Friday, March 2, 2012

The Hour of Our Death

Vikings vs. Cowboys at Metropolitan Stadium (Divisional Playoffs), December 28, 1975
One thing I’m interested to discover in watching all these old games is when exactly football players decided it wasn’t macho to wear long sleeves in cold weather. The 1975 Cowboys-Vikings playoff game was played in very cold conditions – you could see Bud Grant’s breath, which was helpful in that it reassured the viewer that he was actually alive. One of the contrasts to today’s game is that all the players were wearing long undersleeves, with the notable exception of Roger Staubach. I think he and Preston Pearson were the only players on the field in short sleeves.

It seems to me that there was a single game in there that was a turning point, when the players decided it would look unmanly to take the field in short sleeves, although I can’t recollect exactly when that was. Whenever I watch a cold-weather game nowadays, I make a point of rooting for that small handful of players who are sensible enough to dress for the conditions.

Speaking of uniforms, the Vikings jerseys from this game – from this era – were a rich, saturated purple, looking gorgeous even on the several-generation videotape I watched the game on. The Falcons uniforms had a similar texture to them, with a glorious rich red. I think the stretchy mesh jerseys of today don’t hold their colors nearly as well.

Metropolitan Stadium appears to have been a crummy place to watch a game. With the football field situated in the center of the baseball field, the sideline stands were a long way from the action. Watching the game on TV, you get an enervated feeling because of that, with long swaths of tarpaulins and snow extending back from the sidelines. The handheld sideline cams showing the coaches would catch the industrial-looking scoreboard with its steel girders, or even gray sky from the open corners of the stadium. Plus, it looks really cold.

For some reason, CBS put Gary Bender and Johnny Unitas on this game, rather than Summerall and Brookshier (who may have been at the Rams/Cardinals game the day before) or Vin Scully and George Allen. Scully and Sonny Jurgensen would do the Rams/Cowboys NFC Championship the following week. Scully, by the way, was a great football announcer; I may be a minority of one here, but I prefer his work on football to his work on baseball.

I haven’t said very much about the game itself, I know. I can remember watching this game as a very young Vikings fan and being totally bummed out about the ending, first by Drew Pearson’s amazing sideline catch at the 50 on a fourth and 17 with 37 seconds to go, then by Pearson’s TD catch two plays later.

In truth, though, the Vikings didn’t really deserve to win this game. Their first touchdown came after a Cowboy rookie offensive lineman named Pat Donovan stupidly touched a bouncing Vikings punt on his own three-yard line, leading to a Vikings recovery and a quick score. On top of that, it sure looked to me like the Vikings interfered with the man trying to catch the punt, who had signaled for a fair catch. In the end, the Cowboys grossly outgained the Vikings, 356 yards to 215.

Something else you may not know about this game: With 14 seconds left, after the Cowboys scored the winning touchdown, field judge Armen Terzian – who had just decided not to call offensive pass interference on Drew Pearson - got hit by something thrown from the stands and went down like a shot. He would eventually be led off the field with a big white bandage around his head.

Bender speculated that the instrument of destruction was a pop bottle, and Unitas went all “Minnesota, love it or leave it.” He said, “There’s no room in this country for that kind of behavior,” then started rambling on about “Argentina, where they stab the soccer players and stuff like that.” You tell ‘em, Johnny U.

1 comment:

  1. In the photo, is there some sort of ball hovering under the left knee of the Vikings' No. 22?
    Trying to figure out what the heck that is ... it looks like a cue ball or something.

    Yes on the uniforms. Modern uniforms are cluttered and ugly. When I was a kid, I never understood what was going on with the Vikings' helmets, though.