Dynasties of Heartbreak 6-10: Raiders of the Lost Titles

Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden
Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - We have reached the penultimate stage of the Dynasties of Heartbreak countdown. There's just too much pain here for 10 teams to share one article, so we're counting down numbers 10 through six today and saving the final five for tomorrow.

This is far as teams can realistically go if they started or ended their run with a relevant championship. We had a few teams in the last run who earned some championship penalty points, but those were for titles sometimes as much as a decade removed from the peak of their heartbreak pain. We have two teams today—the New York Giants of the 1950s and the Miami Dolphins of the 1970s—which won a championship right before their heartbreak runs began and were hoping for more, only to find sterner opposition that kept them from becoming a full-fledged dynasty. We have one team—the Oakland Raiders of the 1970s—which suffered through years of losses to some of the greatest teams in NFL history before finally scaling the mountaintop for themselves, at least providing some relief to years of frustration. Any of these three squads would have comfortably sat in the final five if there wasn't a championship on one side or the other of their runs. Instead, they're here, squinting into the sun at the small handful of teams that can claim more pain than them, and thanking their lucky stars they're not included in that group.

Oh, and the Minnesota Vikings have finally decided to turn up. Nice of them to join us.

Links to the full series:

No. 10: 1986-2000 Minnesota Vikings

Total Heartbreak Points: 824.2
Playoff Points: 307.2
Win-Loss Points: 265.4
DVOA Points: 251.8
Record: 144-95 (.603)
Playoff Record: 7-11 (three NFCCG losses, four divisional losses, four wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 10.3%
Head Coaches: Jerry Burns, Dennis Green
Key Players: QB Warren Moon, RB Robert Smith, WR Cris Carter, WR Anthony Carter, WR Jake Reed, WR Randy Moss, TE Steve Jordan, OT Gary Zimmerman, OT Todd Steussie, OT Tim Irwin, G Randall McDaniel, C Jeff Christy, DE John Randle, DE Chris Doleman, DT Henry Thomas, DT Keith Millard, LB Ed McDaniel, LB Scott Studwell, CB Carl Lee, S Joey Browner

It's fitting that they're bedecked in purple, because the Minnesota Vikings are heartbreak royalty.

Other franchises will claim they are the most tortured in NFL history—and you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out who ends up at No. 1—but the Vikings are unquestionably, undoubtedly, and undeniably the most frequently heartbroken team in the NFL. They have played 61 NFL seasons. For 30 of those seasons, they have been in the middle of a top-10 all-time heartbreak dynasty. And that's before you include some of their smaller periods of pain—both the 2003-2009 Tice/Childress teams and the 2015-2019 Zimmer era end up with 300-plus heartbreak points themselves. Add in years like that, and more than two-thirds of Minnesota seasons have been part of an era of disappointment. Long live the king.

Most of this particular swath of pain comes from Dennis Green's tenure in the 1990s as Jerry Burns' teams had become a bit lackluster towards the end of his run. Minnesota had a small window of success with Wade Wilson under center, filled with moments that would be highlights of pain for other, longer runs, but are just footnotes for these Vikings: Darrin Nelson dropping a game-tying touchdown in the 1987 NFC Championship Game against Washington, for instance, or Joe Montana and Jerry Rice taking out the frustrations of the 1987 divisional upset by the Vikings by destroying them in back-to-back divisional rounds the next two seasons.

Honestly, the most painful moment for Burns' Vikings didn't even happen on the field—it's the Herschel Walker trade. General manager Mike Lynn thought Walker would be the piece that would help the Vikings get past Washington and San Francisco and back into the Super Bowl, and they were willing to send away three first-round picks and a passel of other selections and players to get him. That, uh, didn't work. The Vikings went 21-22 in Walker's two-and-a-bit years with the team, making the playoffs just one time, while the Cowboys used Minnesota's draft picks to win three Super Bowls. Walker left after 1991, as did Burns.

It was time for a clear-cut change in Minnesota. Burns had been Minnesota's offensive coordinator stretching back through the Purple People Eater days. His style was getting outdated in the face of the passing changes of the 1980s. Hiring Dennis Green made tons of sense—a disciple of the West Coast offense under Bill Walsh, and just the guy to modernize Minnesota's offense.

That's not what ended up happening—at least, not until 1998, when a veteran named Randall Cunningham and a rookie named Randy Moss happened. But while the Vikings' offense was stumbling with Warren Moon and Brad Johnson, the defense stepped up to carry the load—four top-five DVOA finishes between 1992 and 1995. That set the picture for those early Green teams: the defense led them to nine or 10 wins and they'd earn a wild card, then lose in the first round of the playoffs when their offense couldn't get out of the starting blocks (24-7 to Washington in 1992, 40-15 to Dallas in 1996) or late turnovers doomed comeback attempts (17-10 to the Giants in 1993, 35-18 to Chicago in 1994). Until 1998, that was the story of the 1990s Vikings—four solid months and a postseason failure as the attitude towards Green slowly turned from praise for the quick turnaround to frustration at the postseason flops.

And then there's 1998.

Minnesota's 15-1 season comes out as the second-most-painful year in Vikings history, and I think you can make a strong argument that is still underrating it. That's an insane thing to say about a franchise with four Super Bowl losses, but Minnesota's offense was just that amazing to watch, with Randall Cunningham having the greatest year of his career by a landslide. Randy Moss had the record for most receiving DYAR by a rookie until Michael Thomas took it in 2016, and his 17 touchdowns remain the rookie record. Cris Carter was still performing well. Robert Smith was excelling on the ground. It was a pretty thing to watch. It didn't end up ranking top in our DVOA ratings for the year, in part because they were uncommonly reliant on the long ball—56 plays of 25 yards or more, and 22 plays of 40-plus. Those would be among the league leaders today, so it might as well have been witchcraft in 1998. Usually, that's more a factor of field position and coverage rather than something predictive, which is why DVOA has diminishing returns on huge plays like that. I would argue that, at least in this case, having Rookie Randy Moss is somewhat predictive. The Vikings set a scoring record that wasn't broken until 2007, rolling through the regular season with just one defeat (a 27-24 loss in Tampa Bay). Gary Anderson became the first kicker in history to be perfect on both field goals and extra points, he said, foreshadowing. The Vikings were 11-point favorites entering the NFC Championship Game against a plucky, but not particularly special, Falcons team.

So of course Minnesota would blow a 13-point lead. And of course Anderson would pick 2:07 left in the title game to finally miss a very makeable 38-yard kick, giving the Falcons the ball back down a touchdown. And of course Robert Griffith would miss an interception on Atlanta's desperation drive. And of course the Falcons would tie the game with 49 seconds left, and of course Green would opt to kneel on the ball rather than let his uber-big-play offense take shots to win the game, and of course a limping, injured Chris Chandler would be able to drive the Falcons to a game-winning kick in overtime. It's the Vikings. What else could possibly have happened? It ends up scoring as the most painful season ever that did not end in the Super Bowl, with 242.3 heartbreak points all by itself. Frankly, it should be more.

Green's Vikings never got that close again. They lost a shootout to the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in the divisional round the next season and then got annihilated 41-0 by the Giants in the most lopsided NFC Championship Game in history in 2000. And that was it. Minnesota collapsed in 2001, Green's contract was bought out, and the Vikings entered one of their occasional periods of just being disappointing rather than devastating.

No. 9: 1987-1997 Pittsburgh Steelers

Total Heartbreak Points: 845.4
Playoff Points: 410.6
Win-Loss Points: 200.9
DVOA Points: 234.0
Record: 102-73 (.583)
Playoff Record: 7-10 (one Super Bowl loss, three AFCCG losses, four divisional losses, two wild-card losses)
Average DVOA: 9.3%
Head Coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher
Key Players: QB Neil O'Donnell, RB Barry Foster, RB Jerome Bettis, WR Yancey Thigpen, TE Eric Green, OT John Jackson, OT Tunch Ilkin, C Dermontti Dawson, NT Gerald Williams, LB Greg Lloyd, LB Levon Kirkland, LB David Little, LB Kevin Greene, CB Rod Woodson, S Carnell Lake, S Darren Perry

The Steelers spent the early 1980s watching the key cogs from the Steel Curtain go away one-by-one. Every year between 1980 and 1984, another franchise legend left—losing Rocky Bleier, Mean Joe Greene, Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw, and Jack Lambert in consecutive seasons is a massive talent drain, and that's before you mix in the losses of L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, and Franco Harris in between. Chuck Noll still did have one or two more punches left in him, mind you, with the 1989 team becoming just another victim of a late John Elway drive in the divisional round. That's impressive, considering Noll spent the 1980s shuffling between David Woodley, Mark Malone, and Bubby Brister under center, not precisely ideal circumstances.

That's not to say Noll's late 1980s teams were lacking in substance entirely. The 1987 draft class at the very beginning of this run included Rod Woodson, Hardy Nickerson, and Greg Lloyd, and they would be followed in subsequent years by Dermontti Dawson, John Jackson, and Carnell Lake. It's not quite the fabled 1974 draft, but considering Noll was commonly criticized for a series of mistakes in the drafts early in the decade, it's worth noting that he and the Pittsburgh front office found quite a bit of talent on his way out the door. Emphasis, however, on out the door—Noll retired in 1991 after Pittsburgh had missed the playoffs in six of the previous seven seasons. A fresh start was needed.

Bill Cowher was the league's youngest coach when he was hired in 1992, but he didn't come alone. Dick LeBeau, Dom Capers, and Marvin Lewis all came with him, forming one of the best collections of defensive minds in recent NFL history. It's a myth that LeBeau and Capers invented the zone blitz, but they certainly refined and popularized it and made it more than a gimmick, basing their entire 3-4 defense around the concept.

The linebacker corps of Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland, and Lloyd holds their own against any other in league history, and with Woodson and Lake backing them up, passing against Blitzburgh was a fool's errand. The Steelers had a top-10 defensive DVOA in every year between 1992 and 1997, and their average defensive DVOA of -13.3% over those six seasons led the league. And with first Barry Foster and then Jerome Bettis carrying the load and the Neil O'Donnell-to-Yancey Thigpen combination at least being an upgrade on what they could put together in the 1980s, Cowher's Steelers made the playoffs in each of his first six years in Pittsburgh, with two No. 1 seeds and four bye weeks among the lot.

The Steelers history page on Wikipedia is hilarious at this point, because its next entries are all "Year: Upset By Team." Three seasons in a row. In 1992 it was at the hands of the Bills, who forced three consecutive turnovers from a banged-up O'Donnell in a 24-3 upset. In 1993, Joe Montana and the Chiefs tied the Steelers on a fourth-and-game play with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, then proceeded to win in overtime. And in 1994, the Steelers pushed all the way to the AFC Championship Game before being shockingly upset by the Chargers. Pittsburgh dominated the first half, outgaining San Diego 229-46, but Stan Humphries hit multiple big plays in the second half to take the lead before O'Donnell's potential game-winning touchdown pass was knocked away by Dennis Gibson as time expired.

