1969 NFL Playoffs: One More Before the Merge & On To Super Bowl IV
NFL Divisional Playoffs
Minnesota Vikings (12-2)
vs. Los Angeles Rams (11-3)
Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, MN
After a dismal showing in last season's playoffs where the Baltimore Colts defeated them by 37 points, the Minnesota Vikings came out for the 1969 season poised and ready to strike at the rest of the NFL. Standing in their way were the Los Angeles Rams, who missed the playoffs in 1968 and were more than ready to prove their win in Super Bowl II was not a fluke.
The Rams did just that early in the first quarter. After pinning the Vikings deep in their own territory, Joe Kapp's first pass of the game was intercepted by Willie Daniel, who took the ball to the Minnesota four yard line. Although the Rams could not punch it in from there, they did get a Bruce Gossett field goal that gave them the lead. With their final possession of the first quarter, Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel daftly passed Los Angeles down the field, accounting for 42 of the 43 yards needed to reach the end zone. Les Josephson put the Rams ahead 10-0 with a 16 yard cath and run. The Vikings, now faced the the daunting task of coming from behind against the Fearsome Foursome, could do nothing in the second quarter, and punted every time they had the ball. Los Angeles, content with their lead and unable to establish a running game, did the same and went into the half with a ten point lead.
Both defenses ruled the day for the first part of the second half, as neither team could get anything going with the run or the pass. Gabriel made his only mistake of the game when he threw an interception in Rams territory, but Los Angeles made up for the mistake when they forced the Vikings to punt, and returned that same punt down to Minnesota's three yard line. From there, Gabriel was able to make a simple pass to halfback Larry Smith, and the Rams were up 17-0.
Minnesota finally got on the board late in the third quarter with a Fred Cox field goal, but by then, the Rams had total control over the game. Without a solid running game, Minnesota could not establish themselves on the field, and the Rams were able to rush Kapp on almost every play. The two teams would exchange field goals in the fourth quarter and the Rams found themselves bound for a much warmer place than Minnesota as they advanced to the NFL Championship for the second time in three years.
Los Angeles-20 Minnesota-6
Real Life Score:
Minnesota-23 Los Angeles-20
Dallas Cowboys (11-2-1)
vs. Cleveland Browns (10-3-1)
The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
For the third straight season, the Browns and Cowboys faced off in the NFL playoffs. The previous two times, Dallas had come out victorious and advanced to the NFL Championship. With another trip on the line, Cleveland was going to attempt to do everything they could to finally get past Dallas. What they got was the best from both teams in an offensive shootout that had the fans on their feet all day long.
Cleveland had manhandled Dallas 42-10 in the regular season, and at the start of the game, it looked like that could happen again. Quarterback Bill Nelson guided the Browns down the field on the first possession of the game, masterfully passing the ball through Dallas' secondary. On the first running play of the game, halfback Ron Johnson burst through the defensive line and went 18 yards for a Cleveland touchdown. Dallas was able to respond as quickly as Cleveland first scored. After a 59 yard run by back Calvin Hill on their first play, quarterback Craig Morton found Lance Rentzel 13 yards away, in the end zone, and Dallas had tied the game.
After Cleveland was stopped on a fourth down conversion attempt in Dallas territory, the Cowboys went on the move again. This time, Calvin Hill was their main battering ram, and the young halfback did not disappoint, scoring a 39 yard touchdown on pitch play that broke down Cleveland's defense perfectly. The Browns were quick to respond this time, driving 54 yards in nine plays and finishing their drive with a 22 yard pass from Nelson to wideout Gary Collins that knotted the score at 14-14 after one quarter of play.
The second quarter started out just like the first. In just three plays, Dallas went 69 yards, with Morton finding Dennnis Homan in the end zone for a 19 yard touchdown, putting the Cowboys ahead by a score once again. Finally, both teams' defense decided to show up, and neither team would score again for the rest of the half. The only other chance was a Dallas missed field goal about halfway through the quarter.
With Dallas getting the ball first in the second half, Cleveland knew they had to make a stand, and they did so very quickly. After stopping the Cowboys on their first three plays, the Browns blocked Dallas' punt and returned it for a touchdown that tied the score. With momentum on their side, the Browns stripped tight end Mike Ditka on Dallas' next possession and recovered at their own 46. They then moved down the field, pounding the ball ahead with halfbacks Ron Johnson and Leroy Kelly. When that stalled, they settled for a Don Cockroft 31 yard field goal that put them in front for the first time since the first quarter.
