This past week our host Stats Guy, was ripped a new one by the guys on the show for his inability to predict anything. I mean he couldn’t predict a December cold snap in Alaska. This inspired me. Over the last 30 NFL seasons what teams performed above and beyond what the oddsmakers thought they’d do?
I give you the six longest shots to win a Super Bowl since 1977.
1980 Oakland Raiders
Preseason Super Bowl odds 35:1
This squad entered the season without anyone giving them much thought as a Super Bowl contender. The Raiders brought in Dan Pastorini from the Houston Oilers (I miss that helmet) to quarterback. Pastorini may have had trouble with the time change as the Raiders went 2-2 in their first four games and were trailing the Chiefs in game five when Pastorini suffered a season-ending leg injury. The Raiders turned to journeyman quarterback, Jim Plunkett. Plunkett’s season debut was inauspicious as he put up a Nathan Peterman-worthy five INTs after replacing Pastorini and the 31-17 loss dropped the Raiders to 2-3. Raider Nation was preparing to store those spiked shoulder pads until next season.
A funny thing happened while they were figuring out how you bubble wrap spikes. Plunkett found a groove. The Raiders won their next six games and seven of eight. Two road wins to close out the regular season put them at 11-5 and into the wild card. They’d beat the Oilers at home in the wild card round and then upset the original Cleveland Browns on the road, 14-12 , to advance to the conference final in San Diego. Plunkett led a 21-point first quarter outburst with TD passes to Raymond Chester and Kenny King sandwiched around a rare five yard TD run of his own. A second quarter Mark van Eeghen run pushed the lead to 28-7. The Raiders staved off 17 unanswered points by the Chargers and won 34-27 putting them into the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. With a 7-0 lead, Plunkett under duress found Kenny King out of the backfield on a short pass. King made the grab and scampered the rest of the way for an 80-yard touchdown. The Eagles never recovered and the Raiders took home the Lombardi, 27-10.
1982 Washington Redskins
Preseason Super Bowl odds 35:1
This wasn’t a stellar time for the NFL. Thanks to a 57-day midseason players’ strike the season was reduced from 16 games to nine. The Redskins had gotten off to a good start as Joe Theismann led them to a 2-0 start before the strike. They didn’t seem to lose a beat as they came back and won their first two after the strike before taking a loss to the Cowboys. After scraping out wins at St. Louis against the Cardinals and at home against the Giants, things really took off for the ‘Skins as they cruised to victory in their final two regular season games, carrying an 8-1 record into the playoffs. Thanks to the strike, a special playoff format was instituted. The best eight records from each conference were chosen to participate in a “Super Bowl Tournament.”
The Redskins would crush the Lions in the round of 16 and then took care of the Vikings in the second round. The NFC title game would be played against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas would keep it close and trailed 24-17 in the fourth quarter when Darryl Grant intercepted a tipped Gary Hogeboom (yes THE Gary Hogeboom) screen pass and taking it 10 yards for a TD that put the ‘Skins up 31-17 with 6:55 left in the game. It would be the final score and the Redskins were headed to Pasadena to play the Miami Dolphins. A 76-yard TD pass from David Woodley to Jimmy Cefalo put the ‘Skins in an early hole. After tying the game at 10 in the second quarter, Fulton Walker returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards and the Fish (Fish. Dolphins are mammals. Come on, people!) carried a 17-10 lead to the locker room. A short Mark Moseley FG, one of the last of the straight on, built like a fire hydrant kickers, cut the Miami lead to four. In the 4th quarter, John Riggins, on his way to 166 yards and a Super Bowl MVP award, took a handoff and went 43 yards on 4th and 1 to put the ‘Skins ahead for good with ten minutes to play. A Joe Theismann pass to Charlie Brown, who obviously is better at catching footballs than kicking them, ended the scoring and the ‘Skins had a 27-17 win and a Super Bowl ring. You know I like this Super Bowl tournament thing. Maybe we can have this back. They could have a committee decide who belongs….um forget I even mentioned this.
2017 Philadelphia Eagles
Preseason Super Bowl odds 40:1)
The Eagles were coming off of back-to-back losing seasons. With Doug Pederson in his second season as head coach, 2017 saw a quarterback from North Dakota State named Carson Wentz take the helm. The Prince Harry lookalike was a major find for the Eagles in the 2016 draft after they dumped Sam Bradford on the Vikings (Seriously, the dude is more fragile than a leg lamp. Why, Vikings? Why?). Once things got going, they couldn’t be slowed down even with a thick layer of Cheese Wiz. Wentz commanded the Eagles to wins in 11 of their first 13 games. However during win number 11 against the Rams, Wentz tore his ACL and his season was done. Enter Nick Foles. Foles had been with the Eagles from 2012 through 2014 winning 15 of his 24 starts. The fans were skeptical like someone had offered them actual cheese for their Pat’s or Geno’s (personally I like Tony Luke’s but that’s for another time). They needed not worry as Foles finished out the regular season winning his first two starts, the only loss coming in a meaningless season finale against the Cowboys. But surely Foles would crumble in the playoffs like a Philly pretzel left out in the sun for three days.
Thanks to a crazy deflected pass at the end of the first half of the Eagles playoff game against the Falcons that led to a Jake Elliott 53-yard field goal (didn’t think I’d remember that, did you), the Eagles were up five instead of two late in the 4th quarter. The Falcons had a 4th and goal on the two when Matt Ryan scrambled and threw a very catchable pass towards Julio Jones that went through his fingers for an incompletion. Had the deflection not taken place that’s a field goal attempt and since Blair Walsh wasn’t kicking for the Falcons, history probably doesn’t get made three weeks later when the Eagles, after trouncing the Vikings in the NFC title game, pulled off a Philly Special and finally won a Super Bowl with a 41-33 win over the Patriots. This would mark the one and only time MZE has ever rooted for the Eagles to win anything.