O'Donnell was not interception-prone in his career. When he retired, he actually had the lowest interception rate in NFL history at just 2.1%. But he was developing a reputation for coming up small in huge moments. Fortunately, the Steelers looked good enough to overcome those mistakes in 1995. They managed to overcome O'Donnell's two interceptions against the Bills in the divisional round, with Blitzburgh forcing four turnovers in a 40-21 win. They managed to overcome an interception on the very first play against the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, with Jim Harbaugh's Hail Mary falling incomplete at the final gun. The Steelers were going back to the Super Bowl, and there was nothing O'Donnell could do to stop them!

Unless, of course, he decided to throw three second-half interceptions in Super Bowl XXX, two of them going to Larry Brown and setting up short Dallas touchdowns. The Brown interceptions were both particularly terrible, too—thrown to avoid a heavy Cowboys blitz, fired out at areas of the field with no Steelers receiver in sight, to a cornerback who had a reputation for having stone hands. After the game O'Donnell claimed he was throwing the ball to where he thought his receivers should have been. Whether someone should have been there or not, he couldn't have thrown the ball better to Brown if he had tried. It's one thing to lose to an all-time legend making a great play. We have seen plenty of examples of John Elway or Joe Montana or the Steel Curtain proving to be unbeatable obstacles. But to lose because of domination by an average player like Brown? That adds a little bit of extra sting to things. In a game where the Steelers only lost by 10, O'Donnell cuing up the Cowboys for 14 points all by himself was a killer.

Super Bowl XXX was O'Donnell's last game for the Steelers—they tried to re-sign him in free agency, but didn't seem to be overly concerned when the Jets outbid them. First Mike Tomczak and then Kordell Stewart would get their chances, but neither could get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl. Tomczak threw a couple of interceptions and was eventually pulled for Stewart in the 1996 divisional blowout by the Patriots. Stewart turned the ball over four times in the 1997 AFC Championship Game as John Elway and the Broncos slipped past them, aided by a couple of iffy but probably correct pass interference calls.

Blitzburgh never did win a title as the Steelers ended up shuffling first between Tomczak and Stewart and then Stewart and Tommy Maddox. They never really bottomed out, never going worse than 6-10 in Cowher's career, but they never returned to the Super Bowl, let alone won one, until they settled their quarterback situation with Ben Roethlisberger. A generation of pass-rushers, wasted at the hands of Larry Brown.

No. 8: 1957-1963 New York Giants

Total Heartbreak Points: 872.2
Playoff Points: 528.2
Win-Loss Points: 212.2
DVOA Points: 131.8
Championship Penalty: 368.1
Record: 65-22-3 (.739)
Playoff Record: 1-5 (five NFLCG losses)
Average DVOA: 14.4%
Head Coaches: Jim Lee Howell, Allie Sherman
Key Players: QB Y.A. Tittle, HB Frank Gifford, HB Alex Webster, E Bob Schnekler, E Del Shofner, OT Rosey Brown, OT Jack Stroud, G Darrell Dess, C Ray Wietecha, DE Andy Robustelli, DE Jim Katcavage, LB Sam Huff, CB Erich Barnes, S Jimmy Patton

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills have been assuming that they'll finish one-two in some order when this countdown concludes. After all, what could possibly be worse than losing four Super Bowls in a decade? While I will not yet confirm nor deny the final standings, I will say that there is something worse than losing four championship games in a decade: losing five championship games in a decade.

Unlike those Vikings and Bills, the Giants did win a championship somewhere along the line of all of their playoff woes. The Giants won the 1956 title behind league MVP Frank Gifford; All-Pros Rosey Brown, Sam Huff, Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli, and Emlen Tunnel; and the greatest pair of coordinators in NFL history. In The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football, Paul Zimmerman relates a story about head coach Jim Lee Howell sitting in his office, reading the newspaper. Next door, offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi was working on the option blocking that would blossom into the Run to Daylight Packers in the 1960s; next to him, defensive coordinator Tom Landy was busy inventing the 4-3 defense. Give me Lombardi, Landry, and that collection of Hall of Famers, and I'm fairly sure I could win a title.

Maybe just the one, however. The Giants continued to dominate the NFL East of this era. Sam Huff and the 4-3 defense gave Jim Brown and Cleveland no end of trouble throughout this decade, famously holding him to just 8 rushing yards in the 1958 divisional playoffs. That win brought the Giants back to the NFL Championship Game to take on Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.

Even all these years later, the NFL still considers the 1958 NFL Championship Game to be the greatest in NFL history. It topped the Catch and the Ice Bowl when they listed their 100 greatest games of all time for the league's 100th anniversary. A lot of that comes from the historical significance, for sure—a huge game, nationally televised in front of a large audience that served as a tipping point that turned the sport from specialist interest to national craze. But the actual gameplay still holds up as well. It's not hard at all to see why 45 million people were glued to their sets watching. It's still compelling more than 60 years later.

The Giants had to rally back against the Colts as two early fumbles had put them down 14-3. It could have been 21-3 too, but linebacker Cliff Livingston stuffed Alan Ameche at the goal line on fourth down, shifting the momentum back towards New York. The Giants scored on both of their next two drives with a little help from a fortuitous 86-yard catch, fumble, recovery, and run that would have been on endless loop had sports television been a thing at the time. But Unitas and the Colts kept wearing the Giants' defense down, repeatedly driving deep into New York territory but coming up short.

Leading 17-14, the Giants could have sealed it late in the fourth quarter. But Gifford was stopped inches short on third down, and New York opted to punt the ball back to Johnny U. What ensued is widely considered the first two-minute drill in NFL history, with Unitas repeatedly hitting Raymond Berry as the Colts shot down the field over the demoralized and exhausted Giants defense, tying the game at the gun with a field goal. For the first time in NFL history, we had overtime. And after a quick three-and-out from the New York offense, Unitas and the Colts marched right back downfield on a visibly dragging Giants defense, with Ameche scoring his famous touchdown to give the Colts the championship. This is one of six games to earn the highest possible 200-point score for playoff heartbreak, and it earned every last bit of it.

The Giants would get a chance for revenge in 1959, in what was not the greatest game ever played. The Colts ran away with the championship in the fourth quarter to win 31-16. That was the end of the line for the 1950s Giants. Vince Lombardi left to coach the Packers after 1958, Tom Landry left for the Cowboys after 1959, Frank Gifford suffered a devastating hit that cost him a season and a half in 1960, and former MVP Charlie Conerly aged out of the league in 1961. Even Howell was gone, moving into the front office as director of player personnel. But the defense was still strong and ferocious. New coach Allie Sherman was named Coach of the Year twice in a row and brought some offensive fireworks to replace Howell's conservative mindset. They traded for Y.A. Tittle, thought to be washed up at age 34. All he did was go on to win a league MVP and a pair of first-team all-pro selections in New York. The Giants domination would continue into the early 1960s.

The domination of the East, we should clarify. In both 1961 and 1962, the Giants ran into Lombardi's Packers. The 1961 game wasn't close, ending in a 37-0 blowout for Green Bay, but the Giants had a real shot at knocking off the legendary 1962 Packers in a windstorm at Yankee Stadium. The New York defense forced five fumbles, but Green Bay recovered all five on their way to a 16-7 victory.

1963, though, would surely be different. Gifford returned from his injury, switching from halfback to flanker. Tittle won MVP, throwing for 3,600 yards and 36 touchdowns; the 448 points they scored remains the record in a 14-game season. But the offense was absolutely shut down by the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field. Tittle was rendered utterly ineffective by a combination of the icy conditions and the innovative zone defense of the Monsters of the Midway, not to mention a knee injury suffered when Larry Morris slammed his helmet into Tittle's leg, rendering him gimpy and lame. But the Giants had little choice but to stick with Tittle, not just because he was MVP, but because backup quarterback Glynn Griffing had missed practices leading up to the game because he was on his honeymoon. Tittle gutted through it, taking shots of cortisone and Novocaine to fight through the pain, but he was basically forced to throw off his back foot the rest of the way. That led to five interceptions, the decisive factor in the 14-10 loss.

The Giants fell apart after 1963. Wellington Mara blamed the AFL, saying that the addition of the Jets in the media market forced the team to focus on the short term rather than the long haul. I'm not sure how trading away Sam Huff and other key defenders counts as "focusing on the short term," mind you. One way or another, the Giants wouldn't play in the postseason again until 1981 as they spent the next few decades wandering through the wilderness, only to end up in New Jersey. A worse fate we can hardly imagine.

No. 7: 1974-1987 Miami Dolphins

Total Heartbreak Points: 943.9
Playoff Points: 309.4
Win-Loss Points: 401.4
DVOA Points: 233.1
Championship Penalty: 264.8
Record: 138-69-1 (.666)
Playoff Record: 6-8 (two Super Bowl losses, one AFCCG loss, four divisional losses, one wild-card loss)
Average DVOA: 11.9%
Head Coach: Don Shula
Key Players: QB Dan Marino, QB Bob Griese, RB Tony Nathan, WR Nat Moore, WR Mark Duper, WR Mark Clayton, OL Bob Kuechenberg, OL Larry Little, G Ed Newman, G Roy Foster, C Dwight Stephenson, C Jim Langer, DE Doug Betters, DE Vern Den Herder, NT Bob Baumhower, LB Kim Bokamper, LB John Offerdahl, S Glenn Blackwood, S Jake Scott

The Dolphins are always a thorn in the side of the various dynasty projects. The break in their run of success comes not between the Bob Griese and Dan Marino eras, but rather from the defensive struggles that characterized the late 1980s teams. Thematically, that doesn't make sense. It feels like all the Don Shula teams should either be grouped together, or the WoodStrock era should be enough of a dividing line that the Miami gets divided into pre- and post-Marino teams. But no, history doesn't always follow nice narrative structure. And so while the 1990s Dolphins clocked in at No. 15, their earlier, better counterparts crack the top 10. The diminishing returns of adding extra years doesn't quite get them to the top five even if you bridge the two-year gap between them, but Dolphins fans have a strong case as an underrated heartbreak franchise when you combine the totality of their post-AFL life.

We have three eras blending together here, so it makes sense to tackle them one by one.

They keep it very quiet, and don't like making a big deal out of it, but the 1972 Dolphins actually completed a perfect season, which is a fun little historical tidbit that might have gotten lost for all time if you didn't read Football Outsiders. They followed that up by winning the Super Bowl again in 1973 and looked poised to dominate the rest of the 1970s as well. That means that the most painful loss of the Griese era doesn't actually earn Miami any points. In 1974, the Dolphins lost to the Raiders in the Sea of Hands game. Vern Den Herder had Kenny Stabler wrapped up, but Stabler managed to fire off a desperation pass to a triple-covered Clarence Davis, who somehow managed to get his hands on the ball in the midst of Larry Ball, Mike Kolen, and Charlie Babb for the game-winning touchdown. The matchup between the Dolphins and Raiders was supposed to be the "real" Super Bowl that year, with the winner obviously going on to win the title two games later. Shula called this the toughest loss of his career, despite having lost multiple Super Bowls. Adding insult to injury, the Dolphins would then lose several stars to the World Football League, with Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, and Jim Kiick all leaving in search of greener pastures.

