved in winning two Super Bowls, might not have won any without the driven, mind-game-playing Parcells in charge.

In Johnson's case, a number of NFL teams bypassed him in 1988 and early '89, when he was on top of the college coaching world after winning the 1987 national collegiate title at Miami. The Cleveland Browns accepted Marty Schottenheimer's resignation after the '88 season and hired Bud Carson, in part because—no lie—Carson wore a hearing aid. When owner Art Modell dined with Carson, he noticed the hearing aid and felt kindly toward Carson, because Modell's first coaching hire, Blanton Collier, had worn one. The Chiefs, who hired Schottenheimer; the New York Jets, who kept Joe Walton for one last terrible year; and the Chargers, who signed on Dan Henning, all overlooked Johnson, who was there for the asking when new Cowboy owner Jerry Jones hired him in February '89.

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