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.