Maybe they just saw the writing on the wall. The Raiders didn't win the Super Bowl in 1974—and we'll get back to that shortly. It was instead was the first win for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their nascent dynasty, firmly dethroning the Dolphins as the team to beat in the NFL. The 1970s was the time giants walked the earth in the NFL, some of the biggest dynasties and near-dynasties clogging the path to glory. Seven teams in the 1970s won more than 60% of their games, which is by far on the upper end of that scale. The 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s had just five such teams, the 2000s just four. The Dolphins were about to find themselves on the bottom of the top of the totem pole in the AFC. With the Steel Curtain and the Silver & Black hogging the spotlight, the Dolphins were left as an afterthought

They missed the postseason in both 1975 and 1977 despite going 10-4 each season, losing out to the Baltimore Colts on tiebreakers both times. By estimated DVOA, these were the best of the Dolphins post-Super Bowl teams, with a strong running game making up for the slow decline of the No-Name Defense, but they ended up staying at home for January each time. They didn't manage to claw their way back into the playoffs until 1978, where they were upset by Dan Pastorini and the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round. A Garo Yepremian missed field goal and an ugly Griese interception to Gregg Bingham spoiled a solid defensive effort. And then in 1979, when they finally got a crack at the Steelers to try to show those whippersnappers who the team of the 1970s should have been, they got swallowed up 34-14 in the divisional round.

You can't feel too sorry for the 1970s Dolphins, because they do have the two titles, after all. So when Bob Griese suffered his career-ending shoulder injury in 1980, that should have been the end of the story. After all, no one quarterback could replace a Hall of Famer like Griese. The Dolphins didn't even try. They instead replaced him with two quarterbacks.

Eighth-round pick David Woodley started his rookie season in 1980 as the fourth quarterback on the Dolphins depth chart, but fought his way to the starting job by year's end. He was joined by long-time veteran Don Strock, and the WoodStrock era truly kicked off. In all honesty, it's a bit overstated of a story. Shula had a quick hook for Woodley, bringing Strock in repeatedly in situations where most coaches would ride or die with their starter. In truth, Strock only played quarterback in five games in 1980, six in 1981, and three in 1982. Strock was the better pure passer, and Shula was ready to plug him in whenever the offense sputtered, but it was much more of a Ryan Fitzpatrick replacing Tua Tagovailoa situation rather than a true swap-in and swap-out platoon. Still, WoodStrock is an all-time great nickname for a group, as is the Killer Bs defense—Baumhower, Barnett, Blackwood (both of them), Bokamper, Betters, and Brudzinski, bulldozing and bullying their way to victory.

In 1981, that meant a matchup with the Chargers in the Epic in Miami, where Woodley was pulled after the Dolphins fell behind 24-0. Strock led Miami all the way back in a game which, at the time, set records for points, yards, and passing yards in the postseason, with Strock matching Dan Fouts and the dreaded Air Coryell offense punch for punch in possibly the best game in both quarterbacks' careers. Miami had the lead with 58 seconds in regulation, but a blitzed Fouts managed to overthrow Kellen Winslow and somehow found James Brooks for the game-tying touchdown, and Uwe von Schamann's attempt at a game-winning kick at the gun was blocked by Winslow. von Schamann had another kick blocked in overtime and the Chargers finally outlasted Miami in one of the greatest games ever played.

1982 wasn't nearly as good from a historic perspective, but it saw Miami return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1973, so that's better. This time, Woodley wasn't pulled until the very end of the game, but the result would have been the same either way—he went just 4-for-14 for 97 yards, with 76 of those yards coming on play. No Miami rusher even topped 50 yards on the ground as the Dolphins were bottled up. Despite all this, Miami actually had the halftime lead in Super Bowl XVII thanks to the one big Jimmy Cefalo reception and Fulton Walker returning a kickoff for a touchdown, but the lack of offense eventually caught up to Miami as John Riggins and Washington ran all over them. It was clear to all involved that the offensive situation was not going to stand for the Dolphins, and that something had to be done if they wanted to get over the hump. They needed a quarterback to help make the Dolphins synonymous with championships once again. They needed Dan Marino.

There was a recent piece of Content™ going around this offseason, trying to argue that Justin Herbert had the best first two years of any quarterback in NFL history. No, that is and likely always will be Marino. His 33.8% DVOA in 1983 is still the rookie record, and his 2,437 passing DYAR in 1984 is the third-most of all time. Marino was 1,084 DYAR ahead of second-place Dan Fouts that year, the only time we have ever seen a quadruple-digit gap between the top two passers. It is impossible to overstate just how exciting and impossible Marino seemed when he first entered the league. He wasn't just good; he seemed impossibly good. As a rookie, he was done in by turnovers in a close divisional-round game against the Seahawks, with back-to-back fumbled kickoffs from Fulton Walker in the fourth quarter preventing Marino from having a chance at a game-winning drive.

In 1984, though, Marino got his first of what was surely going to be many shots at the Super Bowl, meeting with Joe Montana and the 49ers in a clash between the two best quarterbacks of the decade. And for the second time in three years, the Dolphins would come up short. Only this time, it was the defense that failed to get the job done. Miami had a defensive DVOA of 57.2% in the game as Montana threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns, scrambling for another 59 yards and a score. Marino also topped 300 yards but was harassed in the pocket for basically the first time all season, and he threw a couple of picks late in desperation mode in the 38-16 loss. And that's the end of Marino's Super Bowl résumé, a statement that would have been entirely unbelievable at the time.

Many years later, Bill Walsh would dismiss the 1984 Dolphins as a "one-dimensional team" with no ground game to complement Marino. He pointed out their massively undersized defensive line and overall lack of physicality, and he stated that there was just a distinct difference between the two clubs. And yes, that's the story of the 1980s Dolphins—Dan Marino and the Marks Brothers succeeding while the defense and running game flopped. Miami was punched around in the 1985 AFC Championship Game, with the Patriots rushing for 255 yards in a 31-14 upset, and then failed to make the playoffs for the rest of the decade as defensive woes added up. If Marino had had a full supporting cast, he probably wouldn't have gone 0-for-his career on Super Bowl trips, and the Dolphins wouldn't be on this list.

No. 6: 1963-1975 Oakland Raiders

Total Heartbreak Points: 1026.8
Playoff Points: 369.6
Win-Loss Points: 357.2
DVOA Points: 299.9
Championship Penalty: 556.1
Record: 126-45-11 (.723)
Playoff Record: 7-8 (one Super Bowl loss, two AFLCG losses, four AFCCG losses, one divisional loss)
Average DVOA: 19.4%
Head Coaches: Al Davis, Jon Rauch, John Madden
Key Players: QB Daryle Lamonica, QB Ken Stabler, RB Clem Daniels, WR Fred Biletnikoff, WR Warren Wells, WR Cliff Branch, TE Raymond Chester, OT Art Shell, OT Harry Schuh, G Gene Upshaw, G Wayne Hawkins, C Jim Otto, DE Ben Davidson, DE Art Powell, DT Tom Keating, LB Dan Conners, LB Gus Otto, LB Phil Villapiano, CB Willie Brown, CB Kent McCloughan, S Dave Grayson, S George Atkinson, S Jack Tatum

From 1963 to 1975, the Oakland Raiders finished 81 games over .500. The Cowboys were in second at 55 games, and no one else topped 50. The Packers may be the team of the 1960s and the Steelers may be the team of the 1970s, but the Raiders would have a fair claim to the decade in between, had they managed to just win even one championship, baby.

The Raiders were not good in their first few years in the AFL. They had an even lower win percentage in their first three seasons than the lowly Denver Broncos, who remain the standard for AFL terribleness. That changed in 1963, when Al Davis was brought in as coach and general manager—the youngest coach in over 30 years, and the youngest general manager ever. The Raiders just weren't the Raiders before Davis gets there. There was no "commitment to excellence," no "pride and poise"—hell, they didn't even wear silver and black. Davis brought all of that with him, along with the vertical passing game that he learned working with Sid Gillman, and the Raiders jumped to contenders overnight. They never actually made the AFL playoffs under Davis before he briefly left to be commissioner of the AFL—they finished one win behind the Chargers in both 1963 and 1965—but they stopped being the butt of jokes.

They didn't take off, however, until 1967, jumping from a franchise high of 14.0% estimated DVOA all the way into the 40s. Their coach was John Rauch, who kind of gets forgotten when sandwiched between larger-than-life figures like Davis and John Madden. Rauch also sort of becomes persona non grata in Raiders lore because he ended up quitting in 1969 out of frustration of being interfered with on a day-to-day basis by Davis, who regretted taking the AFL commissionership after the rest of the league decided to merge with the NFL. But Rauch's teams would have taken Davis' teams to the woodshed. By estimated DVOA, Rauch's Raiders ranked first (1967) and fifth (1968) in AFL history, with the 1967 squad still sitting as the eighth-best team in either league since 1950.

It's difficult to compare AFL and NFL stats as the junior league started much worse than its older counterpart and never quite reached parity before the merger. Many would point to the Raiders' 33-14 loss in Super Bowl II as evidence that the AFL's numbers were inflated as Oakland was thrashed by Vince Lombardi's Packers. But with Daryle Lamonica opening up the passing game far more than Tom Flores ever did, and the additions of legends such as Gene Upshaw, Willie Brown, and Art Shell, the Raiders were a terrific football team. There's every reason to believe they could have won Super Bowls III or IV, but the Jets (with the benefit of an extra bye week before the AFL Championship Game) upset them in 1968, and Lamonica was knocked out of the 1969 AFL Championship Game after smashing his hand on a Chiefs helmet. The 1968 Jets, at least, claimed the Raiders were tougher opponents than the NFL champion Colts, and Len Dawson said Oakland could have beaten Minnesota the year after. Some of that is just league pride and respect, but the prevailing thought at the time was that the Chiefs and Raiders were teams 1 and 1A as the two leagues merged, and that Oakland could very easily become the team to beat in the new decade.

Sadly, the new decade was the 1970s, when giants roamed the league. Under John Madden, the Raiders were the clear second-best team in the AFC over the decade, but second-best leads to a lot of pain. Oakland would go to six AFC Championship Games in the 1970s and lose five of them. Not all of them count for this dynasty. The Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1976, which keeps them out of the top five on this countdown by completely wiping out the 1975 and 1977 conference losses and putting a damper on the 1973 loss. But even with those caveats, it's exceptionally hard to beat coming so close over and over again, only to repeatedly fall short. The Raiders lost in the last or second-to-last game of the season in seven of the last nine years of this run, something no other team in the Super Bowl era can claim.

