Today we have Super Bowl XVIII, which was held on January 22, 1984, at the Old Sombrero, Tampa Stadium, between the AFC champion Los Angeles Raiders and the NFC champion Washington Redskins. If you’re looking for the full story of this 1983 season, pick up my Great Eighties book and you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about that year and the rest of the eighties.
As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is, who broke Marcus Allen’s record for the longest run in Super Bowl history? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.
Prelude to Super Bowl XVIII
The Los Angeles Raiders were trying to recover from an early exit in the playoffs last season after having only one regular-season loss. They had a bit of a bumpy ride at times during this 1983 season. They lost a shootout to the Washington Redskins 37-35, and they were swept at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. But they bounced back with five straight wins, and they finished the season 12-4 with the #1 seed in the AFC.
The Raiders had no problem in the playoffs this time around. They beat AFC Central champion Pittsburgh 38-10. This should have set up a titanic clash with the #2-seeded Miami Dolphins, but wild card Seattle upset them. That meant that L.A. would get a third try at beating the Seahawks. This time they did, by a 30-14 score, and they were on to their fourth Super Bowl and first since moving to L.A.
The Raiders were led by quarterback Jim Plunkett, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He did have 18 interceptions, though, so his passer rating was only 82.7. He had help in running back Marcus Allen, who ran for just over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Frank Hawkins was a good second back, rushing for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. The Raiders’ top two receivers weren’t even receivers at all! They were tight end, Todd Christensen, with 92 for 1,247 and 12 TDs, and Allen for 68 for 590 and two touchdowns. The top wide receiver on the team was Cliff Branch, who had 39 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns. Leading the team in sacks was Howie Long with 13, and Vann McElroy led in interceptions with eight.
The Washington Redskins started out the 1983 season with a stinging loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Reigning NFL MVP Mark Moseley missed some clutch kicks that cost his team the game. The ‘Skins then bounced back with five wins in a row. Their seventh game, at Green Bay, was one of the most famous in NFL history. In the highest-scoring game on Monday Night Football ever, the ‘Skins lost 48-47 when Moseley again missed a game-winning field goal. (This record was later broken in 2019.) The Redskins then won nine games in a row, including the “No! Danny! No!” game over the Cowboys in Week 15. They went into the playoffs at 14-2.
The Redskins easily beat the Rams 51-7 in the divisional round, then got into a real showdown in the NFC Championship Game with the 49ers. The ‘Skins took the early lead, then San Francisco battled back to tie it. On the final drive, the 49ers got called for several questionable pass interference penalties. Those led to the game-winning field goal, which Moseley did make this time to send the Redskins to Super Bowl XVIII with a 24-21 victory.
This Redskins team scored the most points in NFL history in a regular season with 541, a record that would stand for 15 years until the 1998 Minnesota Vikings broke it. Quarterback Joe Theismann led the way with 3,714 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, as opposed to just 11 interceptions. Running back John Riggins was still a workhorse, rushing for 1,347 yards and 24 touchdowns. Receiver Charlie Brown caught 78 passes for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the team in all three categories. On defense, Mark Murphy led with nine interceptions, and three Redskins had ten or more sacks: Dave Butz, Dexter Manley, and Tony McGee.
Super Bowl XVIII: First Quarter
The Raiders won the toss and started the game with the ball. Allen ran for five yards, then caught a pass for a first down. After that, Plunkett passed to running back Kenny King on third down, but he came up short of the first down, and the Raiders had to punt.
Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs made it clear from the start how he planned on winning this game: running John Riggins. On the first three plays, Riggins carried the ball each time, getting a first down after the third carry. However, then the game plan changed. Theismann threw three passes in a row, all incompletions. Punter Jeff Hayes went back to kick, but he had it blocked by the Raiders’ Derrick Jensen. Jensen fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, and L.A. had the early 7-0 lead.
The Redskins went three-and-out, but they got the ball right back when the punt hit Raiders defensive back Ted Watts and defensive back Greg Williams recovered. Starting at the Los Angeles 42, Riggins took a carry and got a first down at the 31. Running back Joe Washington got the ball as far as the 27, but the ‘Skins settled for a field goal attempt. Moseley missed his 44-yard attempt wide to the left, and the score remained the same.
King started the next drive out with a ten-yard run and a seven-yard catch. Plunkett then threw to Christensen for a first down at the Washington 44. After that, the Raiders couldn’t move the ball, and they had to punt. Theismann completed a pass to Joe Washington for ten yards, but then the Redskins had to punt as well.
Super Bowl XVIII: Second Quarter
Allen ripped off a 17-yard run into Washington territory before the Raiders were stopped and forced to punt at the beginning of the second quarter. Christensen was also the Raiders’ long snapper, and this one he launched over punter Ray Guy’s head. But Guy leaped into the air, caught the bad snap with one hand, then punted the ball for a touchback.
Theismann completed a pass to Washington for a first down, before Raiders linebacker Matt Millen sacked him and forced the ‘Skins to punt. Plunkett heaved a pass downfield, which Branch caught for a 50-yard gain. Two plays later, Plunkett threw another pass to Branch, finding him for a 12-yard touchdown. The Raiders now had a 14-0 lead.