With their backs against the wall, the Cowboys responded yet again. On their last drive of the third quarter, they finally began moving the ball again on Cleveland's defense. The dual running attack of Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison blasted Cleveland's front seven, and when they brought the secondary in to help with the run, Morton found Bob Hayes behind the coverage for a seven yard touchdown pass, putting Dallas ahead 28-24.
Dallas's running game set the tone in the fourth quarter, as both Hill (20 carries, 170 yards) and Garrison (15 carries, 101 yards) ate up precious time that the Browns needed to make a comeback. Morton's fourth touchdown pass of the game, this one to Dan Reeves, with three minutes to play sealed the deal, and the Cowboys were headed to their fourth straight NFL Championship.
Real Life Score:
NFL Championship Game
Los Angeles Rams (11-3)
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
vs. Dallas Cowboys (11-2-1)
In a rematch of the NFL Championship from two years ago, the defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys took on the Super Bowl champions from the year before, the Los Angeles Rams. Though some of the faces had changed in the time that these two teams had squared off for the right to go to the Super Bowl, the dreams and desires of the players had not, and these two teams put on a game for the ages in the final NFL game held before the merge.
Dallas' plan of attack was to attempt to use halfbacks Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison much like they had the week before against Cleveland. On their first drive, it worked to perfection. Hill and Garrison were involved in all but one play on the drive, and Hill was able to score from 28 yards out on a draw play, giving the Cowboys the lead and taking momentum away from the Fearsome Foursome. Their next drive was more of the same, although now the Rams' defenders were cheating up in anticipation for the run. When they did that, quarterback Craig Morton was able to throw over their heads, and he did that several times on that drive, finishing it off with a touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel from 20 yards out to put Dallas ahead 14-0.
The Rams needed to do something in order to get themselves back into the game, and NFL MVP Roman Gabriel was just the man to do it. Gabriel expertly led the Rams down the field on their next possession, finishing it off with a 27 yard touchdown pass to Wendell Tucker that cut the Cowboy lead in half. Dallas was able to strike back on their first possession of the second quarter. Following a Gabriel interception, Dallas' running attack again came to fruition, with Walt Garrison busting down the left sideline for 49 yards and Calvin Hill scoring on the next play from nine yards out. Once again, Dallas' lead was 14 points.
The Rams could do nothing on their next possession and were force to punt the ball to Dallas. With almost 4 minutes remaining in the half, the Cowboys once again marched down the field, getting as far as the Los Angeles 4 yard line before having to kick a field goal that put them up 24-7. As time expired in the first half, the Rams looked beaten, while the Cowboys already seemed to be celebrating another NFL title.
At first, the third quarter looked to be a continuation of the first half for the Rams and Cowboys. Neither team could move the ball on their first possession, and the Rams were close to having to punt again before Gabriel completed a 17 yard pass to Larry Smith on third and 8 to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, Gabriel was able to do one better for Smith, finding him with a 13 yard pass for a touchdown that gave Los Angeles hope. Dallas missed a field goal on their next possession, and the Rams took the ball heading into the fourth quarter with at least a small glimmer of hope.
That glimmer soon exploded into a supernova for the Los Angeles. On their first possession of the fourth quarter, Gabriel found Tommy Mason with a 14 yard touchdown pass that cut the Dallas lead to three points. With their offense now making headway, the Los Angeles defense came to life, forcing the Cowboys to punt after just three plays. The Rams returned the punt to the Dallas 36 and from there were able to move far enough for Bruce Gossett to tie the game with a 33 yard field goal.
With nothing going right for them in the second half, Dallas started to get desperate. Plays that had worked in the first half were now being snuffed out by Los Angeles' defense, and the once steady Craig Morton was nervous and shaky. Dallas was forced to punt to the Rams with 4:30 remaining in the game, and when Roman Gabriel took the field, everyone knew what was coming. First, Les Josephson picked up 29 yards on a run up the middle. Then, the Rams used both Josephson and Larry Smith to batter the now tired Dallas fron four. With their line exhausted, Gabriel had all the time in the world to throw, and got the Rams down to the Dallas one yard line. From there, Gabriel's fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon, a quick out to Billy Truax, was simple, and the Rams took the lead for the first time all day with just 1:15 left to play.
Los Angeles' blitzing defense refused to let Morton get a clean look on Dallas' last drive, and his final pass of the game was picked off by Ed Meador, ending any hope Dallas had. As Gabriel ran out the clock, he soaked in the cheers and basked in the fact that the Rams were heading to their second Super Bowl.
Los Angeles-31 Dallas-24
Real Life Score (In Minnesota):