If it wasn't for those damned Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders and Steelers played in five consecutive postseasons between 1972 and 1976, with the last three happening in the AFC Championship Game. In 1974, Oakland allowed Pittsburgh to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter on their way to a 24-13 win as both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier ran free—fairly standard stuff. 1975 was a bit less standard as the Raiders accused the Steelers of intentionally letting their artificial turf freeze over in an attempt to stop the Oakland aerial attack. Intentional or not, it worked as the game featured 12 turnovers and just three points before the final quarter. Pittsburgh turned the ball over more, but Oakland was the one who turned the ball over in crucial situations. Pete Banaszak fumbled inside the red zone to prevent a Raiders score; Marv Hubbard fumbled inside Oakland's own 30 to set up a score for the Steelers. Critical mistakes at critical times, and Oakland's day was over when Mel Blount stopped Cliff Branch in bounds with time running out to preserve the 16-10 Steelers win.

Neither of those are the game you're thinking of, however. That would be the 1972 divisional round game and the Immaculate Reception, which may be the single most painful play in history—or, at the very least, the most painful one that didn't occur in a conference championship or title game. This is a take that goes against conventional wisdom (after all, the NFL declared this the 13th-best contest in league history), but the game itself wasn't much to write home about before the final sequence. The Steelers-Raiders rivalry wasn't really a thing yet, and the game was just 7-6 going into the final moments. It mostly had been a showcase for Steelers punter Bobby Walden pinning the Raiders deep all day. Lamonica had played badly enough that Madden ended up pulling him for Kenny Stabler late in the game. Stabler led the Raiders to their first and only points of the day, giving Oakland a 7-6 lead with 1:16 left. Entirely forgettable football up to that point.

You have seen the Immaculate Reception, you know the Immaculate Reception. You have seen Terry Bradshaw dodging Tony Cline and Horace Jones, chucking a prayer down the middle of the field. You have seen the ball fly off of … well, either Frenchy Fuqua or Jack Tatum, one or the other. You have seen Franco Harris pick the ball up inches from the turf, stiff-arm Jimmy Warren, and score one of the most improbable touchdowns in NFL history. The Raiders, to this day, still insist that they should have won and the play was illegal. Under the rules at the time, had the ball hit Fuqua first, then only Fuqua could have caught the ball. The play has been the subject of forensic analysis, scientific reconstruction, and careful, Zapruder-esque analysis of the three camera angles that exist(ed) of the play. No one has ever provided clear evidence that Fuqua touched the ball first, and it's worth noting that Curt Gowdy, live and in the moment, called the play as a deflection off of Tatum. From a physics perspective, the ball ricocheting that far makes more sense off of a charging Tatum than it does off of Fuqua crossing the field. But we'll never have a shot that proves it, and no evidence that's ever presented will convince Raiders fans of anything other than the injustice they suffered. That's what triggered the Raiders-Steelers rivalry that made those 1974 and 1975 games so heated. That's what really set the Raiders-NFL rivalry into full force, with an "us against the world" attitude which still exists in elements of the fanbase to this day.

The Raiders did occasionally get the upper hand on the Steelers. They beat them in a rematch in 1973, only for Larry Csonka to run all over them in the AFC Championship Game. And, of course, they beat them in 1976, when Oakland took advantage of a banged-up Steelers rushing attack to win, go to the Super Bowl, and finally give Madden and the Raiders the title they had been looking for for over a decade. Without that win, the Raiders don't just jump into the top five, they jump all the way to number one. If Madden retires with the best winning percentage in (modern) NFL history, but no title, no team could possibly hold a candle to that. No, the Raiders didn't make the Super Bowl very often, but that's because they kept slamming up against the team that did win the title. But Oakland won Super Bowl XI handily, stomping all over the Vikings, and thus transferred at least a portion of their pain to a team we'll meet … well, soon enough.

The Rankings So Far

The Raiders are not only our first team to top 1,000 heartbreak points, they're also very nearly our first team to top 300 DVOA points. Seeing how they lost more than 150 DVOA points from the Super Bowl XI title, they have an argument for being the best team in the entire rankings ... or they would, if the interregnum Patriots didn't also exist. Still, the Raiders remain one of the league's all-time great teams and are rewarded handsomely for it even after the penalty for their eventual success.

But it's the Giants who sit atop our rankings for playoff pain as losing five title games in a decade is a feat no other team can match. They might well have remained the playoff point leader even after the final five get included had the NFL of the 1950s and 1960s had wild-card berths and divisional-round matchups. Teams can earn more playoff heartbreak nowadays than they could when it was championship or bust.

And it's the Dolphins who become the first team to cross the 400-point barrier for regular-season success. Winning 67% of your games over a sample size of 208 games is exceptionally good; Don Shula could coach a little.

Dynasties of Heartbreak ... So Far
Rk Years Team W-L Avg
6 1963-1975 OAK 126-45-11 19.4% 369.6 357.2 299.9 556.1 1026.8
7 1974-1987 MIA 138-69-1 11.9% 309.4 401.4 233.1 264.8 943.9
8 1957-1963 NYG 65-22-3 14.4% 528.2 212.2 131.8 368.1 872.2
9 1987-1997 PIT 102-73 9.3% 410.6 200.9 234.0 0.0 845.4
10 1986-2000 MIN 144-95 10.3% 307.2 265.4 251.8 0.0 824.2
11 2003-2021 DAL 171-134 6.7% 202.4 293.1 287.1 0.0 782.6
12 1989-1999 KC 110-65-1 14.4% 186.8 252.8 276.0 0.0 715.6
13 1997-2011 NYJ 128-112 7.2% 278.6 185.6 245.2 0.0 709.4
14 1969-1981 WAS 112-75-3 7.7% 184.6 242.5 232.6 0.0 693.8
15 1990-2005 MIA 149-107 7.9% 184.6 242.5 232.6 0.0 659.6
16 2004-2010 SD 76-36 18.3% 207.6 227.5 221.0 0.0 656.1
17 1996-2003 TEN 80-48 10.2% 290.9 198.8 159.4 0.0 649.1
18 2011-2014 SF 44-19-1 17.9% 364.2 148.1 136.3 0.0 648.6
19 2005-2013 NE 110-34 27.5% 261.4 178.5 206.1 963.6 646.0
20 1939-1946 NYG 52-26-7 8.9% 396.6 147.6 100.5 330.1 644.7
21 2017-2021 NO 58-23 26.2% 190.8 201.6 239.8 0.0 632.2
22 1974-1985 NE 123-101 2.3% 209.0 232.3 148.8 0.0 590.0
23 1983-1989 CLE 63-47-1 8.2% 295.2 129.2 129.7 0.0 554.0
24 1960-1960 BALC 92-42-4 17.0% 251.0 165.5 134.3 478.4 550.9
25 2014-2021 PIT 83-44-2 10.7% 148.2 215.4 181.8 0.0 545.4
26 1998-2007 SEA 90-70 3.3% 254.4 147.5 126.9 0.0 528.8
27 2005-2013 CHI 84-60 3.4% 259.8 163.1 105.2 0.0 528.2
28 1977-1982 SD 55-32 17.4% 191.6 145.8 184.8 0.0 522.1
29 2013-2017 CAR 51-28-1 9.4% 204.4 168.8 120.6 0.0 493.7
30 1999-2002 OAK 41-23 22.2% 211.6 107.5 156.2 0.0 484.2
31 1987-1993 HOIL 70-41 10.3% 167.6 163.1 147.0 0.0 477.8
32 1922-1931 CHI 82-38-17 11.6% 251.2 139.6 81.3 753.3 472.2
33 1988-1996 PHI 87-57 13.5% 88.4 171.9 205.7 0.0 466.0
34 1978-1985 DAL 84-37 15.1% 187.6 157.1 118.4 547.9 463.0
35 2003-2009 CAR 64-48 3.6% 259.2 118.1 84.6 0.0 461.9
36 2019-2021 GB 39-10 15.1% 188.4 169.5 87.5 0.0 445.4
37 1983-1989 LARM 67-44 10.7% 143.2 146.3 153.1 0.0 442.6
38 1978-1981 PHI 42-22 17.3% 187.6 118.8 130.4 0.0 436.7
39 1970-1977 CIN 66-46 25.8% 89.6 170.0 169.6 0.0 429.2
40 2008-2012 ATL 56-24 12.6% 123.6 189.6 115.5 0.0 425.9
41 2019-2021 SF 29-20 18.1% 239.4 79.2 95.8 0.0 414.4
42 1968-1972 SF 38-22-4 11.3% 197.6 102.5 107.8 0.0 407.8
43 1996-1999 JAX 45-19 13.6% 153.8 149.4 104.0 0.0 407.2
44 1986-1990 CIN 43-36 7.9% 216.4 85.0 102.8 0.0 404.2


94 comments, Last at 22 Jun 2022, 2:43pm

#1 by Travis // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:18am

There's every reason to believe they could have won Super Bowls III or IV, but the Jets (with the benefit of an extra bye week before the AFL Championship Game) upset them in 1968 ...

The Jets, who were home, were favored by three points.

Points: 0

#10 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:44pm

The Jets were home, and it does make sense that they were favored then, but the Raiders beat them earlier in the year (Heidi game), and had a better record.

I also agree with the Jets that the Raiders were a better team than the Colts.  The Colts were lucky Meredith and the Cowboys melted down against the Browns.  That Colts team didn't have to go through the Lombardi Packers (Lombardi retired) or the Landry Cowboys.

Points: 0

#18 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:42pm

This is true, so I suppose it's inaccurate to say the Jets 'upset' them, per se.  Fair point.

I am, however, going to suggest that the bye week before the game played a lot into the Jets being favored. The Raiders and Chiefs tied atop the AFL West, and so Oakland had to play a play-in game against a very tough opponent while the Jets got to sit idle for a week. Also, the Raiders had the better record, so under modern rules, would have gotten to host the Jets rather than having to travel to New York -- not something that might have bugged people at the time, because that was the standard, to alternate, but dang.

For what it's worth, the Raiders come out on top in Estimated DVOA, 34.9 to 29.3.  

Points: 0

#23 by Travis // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:02pm

I don't disagree that the 1968 Raiders might have been a slightly better team than the Jets, but it's close enough where changing anything slightly (what if the Heidi Game were played in New York rather than Oakland; what if the 1969 rules applied and the Jets played the Chiefs in a Divisional round; what if you just looked at weighted DVOA and ignored the Jets' early season struggles) might yield a different answer to who should have emerged out of the AFL.

Just a quibble with "upset", really.

Points: 0

#2 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:20am

Jerry Burns opposed the Herschel Walker trade. That was all on Mike Lynn, a parasite who arrived in Minnesota with hardly a nickel to his name, then became wealthy by bamboozling the Vikings managing general partner, Max Winter, as Bud Grant and a couple of great scouts who were hired by Jim Finks, kept the team very good, despite cheapskate ownership. In fact, Lynns skullduggery in putting together  the Metrodome deal, which funneled all the suite revenue to him, for as long as the team played in that venue (!), was a major factor in the Red McCombs ownership debacle, which followed the orginal ownership group. 

