| USA TODAY
December 16 has been quite the day through the years in NFL history.
Records were set. Perfection was attained. A safety ruling on a pass that hit a goal post helped decide a championship game.
Let’s break this epic day for the NFL down in reverse chronological order:
2019 – Drew Brees breaks Peyton Manning’s career passing TDs record
This is a record that has changed hands a number of times this season and is currently held by Tom Brady, who enjoys a six-touchdown lead on Brees entering Week 15. But, last year on “Monday Night Football” against the Indianapolis Colts, Brees broke Manning’s record of 539 with a 5-yard scoring strike to tight end Josh Hill.
2001 – Bottlegate
The Cleveland Browns were down 15-10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a minute remaining and facing a fourth-and-2 situation at the Jaguars’ 12-yard line. With no timeouts remaining, quarterback Tim Couch and receiver Quincy Morgan connected for what appeared to be a 3-yard gain and a first down. Couch hustled the offense to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds remaining. However, the officials decided to review the play despite the spike, overturned the original call on the field and possession went to the Jaguars.
Browns fans started throwing beer bottles onto the field. It didn’t take long for the referees to declare the game over with 48 seconds still on the clock, and the officials and players left the field to a shower of trash. Then, the league office added to the fiasco, ordering the officials and players to finish the final 48 seconds.
1979 – Roger Staubach’s last regular-season game
“Captain Comeback” pulled off one last climactic rally to deliver the NFC East crown to the Dallas Cowboys in a division-deciding showdown with Washington at Texas Stadium. With his team down 34-21 with less than four minutes remaining, Staubach threw two touchdown passes – the first to Ron Springs and the game-winner to Tony Hill – as Dallas pulled off a dramatic 35-34 win.
Staubach’s career ended two weeks later when the Cowboys were upset in the divisional playoffs by the Los Angeles Rams, whose star defensive end Jack Youngblood broke his leg in the game but continued to play as the Rams went on to the Super Bowl.
1973 – O.J. Simpson records first 2,000-yard rushing season
In a 34-14 win over the New York Jets on a snow-covered field at Shea Stadium, Simpson rushed for 200 yards (and a touchdown) to finish the season with 2,003 yards rushing. He accomplished this feat in a 14-game season. It wouldn’t be until 1984 until there was another 2,000-yard rushing season, when Eric Dickerson set a record that still stands with 2,105 yards.
1972 – Miami Dolphins finish regular season at 14-0
Garo Yepremian kicked three field goals and Paul Warfield caught a touchdown pass from Earl Morrall as the Dolphins shut out the Baltimore Colts, 16-0, in the regular-season finale at the Orange Bowl.
The Dolphins went on to win Super Bowl VII to complete the perfect 17-0 season. Since then, the only serious threat to match that incredible run came in 2007 when the New England Patriots finished the regular season 16-0, won two playoff games but were upset in Super Bowl XLII.
1962 – Y.A. Tittle sets NFL single-season TD passes record
In consecutive seasons, Tittle set the NFL’s passing touchdowns record. First in 1962 with 33 touchdown passes and then with 36 in 1963 (it should be noted that George Blanda threw 36 touchdown passes during the 1961 American Football League season).
What’s bewildering about that 36-touchdown standard is how long it stood. When Tittle threw for 33 TDs in 1962, the record had stood for three years (Johnny Unitas had 32 TDs in 1959; Sonny Jurgensen tied it in 1961). No NFL quarterback threw for more than 36 touchdowns until 1984, when Dan Marino demolished the record with 48 touchdown passes (and then his record would also stand for two decades).
1945 – Cleveland Rams defeat Washington in NFL championship game
The 1945 NFL Championship Game is a fascinating inflection point for the league. It was the final game for the Cleveland Rams, who relocated to Los Angeles for the 1946 season and became the first major pro sports franchise in Los Angeles, predating the move out West of Major League Baseball’s Dodgers by more than a decade.
The game also featured a “Tuck Rule”-level referee decision that provided the decisive points in the Rams’ 15-14 win. In the first quarter, Washington’s Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh dropped back to pass in his own end zone and his throw struck the goal post, which in those days was placed on the goal line. A little-known rule was invoked by the referees, and the play was ruled a safety.
Could you imagine the uproar today on sports talk shows if such a call decided a championship?
Well, the NFL changed the rule for the 1946 season, and all passes that hit the goal post were henceforth incomplete.
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