1981 San Francisco 49ers
Preseason Super Bowl odds 50:1
The 49ers had never really been thought of much in the team’s history. In 1979 they drafted a quarterback out of Notre Dame named Joe Montana. His first two seasons were spent getting assimilated to the league. He made just eight starts with the Niners winning just two of them. He finally got his chance to take over in 1981 and take over he did. He started off slow as the team was just 1-2 through three games. Before you could say, “San Francisco treat,” he would turn things around and the Niners took 12 of their next 13 games heading into the playoffs. They’d take the Giants down 38-24 in the divisional round. The NFC Championship would be the game that launched the legend that is Joe Montana (unlike a more recent QB who needed an obscure rule that may be part of a conspiracy theory to launch his but more on that later).
With 58 seconds left in the game on 3rd and three from the six, Montana rolled right under pressure from the Cowboys defense. He threw to the back corner of the end zone. At first glance it looked like a throw away to get one last shot. However from out of nowhere came Dwight Clark, reaching up as high as he could, to make the grab that tied the game. This was before the extra point became interesting so the Ray Wersching kick was a foregone conclusion and the Niners headed to the Super Bowl to face the Bengals with a 28-27 win. While the final score was 26-21 the outcome was never truly in doubt. To date, no former Notre Dame QB has done anything near what Joe Montana did in the NFL. Just sayin’.
2001 New England Patriots
Preseason Super Bowl odds 60:1
The New England Patriots were not always the juggernaut you see today. They actually began the 21st century with a 5-11 season. Things didn’t start off well for 2001 either as they suffered losses to the Bengals and Jets to begin 0-2. In that Jets game starter, Drew Bledsoe, suffered a sheared blood vessel, which nearly killed him. Drew would survive but his job was gone as Lord Volde...I mean Tom Brady stepped in and took over. The Patriots went 11-3 behind Brady, including two wins in overtime, earning them a playoff berth. The divisional round saw them facing the Raiders on a snowy night in Foxborough.
Trailing by three with 2:05 left, Brady and the Pats took over. They were driving when Charles Woodson came off the corner. He hit Brady dislodging the ball from his grasp. Raiders linebacker, Greg Biekert, fell on it and the Raiders looked like they’d hang on to win. However after review, it was determined that Brady’s arm was going forward when the ball came out, although it sure looked like he was pulling the ball into his chest. The fumble was overturned and the Patriots kept the ball. Adam Vinatieiri would hit a game-tying field goal and the game headed to overtime. This was before the current overtime rules went into effect. The Pats took the ball down the field and Vinatieri hit the game-winning field goal putting the Patriots into the AFC title game. A close win over the Steelers, who just can’t seem to beat New England, set up a matchup with the Rams. Despite blowing a 17-3 lead in the 4th quarter, The Patriots would win their first ring under Brady on a 48-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. For Pats fans the dynasty began with a tuck rule. For the rest of us, it’s known as the Motherfu…never mind.
1999 St. Louis Rams
Preseason Super Bowl odds 150:1
The nine seasons prior to 1999 were awful for the Rams franchise. They had a combined record of 45-99 and had four different head coaches in that span. Dick Vermeil was in his third season. Vermeil went out and signed Trent Green to a four-year, $17.5 million contract based on his 1998 season with the Washington Redskins. Vermeil also plucked Marshall Faulk away from the Colts and drafted Torry Holt with the sixth pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Things were looking up until the team’s third preseason game. Chargers’ safety, Rodney Harrison, came on a safety blitz and blew up the ligaments in Green’s knee, ending his season and probably causing Vermeil to shed a few tears. Rams’ fans began contemplating swan dives from the St. Louis arch. Enter, “The Stockboy.” Kurt Warner had spent time in NFL Europe and the Arena League and worked stocking shelves at an Iowa grocery store for extra cash. Now he was the Rams’ starting quarterback. The Rams won their first six games, averaging over 36 points per game and, “The Greatest Show on Turf,” was born. They’d lose two in a row before rattling off seven straight wins. A loss on the final day of the regular season left them with a 13-3 record and a divisional round date with the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota led 17-14 at the half before the Rams ran off 28 straight points. The Vikings, led by Jeff George (yep, he actually suited up for the Vikings), scored 20 points in the final five minutes to make it look close but the Rams advanced to the NFC title game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It would be an unusual game for these Rams as they trailed 6-5 after a Martin Gramatica field goal early in the fourth quarter. It took a pass from Warner to Ricky Proehl with just under five minutes left to put the Rams ahead to stay. They’d meet the Tennessee Titans in Atlanta for the Super Bowl. The Rams would score the first 16 points of the game while the Titans would score the next 16. With just under two minutes to play, Warner found Isaac Bruce streaking down the right sidelines. A great adjustment by Bruce and 73 yards later the Rams had a 23-16 lead. The Titans would drive down to the Rams 10-yard line. On the final play, Steve McNair found Kevin Dyson on a slant route. Mike Jones would make a game-saving tackle one-yard shy of the goal line (although looking at replays it looked more like three yards) and the Rams had their ring. If you’d bet $1,000 on the Rams that August, you’d have taken home a cool $150Gs. Think of the beer you could buy!
Those are the six biggest preseason underdogs to win the Super Bowl so Stats Guy, don’t feel too bad. At least you have your health, right?
Please check out the blogs of my colleagues, Blitzed Barkeep and Blitzed Scout. They do great work.
Until next time, separate your beer cans from your beer bottles, go ahead and wear those jerseys, and feel free to hate on the tuck rule.
Mike Zimmer's Ears is a Minnesota Vikings fan from Pennsylvania and is a #TeamBlitzed All Pro. You can follow him on Twitter.