Super Bowl XI (Oakland Raiders vs. Minnesota Vikings)
It’s time for… Lombardi Memories. A show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why. For the fan who needs more than a boxscore, this podcast goes drive-by-drive, play-by-play through the most dramatic games in history.
I’m your host, Tommy A. Phillips, and you can visit my website at tommyaphillips.com where you can find all of my books. Today we have Super Bowl XI, which was held on January 9, 1977 at the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, California, between the two-time AFC champion Oakland Raiders and the four-time NFC champion Minnesota Vikings.
As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is: what dubious record set in this game was later broken by teams quarterbacked by both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.
Prelude to Super Bowl XI
The Oakland Raiders were the dominant team in pro football in 1976. They started their season by knocking off the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. They were 3-0 when they suffered their only loss of the season to the New England Patriots. They then went 10-0 the rest of the way in the regular season, before getting revenge on New England in the divisional round of the playoffs with a 24-21 win. They then knocked off the Steelers 24-7 in the AFC Championship Game to end Pittsburgh’s reign on top of the NFL. The Raiders were 13-1 in the regular season, 15-1 after the AFC playoffs, and they had a chance to go 16-1 with a win in Super Bowl XI.
The Raiders were led by quarterback Ken Stabler, who threw for 2,737 yards and 27 touchdowns, completing two-thirds of his pass attempts for a stellar passer rating of 103.4. Running back Mark van Eeghen led the team in rushing with 233 attempts for just over 1,000 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 17 passes for 173 yards. Clarence Davis and Pete Banaszak provided great support options to van Eeghen. They combined for nearly 900 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Tight end Dave Casper led the team in receptions with 53, scoring 10 times. Receiver Cliff Branch had the most yards through the air, catching 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Monte Johnson led the team with four interceptions. One behind him was defensive back Willie Brown, who made three.
As for the Minnesota Vikings, they began the 1976 season 6-0-1. They also defeated the defending champion Steelers, and their only blemish in the first half of their season was a 10-10 tie with Los Angeles. The Vikes only stumbled twice down the stretch, going into the playoffs with an 11-2-1 record. They then defeated Washington 35-20 in the divisional round, before beating Los Angeles 24-13 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to their fourth Super Bowl.
The Vikings were led by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who held most of the passing records in his day. He threw for 2,961 yards and 17 touchdowns, while throwing only eight interceptions. He was helped by running back Chuck Foreman, who ran for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching a team-leading 55 passes for 567 yards and one score. Receiver Sammy White led the team in receiving yards and in receiving touchdowns with 906 and 10, respectively. Receiver Ahmad Rashad also had a good year, catching 53 passes for 671 yards and three scores. Defensive back Nate Wright had seven interceptions, more than double anyone else on the team had.
Running back Carl Garrett took back the opening kickoff to his own 33. On the first third down of the game, Stabler passed to Casper for 25 yards. Davis then blasted forward for a big gain down to the 12. The Raiders proved unable to get it farther than the 11, though, so out came kicker Errol Mann to try a 29-yard field goal. Mann was a midseason acquisition from Detroit. In his thirteen games between the two teams, he made only eight of 21 field goal attempts. In other words, not the guy you want trying a big kick in the Super Bowl. He missed this 29-yarder off the left upright.
The Vikings went three-and-out and punted, and the Raiders got backed up thanks to a clipping call on the punt return. Stabler threw a play action pass to receiver Fred Biletnikoff for nine yards, but the Raiders ended up having to punt. The Raiders defense forced a quick three-and-out, only to get the same treatment from the Vikings defense. Punter Ray Guy had his kick blocked by linebacker Fred McNeill, the first time in his career Guy had a punt blocked. Guy made the tackle on the play to save a touchdown, but Minnesota had the ball at the Oakland 3. Easy score, right? Nope, because running back Brent McClanahan fumbled, and linebacker Willie Hall recovered for Oakland. No points for the Vikes.
Banaszak began the new drive with a couple of runs, then Davis ripped off a 34-yard run down the left side. Stabler threw to Garrett for a first down to the Vikings 48. After going incomplete for Biletnikoff, he hit Casper for a first down at the 24. Van Eeghen ran for six yards, and Davis got three more. Banaszak then ran for a first down. Stabler tried a couple of passes to the end zone for Casper, but they both fell incomplete, and Oakland had to try a field goal. Mann this time made the 24-yard field goal, and the Raiders led 3-0 early in the second quarter.
The Raiders defense forced another quick three-and-out, and they got the ball back at their own 36. Stabler threw quick to Branch for eight yards. Davis then took a reverse for a first down at the Minnesota 48. Stabler found Casper for a 19-yard gain, then he hit Garrett for 13 more. Two plays later, Biletnikoff made a fantastic catch at the Minnesota 1. That set up a Stabler-to-Casper touchdown pass, and Oakland took a 10-0 lead.
The Vikings didn’t have the ball for long, and Oakland got it back at the Minnesota 35 after defensive back Neal Colzie had a great punt return. Van Eeghen ran for a first down, then Biletnikoff made another spectacular catch down to the 1. This time, Banaszak pounded in for the touchdown. Mann missed the extra point wide right, but Oakland now had a 16-0 lead. The Vikings couldn’t get into scoring range the rest of the half, and they went to halftime trailing by sixteen.