Those Vikings rosters of '86-'90 were magnificent, with the exception of (sigh) qb.

Points: 0

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:41am

Those Vikings rosters of '86-'90 were magnificent, with the exception of (sigh) qb.

One does not simply out-Bears the Bears.

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:42am

I'm curious, if you eliminated the terminal championship season, which teams ends up having the most in-season suffering?

It's either the Raiders or the Broncos, right?

Points: 0

#21 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:50pm

I'm not 100% sure I understand the question, so if this ain't it, I apologize.

I do believe the Raiders come out as the team with the most regular season pain if you ignore championship penalties.  I'd need to go and triple check everything, but I think they even come out over the 2005-2013 Patriots in that respect, and would have well over 1,000 points of DVOA + Win-Loss Heartbreak Points combined.

Points: 0

#24 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:07pm

It was poorly phrased.

I'll use the 1957-1963 Giants as an example. They started that run with a title. So their legacy of failure in 1963 was only five years, and they had the satisfaction of a title within the memory of every elementary schooler.

Contrast the 1965-1976 Raiders. They ended a string of failure with a title. So they suffered for a decade+ with nothing leading into it but even more wretched failure.

My question, basically, was what if you lopped off that ending season in which they won the title? Let's say instead of winning the SB in 1976, the Raiders imploded as Madden fled to television and went like 6-10. How much misery would the Bizarro 1965-1976 Raiders have generated?

In the Pats example, they keep their 2004 title, but bomb out in 2014 as Patricia takes over the HC job and Brady flees to... Arizona, or they just become the end-McCarthy Packers or something. What would that run be?

Points: 0

#34 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:49pm

Ah, I see.  I'd have to run all the numbers again and triple-check, but the Raiders would, if I remember correctly, end up in first place if you take away their championship penalty.  They'd be at close to 1,500 heartbreak points, which is a lot!  Numerically speaking.

Even without a lot of Super Bowl appearances, they'd end up topping things because they were so good for so long. It hurts that they didn't make it to the final game all that often, but it's not really their fault that they had the misfortune to play in the same conference as the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They'd be a really good 1970s team -- maybe a little forgotten, because they wouldn't have won a title and have moved around since -- who just had the misfortune of playing in a conference against other even better 1970s teams.

...That sounds vaguely familiar for some reason. I guess we'll find out tomorrow!

Points: 0

#69 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:36pm

...looking forward to seeing the 1966 to 1980 Rams at #4, maybe even #3 (ahead of the #5 2000 to 2014 Eagles and possibly the 1988 to 2000 Bills) and the 1968 to 1982 Vikings at #2, possibly even #1 ahead of the 1973 to 1996 (24 seasons!) Broncos!

Points: 0

#5 by theslothook // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:31am

I'll never understand what happened with Antonio Brown. It's one thing to be a diva wide receiver, but he never displayed a total lack of unprofessionalism until the very end in Pittsburgh, which he carried everywhere else he went.

Moss and To, at the very least were consistent malcontents through and through.

Points: 0

#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:35am

Wrong thread?

Or are you tying it to Moss and the Vikings?

Points: 0

#20 by Steve // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:47pm

I always speculate that it was the concussion from being targeted by Burfict in the 2015 playoffs, probably aggravated by microtraumas after that.  It's sad.

Points: 0

#7 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:35am

The Vikings defenses in the Denny Green era declined significantly after Dungy was hired away to coach the Bucs, Denny never really got things clicking on that side of the ball again. The Conf. Champ. loss to the Falcons hurt (Cunningham hugely underthrowing Moss, five yards clear of a defender, 45 yards downfield, in OT, will always be a memory), but the Falcons won on both lines of scrimmage that day, which somehow alleviates the sting a little. 

Green was a very, very, good coach, who became much less effective as he gained more General Manager power. He was his own worst enemy often times.

Points: 0

#35 by Vincent Verhei // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:50pm

Not to rub it in, but I'm glad you brought this up. Some critics point to Anderson's missed field goal as the only reason the Vikings lost. That's totally unfair. The Falcons still had to drive 71 yards to tie the game. And then the Vikings won the coin toss and had the ball twice in overtime and failed to even cross midfield. Minnesota's offense scored just one time in their final nine drives. That should be the real story of the game.

Points: 0

#45 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:25pm

I was disappointed that they lost, of course, but it wasn't a brutal outcome for me. I knew the Vikings weren't very physical on defense any longer, I was never a big Randall Cunningham booster, since I can't stand qbs with a slow release (sure enough, the Falcons scored a gimme td at end of the half, on a Kearney strip-sack as Randall was winding up), so I thought they were more vulnerable than the Vikings fans generally believed.

The NFCCG ot loss in the Superdome, Jan. 2010, was the real torture session.

Points: 0

#89 by andrew // Jun 22, 2022 - 1:14am

If you want to add one more injustice in this game..... on the Vikings drive that ended in the Anderson field goal miss, just before that they faced a 3rd down.   The Falcons called timeout to set their defense.    Then after that, they lined up with 12 men on the field.    Dan Reeves saw this and called timeout.   The ref ignored him, as you can't call consecutive timeouts.  Dan Reeves then (all still pre-snap) stepped out onto the field, insisting he needed his timeout.  The refs blew the whistle, then huddled, then announced that you can't call consecutive timeouts.  So the play was stopped, the Falcons got to get their extra man off, and reset their defense.... AND the refs gave them their timeout back.   and they then had that timeout available to them on their final drive in regulation, where they did in fact use it.  Granted, they scored with 49 seconds left, so they might not have needed it, and indeed may have worked against them if Denny hadn't knelt onthe ball with 49 seconds left.   But still irks me that this was done.

The NFL has since ruled that attempting to call consecutive timeouts is a delay of game penalty, which in this instance would have given the vikings a first down (this was the 3rd and 1 which they did in fact convert with a 4 yard pass to Moss).

Points: 0

#90 by Stendhal1 // Jun 22, 2022 - 2:56am

I don’t think I’ve ever been as surprised by any sports incident as the Anderson missed FG.  Sorry Will.

To anticipate what’s coming next, in my opinion, the most unfair blame for a missed FG is Scott Norwood in the Giants loss.  It was a long FG!  I remember worrying on the final play before the attempt that Buffalo had not moved close enough for a good attempt.

Points: 0

#8 by Jetspete // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:42am

What would Miami’s heartbreak score have been if Shula didn’t cheat to win the 1982 afc title game?

Points: 0

#11 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:48pm

They may have heartbreak, but I have no sympathy for them.  Or perhaps I have the same of sympathy for them as Ash had for Parker, Lambert, and Ripley.

Points: 0

#12 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:49pm

Also, I still gloat in the fact that Ken O'Brien has a winning record against Marino.

Points: 0

#28 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:30pm

This is about the tarp, right?

For those too young or too non-New York to remember, the 1982 AFC Championship was played in a mudpit in large part because the Dolphins did not put a tarp over the field during three solid days of rain before the game.  The Jets claim they did intentionally, to neutralize New York's speed, and also that that is a bad thing to do.

The Dolphins would score somewhere between 840 and 890, depending on how badly you want the Jets to beat them in this scenario.

Points: 0

#54 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:50pm

I thought the Dolphins turned off the drainage system until the Jets arrived on Saturday.  Perhaps I am wrong, I am not able to find anything that supports this impression on the internet.

As far as whether this was a bad or dirty move, perhaps ask Don Shula why it was so terrible that the Patriots got someone to clean off a spot for the winning kick in an snow game earlier that year.

Part of the reason Jets fans are so angry about this game is that Walt Michaels 'retired' right after it, and the Jets spent two years in the wilderness until Bud Carson showed up to coach the defense and help the Jets get back to the playoffs.  The Mud Bowl effected the Jets in a really bad way that the Raiders 1975  AFC championship loss did not.

Points: 0

#57 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:54pm

The Dolphins always have said the drainage system was on, just that it wasn't strong enough to actually pump out the water.  And the field at the time didn't have the 'crown' -- the center of the field is generally a little elevated compared to the sideline, to let surface water runoff.  The field at the Orange Bowl at the time wasn't elevated, so water just sat there.

In the Jets' favor, the NFL stepped in after the game and said they'd take steps to prevent "similar field conditions" in the future. Throughout this countdown, we've come across situations where the NFL has felt they've had to step in quickly and change rules or guidelines, and that's a pretty good indicator of just how unfair your loss was.

Points: 0

#58 by Travis // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:59pm

League rules in place at the time mandated that every stadium have a tarp on hand.

The Orange Bowl didn't have one, but the Dolphins and the league handwaved it away by claiming that the rule wasn't enforced against artificial turf teams, and that Prescription Athletic Turf (six inches of grass on top of a drainage system) counted as artificial turf.

Points: 0

#63 by lenny65 // Jun 21, 2022 - 5:11pm

Over the "Todd Is Sod" game. The jerseys were too dirty, so poor Richard didn't realize he was throwing passes to AJ Duhe over and over.

Points: 0

#70 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:41pm

...but when a quarterback goes 15 for 37 for 103 yards and 5 interceptions, as Richard "Not the Second Coming of Joe Namath" Todd did in that post-1982 AFCCG, there were bigger issues than the field conditions.

Points: 0

#83 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 9:41pm

The winning quarterback, David Woodley, went 9 for 21 for 87 yards and 3 interceptions.  I think we can assume the field conditions had something to do with both quarterbacks' poor passing stats.  The real gripe is that the muddy conditions helped stop shifty Freeman McNeil, who came into the game with 302 yards rushing in two playoff games. The Dolphins held McNeil to 46 yards on 17 carries.  The Dolphins' fullback. Andra Franklin was more efficient, with 44 yards on 13 carries.  Woodley also helped his cause with 8 carries for 46 yards.  Of course, if the Jets don't fire Walt Michaels after that game, and say they draft some guy out of Pittsburgh instead of a Californian QB, I'm not griping about any of this at all.

I might also add Richard Todd had a stellar year in 1981 and a decent one in 1982.  He went back to the 1980 disaster immediately after the 1982 AFC championship game, with 26 interceptions in 1983.

Points: 0

#86 by lenny65 // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:07pm

Not much of a QB, and he ran with a reckless disregard for his own well-being, almost like he just didn't know any better. He had his moments, but when he was bad, he was real bad. I liked Strock too, a true "backup QB" if there ever was one.

Points: 0

#91 by CHIP72 // Jun 22, 2022 - 6:13am

...had mostly to do with him not being a very good quarterback.  Of course, while he was better than Woodley, the same was true with Richard Todd, who never met the expectations the Jets had for him (though to be fair was pretty good in 1981 and 1982, with 1982 being his best season).

Points: 0

#9 by Boots Day // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:32pm

I don't think there was any heartbreak at all for Dolphins fans from 1974-87, except at the very end. First of all, my one methodological difference with the work you've done here is that I don't think you give enough credit for winning titles in proximity to the heartbreak years. After winning not one but two Super Bowls, Dolphins fans should have been satisfied for a long time. The Sea of Hands game was the only really tough loss for the Fins in the 1970s - but I guarantee you, nobody was feeling sorry for them. 

