NFL Week 11 historical matchups: The greatest Super Bowl matchup that didn't happen
NFL fans were deprived of watching these two great teams compete for a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 20th century
The Vikings and Broncos appeared destined to meet in the NFL's final Super Bowl of the 20th century. Denver, the defending Super Bowl champions, raced to a 13-0 start before ending the 1998 regular season with an AFC best 14 wins. The Broncos, led by future Hall of Famers John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe, dismantled the Dolphins in the divisional round before rallying from behind to beat the Jets in the AFC Championship Game to punch their ticket back to the Super Bowl.
Minnesota, a perennial playoff team during the decade, had an historic season in 1998, becoming the third team in NFL history to win 15 regular season games. While Hall of Fame defensive end John Randle anchored the league's sixth ranked scoring defense, Minnesota's offense set a then NFL record for most points scored in the regular season (556). The Vikings' offense included Pro Bowl running back Robert Smith, Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter and a rookie named Randy Moss, who torched NFL defenses throughout the '98 season while setting the NFL record for most touchdown receptions by a rookie (17). Minnesota's offense was led by Randall Cunningham, a backup the previous season who would earn All-Pro honors in '98 after throwing 34 touchdown passes.
The Vikings, a week after defeating Jake Plummer and the upstart Cardinals in the divisional round, held a 20-7 halftime lead over the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. But after Atlanta had closed the gap to seven points, Vikings kicker Gary Anderson, who had not missed a field goal attempt during the entire 1998 season, missed a 39-yard attempt that would have given Minnesota an insurmountable 10-point lead. The Falcons quickly capitalized on Anderson's miss, tying the score and forcing overtime. Atlanta pulled off the giant upset after forcing a Vikings punt on the first possession of overtime.
Davis, who -- along with the rest of the Mile High Stadium crowd during the beginning of that year's AFC Championship Game -- watched the Falcons pull off the upset over the Vikings, knew that his had dodged a major bullet after Minnesota's stunning loss.
"We thought we had won the Super Bowl already," Davis said in an NFL Films documentary.
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Instead of watching the NFL's two greatest teams square off in Super Bowl XXXIII, fans were treated to a snooze fest, as the Broncos made quick work of the Falcons while winning their second consecutive Super Bowl.
While fans were denied the chance at watching the Vikings and Broncos play in the Super Bowl, here are four Week 11 historical matchups that did come to fruition.
Detroit made the playoffs five times in Barry Sanders' decade with the Lions. Sanders, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the third leading rusher in NFL history, enjoyed a play of the ages in the only playoff victory the Lions won during his time in the Motor City.
In the divisional round of the 1991 playoffs, the NFL's two best running backs would face off when Sanders and the Lions hosted Emmitt Smith and the up and coming Cowboys. While Sanders was considered the game's best running back, Smith was beginning to make his way into the conversation.
"It mattered that I was playing against Emmitt," Sanders told NFL Films. "He had certainly made a name for himself at that point, and I certainly wanted to put my best foot forward."
Determined not to let Sanders beat them, the Cowboys stacked the box in the first half and dared the Lions to throw. Dallas' plan partially succeeded; while Sanders was held in check, the Lions took a 17-6 lead into intermission. But after a quiet first half, Sanders turned in the play of the game in the second half while helping the Lions blowout the Cowboys.
"I was saying to myself, he made [the Cowboys' defense] look like straight-up fools," Smith said with a laugh, recalling Sanders' remarkable run two decades later. Smith and the Cowboys would be smiling one year later, however, as Dallas began their run of three Super Bowl victories in a four-year span.
Bears 46 defense punches Super Bowl ticket
The '85 Bears' defense had many memorable moments during their Super Bowl winning season. But their performance over the Rams in the NFC Championship Game may be their greatest.