Tarkenton finally got the Vikings a first down with a pass to running back Robert Miller at the 39. The Vikes couldn’t get another first down, though, so they punted. Oakland started at their own 16. Davis ran for a first down on a draw play, but the Raiders soon had to punt. Fortunately for them, the Vikings just ran Foreman three times and punted themselves. Oakland got the ball back at their own 45. Davis ran off the left side for a first down, and Stabler threw to Branch just short of another first down. The Raiders had to try a field goal, and Mann made an impressive 40-yard kick for three points to make it 19-0.
The Vikings went three-and-out once more, but Oakland linebacker Ted Hendricks made the worst play of the day. He ran into the punter, and the Vikings were given a first down on penalty. That gave the Minnesota offense a spark. Tarkenton threw to tight end Stu Voigt for a first down at the Oakland 47. The Raiders got called for holding, before Tarkenton hit Rashad at the 25 for another first down. Facing fourth down shortly afterward, Tarkenton fired to Foreman down the right side for a first down. He then threw a touchdown pass to Sammy White, and kicker Fred Cox’s extra point made it 19-7 at the end of three quarters.
Tarkenton had a chance to get his team back into the game on the next drive, as the Vikings had the ball near midfield only down by twelve. But he threw a terrible pass that he regretted immediately, one that was picked off by linebacker Willie Hall. The Raiders took advantage quickly. On third down, Stabler found Biletnikoff wide open for a 49-yard gain down to the 1-yard line. From there, Banaszak powered his way in, and Oakland now led 26-7.
The rest of the game was just garbage time. Tarkenton threw another interception, this one to Willie Brown, who returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. Mann missed the extra point, and Oakland led 32-7. The Vikings got a garbage touchdown on a catch by Voigt with less than a minute to go, and the final score ended up 32-14 in favor of Oakland. Head coach John Madden had done it – he had led the Raiders to a Super Bowl championship with only one loss all year long.
For the Vikings, it was their fourth Super Bowl loss, setting a record. That record was later tied by the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. While the Bills remained tied with the Vikes at 0-4 for the worst record in Super Bowl history, the Broncos have won a few. And that brings us back to today’s pop quiz question. Peyton Manning lost Super Bowl XLVIII with the Broncos, marking the Broncos’ fifth Super Bowl loss. Tom Brady later lost Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, which was New England’s fifth loss in a Super Bowl. The Broncos and Patriots now hold the Super Bowl record for most losses in the big game, with five each. The Vikings have not been back to the Super Bowl since Super Bowl XI.
Fred Biletnikoff was named Most Valuable Player for making some great catches in this game. But, for me, if I were to give out an MVP, it would have to be Ken Stabler. He was the glue that kept his team together during this game, and he played a flawless game. His numbers weren’t gaudy, but they didn’t have to be. The Snake did everything Broadway Joe did eight years prior, and then some.
How about an MVP for a player on the losing team? There’s really no one to give it to on the Vikings since they played that poorly. I’ll go with Foreman; he helped set up one touchdown with a clutch fourth-down catch. He just never really had a chance against this powerful Oakland defense. It was a mismatch all the way.
The Least Valuable Player has to be Tarkenton. It’s true that Oakland’s defense was dominant, but if you’re a Pro Football Hall of Famer, you’ve got to find some way to get your team on the scoresheet. Minnesota didn’t score until the very end of the third quarter, and by then it was already too late. Tarkenton just didn’t give his team a chance in this one.
Best player you’ve never heard of? How about defensive back Neal Colzie for the Raiders. Not so much for his defensive play, but his punt returning play. He had some great punt returns in this one, including one that got wiped out by a clipping penalty. One of his returns really set up the Oakland offense in good position to score. He ought to be more than just a footnote in the story of this Super Bowl victory.
What was the biggest play of the game? I’m going with Biletnikoff’s final catch of the day, a 49-yarder that set up Oakland’s third touchdown. That made it 26-7 and officially extinguished any hopes the Vikings had of coming back. But the biggest play no one remembers is Ray Guy, after having his punt blocked, going and making the tackle to prevent a Vikings touchdown. The Vikes ended up fumbling only a few plays later. If he doesn’t make that tackle, Minnesota goes up 7-0, and who knows what happens from there.
In the end, John Madden led his team to a 16-1 record, and a 32-14 victory in Super Bowl XI. Lots of Raiders from this team are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Madden himself, Biletnikoff, Stabler, Willie Brown, Casper, Guy, Hendricks, Art Shell, and Gene Upshaw. This was truly one of the greatest NFL teams of all time.
Finally, here’s some homework. I’ve got two for you this week: Snake: The Legendary Life of Ken Stabler, by Mike Freeman (https://www.amazon.com/Snake-Legendary-Life-Ken-Stabler/dp/0062484265) and Badasses: John Madden’s Oakland Raiders by Peter Richmond (https://www.amazon.com/Badasses-Legend-Maddens-Oakland-Raiders/dp/0061834300). These books will give you a great look into the 1976 Oakland Raiders and its star at quarterback, who finally made it into the Hall of Fame in 2016, albeit posthumously.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Thank you for putting up with my lisp. Ever notice that they make the word “lisp” hard to say for someone with a lisp? In any case, I thank you for joining me yet again. Next time, we will have the Orange Crush defense of the Denver Broncos and the Doomsday Defense of the Dallas Cowboys trying to put the clamps down on the opposing offenses in Super Bowl XII. Spoiler alert: one does, the other doesn’t! Until then, this is Tommy A. Phillips, my website again is tommyaphillips.com. So long!