NFL 1979: Big Pauly’s Week 1 Recap
The 60th season in NFL history began at Tampa Stadium, where the Bucs and Lions did battle on a Saturday night of a Labor Day weekend. The Bucs were 29-9 winners, lead by Doug Williams, who threw 2 TD’s passes and ran another one in. Lots of buzz amongst the NFL experts that the Bucs could win the NFC Central, quite an accomplishment for just a fourth year team.
The Dallas media has to wonder what’s happened to the defending NFC Champion Cowboys. They had a 14-0 lead in St. Louis just three minutes into the game, but could not put the Cardinals away. They trailed St. Louis 24-21 with a minute and a half left, but a Ron Springs kickoff return got them downfield quickly for a Rafael Septien chip shot field goal tied the game at 24. One problem: they left 54 seconds of playing time left on the board. Veteran QB Jim Hart led the Cards down to the Cowboy 29 yard line, and Steve Little hit a FG on the final play of regulation for the stunning upset, 27-24.
Philadelphia, the miracle team of the 1978 NFL season, got their season off to a good start with a 38-14 trashing of the lowly Giants. Wilbert Montgomery rushed for 114 yards and 2 TD’s, and caught passes for another TD and 103. They actually tried the New Yorkers 14-10 after three quarters before a 28 point barrage in the 4th turned the game around.
Houston and the brute strength of running back Earl Campbell was another feel good story of the ’78 campaign, and they were sorely tested at RFK Stadium against the hometown Washington Redskins. The Oilers trailed 14-3 going into the 4th before the Houston running attack paid dividends. Two passes from Dan Pastorini to Ken Burrough, one for 16 yards, another for 77, got the game tied at 17. Then, with under four minutes to go, Campbell ran wild for a 77 yard TD to give them the 24-17 lead they would not lose. Campbell wound up the day with 219 yards rushing on 30 carries.
The fans of the Chicago Bears hoped their 7-9 season in 1978 was not indicative of the success they had in 1977 when they made the playoffs. Their game with Green Bay turned into a wild shootout, with David Whitehurst piloting the Packers to an early 13-0 lead. Mike Phipps and the Chicago offense got white hot and showed the green and gold no mercy. They rallied to take a 31-20 lead at the half on their way to a 55-34 win with a whopping 613 yards of total offense. Phipps would throw for 409 yards and 4 TD’s to lead the way.
Minnesota tried to show that their 1978 playoff appearance was no fluke, but with the legendary Fran Tarkenton retiring, Tommy Kramer got his first chance to show what he could do. But in the way were the San Francisco 49ers and new head coach Bill Walsh. The 49ers built a stunning 27-3 lead at the half on their way to a 44-26 win. Paul Hofer lead the way with 4 rushing TD’s and 92 yards.
The L.A. Rams were just one step shy of a Super Bowl last season, holding Dallas to a 0-0 tie in the first half before the Cowboys ran away with the NFC crown with a 28-0 victory. It almost seemed that Rams were taking their frustrations out on their first 1979 opponents, the Oakland Raiders as they walloped the silver and black to the tune of 44-3. Pat Haden had an outstanding day for the Rams, going 20 for 24 for exactly 300 yards and 3 TD’s. Oakland looks like they are in a rebuilding mode with John Madden no longer their head coach. Something tells me that Madden will be back in football in some capacity.
The New Orleans Saints and their explosive offense are going to give NFL teams some trouble in 1979 if they stey healthy, but it was the Atlanta Falcons that had the Saints in early trouble, up 17-14 20 minutes in. The Saints go on a tear the rest of the game and destroy a playoff team from ’78 with a 51-23 whipping. Saints wideout Wes Chandler had the hot hand, catching 12 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.
Another team playoff bound in ’78 was the Miami Dolphins, who went to Buffalo to open the season to double up the Bills 40-20. The Bills got as close as 20-13 in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer as two defensive scores by the Fish sealed the game. Larry Gordon ran an interception back 42 yards for one of the defensive scores, while Bob Baumhower found paydirt 37 yards for another with 4:05 left to go in the game.
It was a shootout at Shea Stadium between the Jets and Browns, as the hometown New Yorkers outlasted Cleveland 49-42 in a game featuring 13 touchdowns. The pride of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Richard Todd, had a game for the ages, as he threw for a NEW NFL record 569 yards, besting the nearly 28 year old mark held by then L.A. Ram Norm Van Brocklin. He also threw for 4 TD’s, as did Cleveland QB Brian Sipe. A Todd pass to Wesley Walker gave the Jets a 49-42 lead with a little over seven minutes to play, and the Jets defense made sure that the lead held up.
It was during the 1978 season that running back Joe Washington of Baltimore had a great game on a rainy Monday night in New England, catching a TD pass, throwing a TD pass, then running back a kickoff 90 yards for a TD to seal a 34-27 win against the Patriots. The Colts traveled to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, and looked like the playoff team they were in 1977. They defeated the Chiefs 31-7 behind Washington’s 2 rushing TD’s and 113 yards on the ground.
Cincinnati and Denver had a spirited see-saw battle in the Mile High city with Denver pulling out a 26-21 win to get their season started right. The Bengals led 21-13 before the Broncos got 13 unanswered points, highlighted by a 10 yard Craig Morton run for the paint that gave them a 23-21 edge with 6:40 to go. Jim Turner, the venerable kicker, added the final points with a 40 yard field goal with 55 seconds to go. Fans in Rocky Mountain Land are no doubt hoping the Broncos can return to the form that put them in Super Bowl XII a short couple of years ago.
A lot of expert opinion is also high on the chances of the San Diego Chargers, as they traveled up the West Coast to take on the Seahawks of Seattle. The Seahawks actually lead 24-23 late as a Sherman Smith TD gave the hometown team the lead with 3:35 to play. But Dan Fouts has proven over the years how great he can be in the clutch. Three passes, two to John Jefferson, one to Charlie Joiner set up Clarence Williams with a one yard score to make it a 30-24 Chargers lead with 1:31 to go. After Seattle was unsuccessful on what would be their last possession, an attempt by Williams to run the clock out accidentally finds the end zone with three seconds left, giving the Chargers a 37-24 win.
On the first Monday night game of 1979, the Steelers traveled to New England to open up their defense of their Super Bowl XIII championship. Terry Bradshaw showed why he’s still on top of his game, as two TD’s in the first quarter, one to Theo Bell, then a 65 yard quick strike to John Stallworth opened up a 14-0 lead, a lead they kept all game long. The Patriots closed the gap to 28-14 in the fourth quarter before a Franco Harris run from 22 yards out closed the scoring for a 35-14 Steeler victory. Many of the Las Vegas oddsmakers have Pittsburgh as the team to beat in 1979, and their performance in Foxboro proves only that.