By the latter half of the 1970s, the Dolphins were just another team, while the real class of the AFC was the Steelers and Raiders. They had no expectation of winning anything during this period; if any team earned heartbreak points, it was the Bert Jones Colts, who were clearly better than Miami from 1975 on but never even made a Super Bowl. 

The WoodStrock team that made the Super Bowl was a fluke, a mediocre team that parlayed the weird strike year into a playoff run. Nobody was heartbroken over that Super Bowl loss. Then the Dolphins lucked into Dan Marino in the famous 1983 draft, and even when he lost the Super Bowl, there was the sense, as you say, that his time was just beginning. Again, no one seemed too disappointed that they lost that game to a great 49ers team. The good fortune of landing Marino outweighed any heartbreak.  

It really wasn't till Marino's Dolphins lost to an unimpressive Patriots team in the 1985 playoffs that the team had any sort of true heartbreak. They were supposed to be the only challenger to the 1985 Bears, but couldn't make it to the rematch. THEN the heartbreak started. But from 1974 to 1984? Nobody felt sorry for the Dolphins.

Points: 0

#13 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:51pm

I tend to agree that if a fanbase has experienced a championship, it's pretty wimpy to be claiming heartbreak for 3-5 years. Multiple RINGZZ! within a short time frame? At least 5 years before a non-excessively wimpy fanbase ought to claim heartbreak.

Suck it up, buttercup, sez the Vikings fan...


Points: 0

#16 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:05pm

My sense is the glow lasts about a decade. Probably depends a little on the sport, the team, and the city.

There is a sliding scale of when a fan base starts to get antsy and when even opponents start to feel bad for you. This sort of reflects how big of an asshole your fanbase is. I still don't really feel bad for the Bears, because somehow they still bask in 1985. No one will feel bad for the Yankees or Celtics until after the heat death of the universe. No one feels bad for the Maple Leafs -- their failure is mostly funny. Some teams even sort of enjoy being sadsack. The Cubs and Phillies were basically this -- pathetic losing was their team identity.

The more you win, the longer this delays stretches out. It will be decades before anyone feels bad for the Red Sox again. Or the Warriors -- who only slink to Oakland whenever they suck, and flee to San Francisco as soon as they are good again. No one should ever feel bad for a San Francisco Warriors team, but an Oakland Warriors team deserves your pity.

But this analysis does round off the glow of a win a bit too soon. There are too many top teams who were just coming off a championship. It's not really a huge tragedy until it threatens to become a generational issue. Once a generation comes up who has never experienced winning, it starts to seep into the culture of the team.

Points: 0

#14 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:53pm

I think the Dolphins have the same issue as the late 2000s Patriots: I think it exposes that Super Bowls don't just add linearly especially when they're right by each other. A single Super Bowl doesn't do much, but multiple? No bitching, please. As in, in '74 you're supposed to be "2 years removed" from the 72 win - skip that, you won in '73 as well, you don't get to say "oh that was 2 years ago" when you won the previous year as well.

You could do it such that each Super Bowl increases the penalty by 400 and they cut in half (until they're down to 50 or below) every year without - so instead of like, 600, 300, 150, 50, 0 it goes 800, 400, 200, 100, 50, 0 (note that this extends how far the penalties go).

The problem with this is that it's unstable because they go backwards as well, but you could separate the forward/backward penalties and just add those.

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#17 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:09pm

I think they project forward farther than backward.

I'll put it this way: for the Red Wings, losing in the conference finals to the Avs in 1996 was catastrophic. The whole 1994-1996 stretch was traumatic as a fan base. Losing to the Penguins in 2008 was an annoyance (and really only because of Bettman's shenanigans -- losing to the Caps wouldn't even have been an annoyance).

One year after is completely different from one year before. The first sunny day after the monsoon is just a day. The last sunny day before the monsoon might see you die of thirst.

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#22 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:01pm

Eh, for me, at least, that's not exactly true: the biggest sting from the 21st Century Eagles are both the methodology and the players who didn't win the Super Bowl, and really from SB XXXIX only Dawkins bugs me - SB LII totally vindicated Reid to me (and then his own SB did it to everyone else, I think) and the truly Hall-level players (again excepting Dawkins) won SB LII anyway.

I get the difference though. I feel for the players rather than the seasons, so if the players eventually win it takes the sting away.

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#60 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 4:18pm

I really enjoyed Gary Zimmerman, an underrated HoFer, if such a creature exists, winning rings in Denver, after leaving Minny. Same thing with Matt Birk with the Ravens. Bryant Mckinnie, on the other hand? Annoyed the hell out of me that he ate his way out of Minnesota, then reclined on the sofa for 6 months in Baltimore, before getting off his ass to play hard for 6 weeks, and picked up a ring.

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#62 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 4:57pm

Part of it is more than the players though - after a decade of "run the ball Andy" seeing a team win a Super Bowl with a QB he drafted and convinced to stay in the league throw 40+ times was really cathartic. It's like, now I look back at the 00s and mainly feel bad for Jim Johnson because McNabb was nowhere near the QB they needed, and those defenses were great.

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#25 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:08pm

You're right in that you would want to extend championship penalties rather than just make individual year's penalties larger.  You can't earn more than 400 heartbreak points in a season, so it doesn't so much if the penalty for one year is 600 or 800 or 3.6 billion; there's just not that many points to lose.

One method I did try was to have penalties be cumulative, rather than additive.   So, Dolphins win the Super Bowl in 1972, giving them future penalties of 400, 200, 100 and 50 points.  And then the win the Super Bowl in 1973, giving them another set of 400, 200, 100 and 50 points.

Under the current system, 1974 is worth 600 points (200+400), 1975 is worth 300 (100+200), 1976 is worth 150 (50+100) and 1977 is worth 50 (0+50).

Instead, you could just grab the highest penalty not yet used.  So 1974 would be 400 points, 1975 and 1976 would both be 200, 1977 and 1978 would both be 100, and 1979 and 1980 would both be 50. 

Doing that lowers the Dolphins' score from 943.9 to 833.0, which would knocks them under the Giants and Steelers, but no one else. Not a huge change.  Because the Dolphins' problem isn't really getting too many points from the 1970s.  That's only 127.7 points of their 943.9 even with the current penalties; if you just arbitrarily started them at Griese's retirement they're still a top-10 team.  It's an endpoint problem again, with 1974-1976 getting included on the list of years despite not actually scoring any points.

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#41 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:08pm

Oh, I didn't even think of doing it that way! I totally like that. It's like using up "credit" from a Super Bowl victory. You'd have to treat the forward/backward additively though, I guess, otherwise it goes completely crazy. Some part of me thinks you didn't use it because it's way harder. :)

Doesn't do much to the Dolphins, but murders the late 2000s Patriots. They'd end up with:

2005: 400 points (from '04) vs 650
2006: 250 points (from '03 and '18) vs 300
2007: 250 points (from '04 and '16) vs 150
2008: 150 points (from '01 and '14) vs 50
2009: 200 points (from '03 and '18) vs 0
2010: 200 points (from '04 and '16) vs 50
2011: 150 points (from '03 and '18) vs 100
2012: 250 points (from '04 and '16) vs 250
2013: 400 points (from '14) vs 500.

That's a max of +50 points in 06 but an additional -600 (!!) max elsewhere, although '08 probably didn't have 150 points to give. So say -550. Shoves them right off the table.

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#46 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:28pm

Some part of me thinks you didn't use it because it's way harder. :)

There is a "hell, I've got four Almanac chapters to write, this is good enough" factor that goes into these rankings sometimes, yes <_<

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#52 by BigRichie // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:47pm

Speaking of the Almanac, as a + member is that part of my package, or must I order it separately? And if the latter, how in the Sam Hill do I navigate to that page to do so?

(asked because my email of a few days back asking that hasn't gotten a reply yet; and I want to get my copy ordered before I head out on vacation)

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#66 by Vincent Verhei // Jun 21, 2022 - 6:52pm

Thank you for your subscription! We are expecting to have the Almanac finished in mid-July. The online/PDF version is included with your subscription, but unfortunately the hard copy is not. There's no system in place at Amazon to verify that someone is an FO subscriber.

Please email any other questions to fo-support@edjsports.com. That's the best way to get a hold of us. Sometimes we overlook questions in the comment threads.

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#73 by BigRichie // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:58pm

for your response. The online version will actually do just fine. Albeit it won't come before my vacation :-( 

To be frank, this isn't the first time I have gotten ahold of you folks via a comment thread after email failed to do so. (might be only the second time, tho')

Points: 0

#80 by Vincent Verhei // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:33pm

Sorry to hear that. The good news is I've just spotted your email in the spam folder. I've got a few of those to clean out, it looks like. But thank you for letting me know they're in there.

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#65 by KnotMe // Jun 21, 2022 - 6:44pm

Honestly, probably the easiest way to wipe the itereugeum pats is just ignore any interval that starts and ends with a championship. In fact, you could separate heartbreak dynasties from normal ones by requiring normal ones to include a championship(i.e they basicly convert when you win). So the Bill's would have hb dynasty that would become a normal one if they win it all

A nice future feature might be to review "active" dynasties of all types.  

Points: 0

#27 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:24pm

I think I agree mostly with the idea that the 1970s Dolphins were not exactly pitied, nor were Miami fans particularly hard off over the back half of the decade.  I mentioned in a comment down below that the lion's share of the points here come from the 1980s runs, and that 1974-1976 end up not scoring at all.  There are alternate methods of stretching things championship penalties that can further reduce the 1970s, but that's not a major contributor to the Dolphins' heartbreak score; the final Griese years are mostly vestigial.

I'm going to disagree, however, that nobody was heartbroken over the WoodStrock Super Bowl, or even that it was a fluke. We'll get more into this when the 1982 DVOA comes out next week (cheap plug!), but those Dolphins were a really, really good team, even in a small sample size. Plus, losing the Super Bowl always stings, even if you'd won one a little less than a decade earlier.  And while getting Marino helped, and the idea that Marino could eventually win a title kept Dolphins fans going, that's at least a little offset by the "oh, if only we had him the year before!" factor. If the 49ers end up winning a Super Bowl in the next year or two with Trey Lance, that won't fully ease the sting of having lost one with Jimmy Garoppolo.

For the record, these Dolphins seasons, from most to least heartbreak points:

  1. 1982 (WoodStrock Super Bowl loss)
  2. 1984 (Marino Super Bowl loss)
  3. 1985 (loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship)
  4. 1983 (loss to the Seahawks in the divisional round)
  5. 1981 (loss in the Epic in Miami)
  6. 1978 (loss to the Oilers in the wild card round)
  7. 1979 (loss to the Steelers in the divisional round)
  8. 1977 (10-4, but lost the division to the 10-4 Colts on tiebreakers and the 11-3 Raiders beat them to a wild card berth; this year would be over 1978 and 1979 if not for the championship penalty)
  9. 1987 (8-7, but 7-5 excluding replacement players)
  10. 1986 (8-8)

1974-1975 don't score because of championship penalties; 1976 doesn't score because they went 6-8 and 1980 doesn't score because they went 8-8 with a negative estimated DVOA.

