NFL Game Plan Gifts From The 1970s

There have been two documented cases that I know of during the 1970s where a team’s gameplan has been found by their opposing team on the eve of a game. In 1974, in one of the most exciting playoff games in NFL history, the Oakland Raiders came from behind to defeat the defending world champion Miami Dolphins, 28-26.

But on the day before that epic contest, the Oakland Raiders’ gameplan was discovered by someone in the Miami organization. It might have been a Dolphins player or a coach who found the group of papers somewhere at the Oakland Coliseum…I don’t really know who came up with this “gift.”

1974 Game Plan Gift A Fake?

 The person who found this unexpected gift presented it to Dolphins head coach, Don Shula. In a recent interview with Miami offensive guard Larry Little, Shula did not even look at it. But he did make a statement about it.

“Someone on our team or on our staff found it,” Little said, “and they gave the game plan to Shula. And Shula said to that person, ‘No…we don’t do that. We deal with our own game plan. We don’t look at their stuff.’ And that just showed the kind of integrity that our coach had.”

The game plan in all reality was mistakenly left by an Oakland player or coach. Some speculation, however, can legitimately be offered that the Raiders’ game plan was a false game plan…a ruse to see if Miami would study it and prepare for it.
If it was a false document, the Dolphins and their head coach did not take the bait.

We all know how that game turned out, with Oakland winning and moving on to the 1974 AFC Championship Game. But one must wonder what might have happened if Miami had decided to study that game plan and prepared themselves accordingly. History and the result of that game might have been different.

Ah, the what if’s of pro football history.

There was certainly no speculation as to the results of a similar case later in a game in New England in a game on September 3, 1978, between the Redskins and the host Patriots. But this contest certainly did not favor the home team. Not just one but several copies of New England’s game plan were mysteriously left in of all places, the visiting team’s locker room at Schaeffer Stadium!

Talk about a gift! Someone really wanted the Redskins to win this game. Washington did, in fact, come out on top by a score of 16-14. Unlike the previous example between the Dolphins and the Raiders, the Redskins team had no such scruples when it came to reading New England’s game plan. Washington head coach Jack Pardee and his coaching staff quickly helped their players to understand the clues and the plays in the discovered New England game plans.

Was that a dishonest action? Yeah…you could say that it was. It certainly wasn’t a moral act, to be sure. But it proved to be a successful decision, because knowing what your opponent is going to run on many given plays was very helpful to the Redskins defense.

“The Redskins seemed to know every play that we were going to run,” said New England quarterback Steve Grogan after the game. “We’d run a play and they’d be there waiting for us,” Grogan went on to say. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that the Washington coaches did not even consider if the New England game plan that they discovered was a false one or not.

If they had, it might have given them some measure of hesitation on using the information. But they threw caution to the wind, and they used the information. It resulted in a victory for them against a team that would go on to win a division championship that year.

In conclusion, opportunity knocked for both the 1974 Miami Dolphins and the 1978 Washington Redskins. Both of these teams, however, did not benefit from their game plan gifts.

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Trivia Question:

True or False: Despite losing to the Redskins, the Patriots still managed to out gain Washington in total yardage in their game on September 3, 1978.

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    Host of Pro Football in the 1970s - Joe Zagorski

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