The Rams came into Chicago a week after shutting out the Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. Eric Dickerson, the Rams Hall of Fame running back who a year earlier broke the NFL single season rushing record, had rushed for 248 yards and two touchdowns in L.A.'s 20-0 victory over Dallas. The Bears' defense, led by Hall of Famers Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and Dan Hampton, along with Pro Bowlers Steve McMichael, Otis Wilson, and Dave Duerson, shut out Phil Simms and the rest of the Giants' offense the previous week in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Dickerson and the Rams would fare no better against Chicago's 46 defense. With a trip to Super Bowl XX in the balance, the Bears' ferocious defense held Dickerson to just 46 yards on 17 carries. Dickerson also fumbled twice as the Bears kept the Rams' offense off the scoreboard.
With a 17-0 lead late in the game, the Bears' defense turned in the game's -- and possibly, the season's -- most memorable play.
"The best thing about that day was the last fumble," Singletary told NFL Films. "I can still see it in slow motion. Wilber Marshall picks up the ball, the Fridge is leading him down the field and we all are just winning with him."
"You can't write a script for this," added Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. "Just the way it all ended."
Chicago capped off its storybook season with a dominant, 46-10 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. The win not only gave the Bears their first Super Bowl title, it cemented their legacy as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
The highs and lows of Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson, the only athlete in history to be named to both the MLB and NFL All-Star teams, had some of his greatest moments as a Los Angeles Raider against the Bengals. In two regular season games against the Bengals, Jackson rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries that included an 88-yard run and this 92-yard run in 1989.
Ironically, Jackson's lowest moment also came against Cincinnati in the 1990 playoffs. Playing in his first-ever playoff game, Jackson started the game off strong, gaining 77 yards on six carries that included a 34-yard run that would ultimately be the final play of his NFL career. On the play, Jackson, who was just 28-years-old at the time, sustained a severe hip injury that would later require a hip replacement, thus ending his time in professional football.
With Jackson on the sideline, Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen, who had moved to fullback after the Raiders acquired Jackson in 1987, came to the Raiders' aid, rushing for 140 yards as Los Angeles defeated the Bengals, 20-10. And while Jackson would eventually make a comeback in professional baseball, the Bengals, who defeated the Oilers in the previous week in the wild card round, have yet to win another playoff game since.
A Super Bowl split
The Patriots and Eagles are two of just 12 teams that have faced off against the same foe in multiple Super Bowls. New England and Philadelphia are also just two of four teams (the Dolphins and Redskins) to split their two Super Bowl games against one another.
New England won the first matchup, as Tom Brady, game MVP Deion Branch (11 catches for 133 yards) and safety Rodney Harrison (two interceptions) helped the Patriots edge quarterback Donovan McNabb, receiver Terrell Owens, safety Brian Dawkins and the rest of the talented Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Patriots specifically had issues with Owens, who had broken a leg while also tearing a ligament in his right ankle less than two months before the game. Despite playing on just one good leg, Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards while helping the Eagles tie the score heading into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots took the lead for good with 13:49 to go on Corey Dillon's two-yard touchdown run. The drive's key play was fellow running back Kevin Faulk, who gained 47 yards on four touches. After the Patriots' defense forcing a quick three-and-out, a 19-yard completion from Brady to Branch, as well as 15-yard, roughing the passer penalty on the play, set up Adam Vinatieri's 22-yard field goal.
The Eagles would rally to make it a three-point game, ultimately ran out of the time, as McNabb's final throw of the game -- a desperation heave in the shadow of his own end zone -- was picked off by Harrison to secure the Patriots' third Super Bowl win in a four-year span.
While New England would appear in four more Super Bowls, Philadelphia had to win 13 years before returning to the Super Bowl, where they would again face the Patriots -- the defending champions -- in Super Bowl LII. Despite Brady throwing for a Super Bowl record 505 yards, the best quarterback on this night was Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who earned MVP honors after going 28-of-43 for 373 yards with three touchdown passes. Foles was also part of one of the most memorable plays in the Super Bowl history: the "Philly Special".
The touchdown would help the underdog Eagles defeat the Patriots, 41-33, as Philadelphia won their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
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