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#30 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:40pm

If the 49ers end up winning a Super Bowl in the next year or two with Trey Lance, that won't fully ease the sting of having lost one with Jimmy Garoppolo.

I bet it will. Do you think any Rams fans weep for Jared Goff?

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#36 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:51pm

Not for Goff, necessarily, but I bet they still grumble at Goff and the offensive no-show in Super Bowl LIII!

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#40 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:06pm

As a general football fan with no rooting interest, I hated that Super Bowl, because what Belichik did to Goff was so tediously predictable, and it wasted another great coordinating job by Wade Phillips.

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#50 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:44pm

As much as I dislike the Saints (it's not for the same reasons Will does, but it shares some inputs), I hated to see LA win that NFCCG because I knew they had no chance against the Pats. (Whereas the Brees Saints gave Belichick/Brady fits)

NO ran out to a 13-0 lead with LA basically unable to move the ball. They went for a 4th-5 from their own 30 in the first quarter!  Basically, they nickle-and-dimed their way to field goal and then on a 3rd-10 with less than a minute to go, suddenly started hitting Cooks on deep routes for a late TD.

Down 20-10, they did it again. Down 20-17 late -- again, although they couldn't punch in 3rd-goal from the 2 and jumped on 4th down. Their winning drive covered 15 yards and consisted of desperately trying to stay within FG range.

Their offensive numbers looked fine in aggregate after the game, but there was basically no intermediate gains and no failed drives that weren't utter failures. 160 of Goff's 297 yards came on five completions of 25+. The rest of his game was 21-35 for 137 and 1 INT -- and that perhaps better captures the feel of the game. Aside from those breakdowns, Goff was desperately scrambling, trying to not throw an INT before he got sacked. It all felt so unrepeatable.

And two weeks later, it was shown to be unrepeatable. I'll never understand how NO blew that game, except for maybe the ghost of Brett Favre.

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#59 by Romodini // Jun 21, 2022 - 4:09pm

I think the No-Call probably had something to do with it

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#38 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:01pm

I can assure Brian that if the Vikings had beaten the Steelers in IX, the sting of VIII and IV would have been made trivial.

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#33 by Boots Day // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:47pm

Thanks for the thoughtful response. I look forward to seeing the DVOA numbers for 1982, because no matter how good that Killer B defense was, they still had  David Woodley at quarterback. Woodley makes Stan Humphries and Rex Grossman look like legitimate Super Bowl quarterbacks.

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#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:46pm

Humphries fulfilled the SD curse of only their overlooked QBs being able to win the AFC.

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#76 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:15pm

...running game was very effective though.  Andra Franklin, in his only good year, finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards, and the Dolphins as a team finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing offensively.  It is probable the Dolphins' offense was reasonably good even with the relatively weak passing attack.

One other semi-related note - I've always been impressed by the fact Don Shula took two much, MUCH different Dolphins teams to the Super Bowl twice in three years.  In 1982, they had a team similar in many ways to their early 1970s teams (running-oriented, strong defense), albeit with weaker quarterbacking.  In 1984, they had Dan Marino posting his career season passing, an OK but unspectacular defense, and a weak running game.  To me, that shows that unlike many other coaches, Don Shula was willing to adapt to whatever worked for his team, rather than trying to force his team to fit a certain system that he liked.  It is an indicator of Shula's excellence as a head coach IMO.

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#75 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:06pm

...after the 1987 season actually happened, the 9th grade version of me looked at what the NFL standings would have been like had the 3 replacement player games not counted in the standings.  (As an Eagles fan, I had strong desire to do that - the Eagles went 7-8 overall in 1987 but 7-5 in the regular player games, the 6th best record in the NFC.  They would have been the only NFC team to finish with a winning record and not make the playoffs.  It would have been the Eagles' first winning season since 1981, and someone who started following the NFL IN 1981, having that 1987 season count as a winning season would have been meaningful to me.)

As it turns out, all of the NFC playoff teams and seeds would have remained the same as they actually were (49ers, Bears, Redskins, Saints, Vikings), even though much was made at the time of the 8-7 Vikings going 0-3 in replacement player games.  Four of the five AFC playoff teams would have also still qualified, all of them in their actual seed position (Broncos, Browns, Colts, Oilers).  The one exception would have been the #5 seed Seahawks, who would have missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker and been replaced by the Dolphins.  The Dolphins' score in this series would be slightly higher had they actually appeared in the playoffs that year.

The above actually brings up a minor point related to these series of articles.  Three of teams included in the series (1988 to 1996 Eagles, 1987 to 1997 Steelers, and one of the teams we'll see in the final article, the 1988 to 2000 Bills) would have had their runs lengthened or shortened had ONLY the 1987 regular player games counted in the standings, rather than all of the games (both regular and replacement player games).  More specifically:

*Eagles, 1988 to 1996: would have had their run extended one additional year, starting in 1987; the Eagles finished 7-5 in regular player games (7-8 overall).

*Steelers, 1987 to 1997: would have had their run shortened by one season, with 1987 being excluded; the Steelers finished 6-6 with a negative DVOA in regular player games (8-7 overall) and had a losing record in 1986.

*Bills, 1988 to 2000: would have had their run extended one additional year, starting in 1987; the Bills finished 6-6 with a positive DVOA in regular player games (7-8 overall).

I thought about this issue last week, and for purposes of this series of articles, it is probably more appropriate to use the teams' overall records rather than their regular player games only records.  The 1987 playoff race was determined using the overall records, and the enjoyment or heartbreak fans experienced at the time was based on how the season was actually treated.

Points: 0

#82 by thok // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:51pm

I think you are vastly overestimating the actual heartbreak of the Garoppolo Super Bowl. The Niners just came off of a four year stretch of being 17-47, with no clear sign of a stability at QB; they looked as if they were the next coming of the post-Garcia Niners.  If you told me at the start of the season that the Niners would blow a lead to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, I'd be impressed that they somehow made the Super Bowl.

In contrast, the Harbaugh Super Bowl was actually heartbreaking.  Of course, this is subjective; I found the 1991 Niners among the most heartbreaking teams in franchise history, even in retrospect, but I expect that most won't understand the pain of a fluky year outside the playoffs by one of the better Niners teams because they couldn't beat the Falcons.

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#87 by lenny65 // Jun 21, 2022 - 11:12pm

Everyone thought a Marino-Bears Super Bowl rematch was preordained, but New England had other ideas. And that loss kind of kicked off the back ten seasons of Shula's career, where Miami kept putting together teams with huge, gaping flaws, most of which consisted of terrible, terrible defenses and mediocre-to-lousy running games. Squandering Marino's prime was the real heartbreak. 1992 and 1994 really stand out as seasons where they might have done something if only they fielded better defenses. IMO the 1992 AFC title game was the most galling loss during that period, followed by the divisional loss to SD when they squandered a 21-6 halftime lead.

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#15 by mehllageman56 // Jun 21, 2022 - 12:54pm

The 1998 Falcons ranked 6th in DVOA with a solid 22.9%, but ranked 2nd in weighted DVOA with 32.7%.  They were a really good team; I might add, one of their losses was to the Jets, while starting Steve DeBerg over 40 years old.

Points: 0

#19 by Raiderfan // Jun 21, 2022 - 1:46pm

Why, yes, it was illegal.

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#26 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:08pm

Aren't you guys pirates?

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#39 by serutan // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:01pm

As noted in the article,  the Raiders did walk the plank a time or two.

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#29 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:32pm

Insert discussion here not only have who touched the ball first, but if Harris caught the ball before it hit the ground, if instant replay was illegally used to determine the winner, if Phil Villapiano was illegally blocked, and if the NFL secretly destroyed footage which would prove all of the above.  

Points: 0

#31 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:41pm

It kind of amazes me that Al Davis didn't have anyone killed.

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#32 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:47pm

I know you probably have the final segment in the can already, but the Cowboys final drive in the '75 divisional game against the Vikings, where the "Hail Mary" term was coined, is worthy of play-by-play analysis. Beyond the extremely well executed push off by Pearson, dt Doug Sutherland was tackled on a bull rush, right in front of the zebra, that would have made it impossible for Staubach to get the ball downfield. Prior, to that play, there was an even worse call, on a 4th and long. Here's a great, funny, column by longtime Mpls. Startribune sportswriter, from a few days ago, that shows how that game still resonates with participants, 46 years later.



Points: 0

#37 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 2:53pm

Like the Immaculate Reception, the Hail Mary could go with a full article on it's own.  Huge pain like that is fractal, and you can dig deeper and deeper in.  If the 1970s Vikings appear, he said, pretending vaguely like he's avoiding spoilers when, no, obviously they show up somewhere in the top five, the Hail Mary would get a paragraph or two, certainly.

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#42 by Will Allen // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:11pm

The most Viking thing ever would be for them to come in 2nd in the Heartbreak Rankings.  Here's hoping!

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#47 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:32pm

I originally figured the Bills would end up #1 but it takes a while to grasp it doesn't matter in what order they lose the Super Bowls.

It's gonna be really interesting to see how BUF/DEN/MIN end up in order. I'd probably put it Vikings/Bills/Denver (then Philly lower, and I can't figure out who I'm missing at the moment). But it's also a fair point that the Bills do have a worse Super Bowl loss than the Vikings do, so there's that.

Points: 0

#48 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:41pm

Someone's going to be mad at me, no matter how the rankings end up shaking out.  I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

If you can't wait 24 hours for the results, you could go back and read all the dynasty pieces from two years ago for clues as to who my methods generally point to as the best teams without titles!

Points: 0

#55 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:51pm

You are forgetting the late 60s - early 80s Rams.

Who were to Minnesota and San Francisco what the Browns were to the Broncos or the Raiders were to the Steelers.

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#61 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 4:37pm

Oh, duh. Kept thinking of Super Bowl losses. So Vikings, Bills, Broncos, then probably Eagles, Rams. Tough call on the last two, Rams were a better team but the losses were worse and the Eagles stretch is longer. And I wouldn't be too surprised if Bills/Broncos swap as well. Trying not to think about it too hard.

Points: 0

#77 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:24pm

...standout stretch, from 1966 to 1980, is EXACTLY as many seasons long as the Eagles' 2000 to 2014 stretch.

I suspect the 1966 to 1980 Rams will rank ahead of the 2000 to 2014 Eagles because the Rams had more really good regular seasons (11-1-2, 10-3-1, 11-3, 12-2 twice, 12-4) than the Eagles did (13-3, 12-4 twice).  It is possible it may even nudge out the Bills for similar reasons, similar to how the 1963 to 1975 Raiders team discussed in this article had many great seasons even if they only appeared in one Super Bowl prior to their SB 11 win.

Also, the Broncos' run was SO long, from 1973 to 1996 and including all of their Super Bowl losses, plus a handful of other playoff loss and/or good seasons when they missed the playoffs (1981: 10-6; 1985: 11-5), that they will rank ahead of the Bills.  They may also rank ahead of the 1968 to 1982 Vikings due to the length of their run, though the Vikings had a higher peak (from 1969 to 1976/1977 in particular) in THEIR run.

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#53 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:48pm

It was entirely possible in the 70s and 80s to have gotten a Vikings-Broncos Super Bowl.

I mean hell, in their last two World Series, the Indians have managed to lose in 7 games to the Braves and the Cubs! Crazier things have happened.

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#67 by KnotMe // Jun 21, 2022 - 6:58pm

And the mention of Marino vs the 85 Bears makes me think about the greatest matchups that didn't happen. 

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#84 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:11pm

We whiffed on Favre-Brady and Brees-Brady twice each.

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#43 by serutan // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:16pm

Be interesting to see if the 60's Cowboys sneak in here.  I kinda think it's too short a period esp since SB 6 will cancel out SB 5, but I can't help remembering how they were the designated "can't win the big one" team between the Ice Bowl and  SB 6.

Points: 0

#78 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:25pm

...Cowboys' run was too short and ended by a Super Bowl win (penalty points in every season from 1967 to 1970) to qualify.

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#49 by BigRichie // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:41pm

Has Assassin Tatum played the ball rather than the man, or even just gone for the sure tackle rather than the KILL!!! shot, the ball doesn't ricochet like it did. And Raiders win.

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#44 by DenverLarry7 // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:21pm

In Order

Vikings 60's-70s

Bills 90's

Broncos 73-96

Cowboys 60's-70's

Rams 70's-80's

Points: 0

#56 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 3:53pm

Reid Eagles instead of the 60s Cowboys.

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#64 by Tutenkharnage // Jun 21, 2022 - 6:36pm

Their run will likely span from 1987 through 2000 and will include four SB losses, an AFCCG loss, and five other playoff losses by 3, 4, 6, 7, and 19 points. 

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#68 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:30pm

I think the Vikings will pip them. They match the Bills loss for loss, but the 1969 team was one of the greatest non-champs ever. They were like if the 1985 Bears got rocked by the Pats in the SB.

The were favored in more of their losses than the Bills were, I think.

Don’t discount the Broncos, either.

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#71 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:41pm

Honestly, I feel worse for the Bills, though. Wide Right only being what, 50 points more than a 10 point loss just doesn't feel right.

It's one thing to be a great team who gets pantsed in the playoffs: it's entirely different to be a great team and *inches* away.

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#72 by Pat // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:47pm

60s Cowboys aren't remotely here: the Super Bowl loss gets pantsed by the penalty (a Super Bowl *always* nerfs the adjacent years to zero) and even the year before likely barely climbs above zero. They wouldn't even cross 300, I think.

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#74 by Bryan Knowles // Jun 21, 2022 - 7:59pm

The '60s Cowboys do cross 300, but not much more than that.  Tom Landry's teams get their due from the slow fade after the Super Bowl glory, not from smashing their heads against Lombardi's Packers for years.

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#79 by CHIP72 // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:32pm

...in my opinion:

1 & 2) Broncos (1973 to 1996) and Vikings (1968 to 1982), unsure of the order

3) Bills (1988 to 2000) - it is possible the next team will actually rank higher

4) Rams (1966 to 1980)

5) Eagles (2000 to 2014)

The Broncos' run, a truly remarkable 24 seasons, encompasses two distinct eras - the Orange Crush Defense era (1973 to 1981) and the John Elway era (1983 to 1996).  (The Broncos finished 2-7 in 1982 but posted winning records in 1981 and 1983, making the playoffs in the latter season.)  Like the Vikings and Bills, it will include four, non-penalty point impacted Super Bowl losses, plus other assorted playoff seasons and non-playoff winning seasons.

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#88 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 22, 2022 - 12:35am

It'll be interesting. With the 100%, 95%, 90%, etc weighting on seasons there is a 20 season soft cap. So even if all 24 of those Denver years score, 4 of them will be at 0% weight. A Super Bowl loss being at least 100 points vs a Conference Championship being at most 100 points really gives those SB losing season a boost too.

That makes the Rams vs Eagles interesting.
I initially thought like you that the Rams with more sustained success were likely to beat the Eagles but I poked some at these two and now I'm not so sure.

The 1966 - 1980 Rams have 1 SB loss and 4 CCG losses as their likely top 5 seasons. They have 4 Div, and 1 WC loss for their other post season "bonus" pain seasons and then 4 seasons that will just be record and estimated DVOA. The potential "problem" they have is that their top regular season and post season pain don't line up well at the very top.

  • The 1979 SB loss, the most post season pain, was after a 9-7 season with 0.7% estimated DVOA and it wasn't a close SB at 31 - 19 so it's going to be like 110 points. I don't know if that even ends up as the most painful season in the run even with the 100+ points for the SB loss.
  • The 1973 team with the 12 - 2, 36.7% estimated DVOA regular season is likely the most regular season pain points (and likely more than any Eagles regular season too). The problem is a divisional loss is only 30 - 50 points and with a 27 - 16 loss that's only like a 38 point bonus, but it still is potentially more painful than 79 and the SB loss because of the regular season differences.
  • The 1974 postseason should be the 2nd most painful postseason after 79. A 14 - 10 CCG loss to the Vikings will be close to 100 points. It also suffers from one of the weaker regular seasons for the Rams teams that made the post season. It followed a 10 - 4, 15.4% estimated DVOA regular season which is fairly pedestrian for regular season pain.
  • The 1975 and 1976 CCG losses weren't as close so weaker post season pain points. However, 12 - 2, 26.2% and 10-3-1, 30.5% are very good pain generating regular seasons to pair with that solid post season pain. So the order of the top 5 most painful seasons for the Rams is not clear cut just from eyeballing it. They have 5 seasons that are all likely close to each other that get the 100 - 80% weighting.
  • There are 10 more seasons I didn't touch on here to get points from but with the decreasing weight per season and divisional round losses maxing at 50 points, losing out out on the more heavily weighted peak pain could be an issue when comparing to the Eagles.   

The 2000 - 2014 Eagles have 1 SB loss and 4 CCG losses as their likely top 5 seasons as well. They have 1 DIV, and 3 WC losses for their other post seasons. Their potential "advantage" is that the worst post season pain and some of the worst regular season pain point generation line up better.

  • The 2004 SB loss was after a 13-3,  23.6% DVOA season and a 24 - 21 SB loss is going to be a lot of pain as that one SB loss is going to be close to 200 points. That's also an above average regular season for pain maybe not their most regular season points but close.
  • The 2001 CCG loss was after an 11-5, 26.9% DVOA season. So their 2nd most painful post season with a 29-24 loss, close to 100 points, lines up with what is likely one of their top 5 regular seasons for pain points too.
  • The 2008 CCG loss is likely their 3rd worst post season, and like the 79 Rams it lines up with a weak regular season record but not a weak DVOA. 9-6-1 won't score a lot, but 30.6% DVOA (top of the league that year) will. 
  • The 02 and 03 CCG losses weren't as close so weaker post season pain points but 12-4 with 19 - 23% DVOA still gives very high regular season pain.
  • Then there are still 10 more seasons to pad the stats with. But it seems clear that the top 3 most painful seasons for the Eagles will beat out the top 3 most painful for the Rams. How their 4th and 5th most painful seasons compare is less clear. The Eagles just lined up painful post season success and painful post season failure better at their peak so getting full credit for that helps.

The the "other 10" seasons for both franchises could matter though. The Rams will get more post season pain in their 75 - 55% weighted seasons. They also have an extra post season appearance to help bolster one of their lower pain season that should help close the gap. Every Rams seasons should score too as 1972 with the 6-7-1 non scoring regular season record was still a 9.3% estimated DVOA which should still get them some points even if that season only gets 30% weighting.

The Eagles have 2 non scoring (2005, 2012) and 2 other (2007, 2011) very low scoring seasons. 

I just don't know if the extra points the Rams should get in the seasons 7 - 15 range will be enough to make up for the lead the Eagles will likely build in the seasons 1 - 3 range.

Like I said I think it will be very interesting and will be a very nice demonstration of how much peak pain matters in a long run of pain.

I haven't looked at the other top contenders yet to see how things line up for them at the top of the pain scale with the Bills, Broncos, and Vikings. I'll just wait for the article to help illustrate all that for me.


Points: 0

#92 by serutan // Jun 22, 2022 - 9:41am

 it wasn't a close SB at 31 - 19 

Not true.  Going into the 4th quarter, the Rams were leading IIRC 19-17; it's not like the Steelers blew them out and then gave up garbage time points.  By 1970s standards it was quite a competitive SB - these were the "Super Bore" days.


Re the Broncos:  They'll get pegged down by the 1997-1998 SB wins so my guess is they'll be third.

Points: 0

#94 by DisplacedPackerFan // Jun 22, 2022 - 2:43pm

By the methods of these rankings it's just final score, so 12 points isn't close. The actual game was closer, but when you are just dealing with end results and the scamming is 1 - 20 points difference, 12 isn't close. That's all I was getting at.

Points: 0

#81 by reddwarf // Jun 21, 2022 - 8:45pm

I don't see Denver above the Vikings and Bills.  They will get minimum points for Super Bowl losses because they always got obliterated.

On the other hand, if it really covers the whole 73 to 96 time period....that WAS a long time of "almost" being a winner.

At least we eventually got our Super Bowl wins.  As I get older I find that I really can't complain about being a Bronco fan despite living through that whole run.  They were usually pretty good though not great, so you always sort of felt that the Super Bowl was a bridge too far.  Losing to Dallas hurt--what a waste of a great defense that offensive implosion was (and full credit to the Doomsday defense).  But man, 8 turnovers by the Denver offense, and Dallas still struggled to get to 27 points.  But we were pretty much just happy to be there.  Then in the 80's...let's face it, pretty much everyone expected the Giants and 49'ers to win.  Getting pasted by the Redskins sucked since I don't think they were THAT much better than Denver.  That was the hardest loss because it was the one we thought we had a chance to win!

I'm sure time is part of the reason but I've honestly had more frustrations with the last 5 years than I remember in the 70's and 80's.  Denver isn't used to being flat out BAD for an extended period, there always seemed to be hope even if we really didn't think we should be favorites.  Spoiled fans like me don't know how to react when you don't even sniff the playoffs for years on end.

Points: 0

#85 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jun 21, 2022 - 10:17pm

Spoiled fans like me don't know how to react when you don't even sniff the playoffs for years on end.

You embrace the odd star, and failing that, just hate-watch.

Points: 0

#93 by andrew // Jun 22, 2022 - 9:50am

I'm gonna take a stab and say the Rams 1966-1980 are #3

Points: 0

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