Raiders linebacker Rod Martin, the hero of Super Bowl XV, sacked Theismann. Theismann got a first down, though, throwing to receiver Alvin Garrett for a first down at the 30. He then fired a screen to tight end Clint Didier, who took it for 18 yards. Riggins picked up the next two first downs, before Raiders defensive back Lester Hayes got called for pass interference. Theismann hit Didier for another 20 yards, but the Redskins drive died at the 8. Moseley made a 24-yard field goal to put the Redskins on the board.
The Raiders put together a good drive at the end of the first half. Allen took a pitch for ten yards, and Plunkett threw to Hawkins for a first down. Christensen hauled one in for 14 yards, and Branch caught one for another seven. However, a holding penalty set the Raiders back, and they ended up punting. Guy bounced the ball down to the 12.
Gibbs got a little too cute at the end of the half. Instead of sitting on the ball and going into the half with a 14-3 deficit, he instead chose to have Theismann throw a little screen pass. The problem? The Redskins had run this exact play in this exact scenario earlier in the season against the Raiders. L.A. was ready for it.
Linebacker Jack Squirek came in the game, and he read Theismann perfectly, jumping in front of his screen pass, picking it off, and returning it five yards for a touchdown. What could have been a manageable first-half deficit had swelled into a 21-3 advantage for Los Angeles.
Super Bowl XVIII: Third Quarter
In the second half, the Redskins came out with all guns blazing. Garrett returned the kickoff 30 yards to the 35. Theismann then threw to Brown for the first time all day, and he picked up 23 yards. A couple of Riggins runs later, Theismann fired to running back Nick Giaquinto for 14 yards to the Los Angeles 26. Theismann hit Didier for another first down before Riggins ran the ball on four consecutive plays. On the final of those runs, Riggins plowed into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. Raiders tight end Don Hasselbeck blocked the extra point, though, and the Raiders remained up by 12.
The Raiders wasted no time in responding. Plunkett threw a long ball for receiver Malcolm Barnwell, drawing a pass interference flag on defensive back Darrell Green. With good field position now, Plunkett threw to Christensen for a first down inside the 20. He converted a third down with a pass to Hawkins down to the 5, and two plays later Allen ran up the middle for a touchdown to put the Raiders ahead 28-9.
The Redskins started the next drive with a flea flicker, but Theismann was forced to settle for a short pass to Riggins for four yards. The Redskins ended up going three-and-out. Plunkett started the new L.A. drive with a ten-yard pass to Allen, but the Raiders too had to punt. Los Angeles then quickly forced a three-and-out with a sack by defensive tackle Bill Pickel.
It looked like the ‘Skins were going to get a big break when Branch fumbled away a reception and Anthony Washington recovered for Washington. But after a Theismann pass to Didier, the ‘Skins were stopped on three runs in a row. The last one was a fourth-and-one play of the same ilk as the one Riggins had broken for a touchdown in Super Bowl XVII. This time around, though, he was stuffed.
That opened things up for Marcus Allen to rip off the longest run in Super Bowl history, at least at the time. He took a handoff and started to his left, but he found nothing there. So, he came back around to his right, then burst through a hole and downfield. Soon, he was in the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown. Los Angeles had a 35-9 lead after three quarters, and this one was all but over.
Super Bowl XVIII: Fourth Quarter
The fourth quarter had a few big plays, but none of them affected the result of this game. Theismann completed a 60-yard bomb to Brown, but later in that drive, he was sacked by defensive back Mike Davis. He fumbled, and Rod Martin recovered for Los Angeles. Later in the quarter, Theismann had a pass picked off by defensive back Mike Haynes.
After another good run by Allen which put him over the top for a Super Bowl record in rushing yards, the Raiders drove the ball into field goal range. Kicker Chris Bahr made a 21-yard field goal. The Raiders went on to win Super Bowl XVIII, 38-9.
Super Bowl XVIII: Aftermath and Awards
Allen was named MVP for his 191-yard record-breaking performance in this game. Truth be told, while he did have two touchdown runs, they both came with the Raiders already holding a big lead. So, if I were to give out an MVP award to someone else, I’d have to give it to Squirek. His pick-six completely changed the game. Imagine if he doesn’t get that and the Redskins make it 14-9 early in the third quarter. Do you think that might have been a different game? Squirek made only one play, but it was the most important one.
For the losing team, I’d pick Anthony Washington as the best player on the Redskins on this day. He forced a fumble off Branch, which was pretty much the only good thing that happened to the ‘Skins in this game. There really isn’t anyone else to give it to. Riggins? No, he couldn’t pick up that fourth-and-one when his team needed it most. Theismann? No, he threw the ball 35 times and only completed 16 of them with two interceptions. Maybe Charlie Brown for his 93 yards? Yeah, I’m going with Washington instead.
The least valuable player? This time I won’t give it to a player. I’ll give it to Joe Gibbs for his poor decision to throw that screen at the end of the half when everyone on the other sideline knew it was coming. Raiders head coach Tom Flores, who won his second Super Bowl, probably couldn’t believe what good fortune it was for Gibbs to run that play and give Los Angeles a free seven points. Sorry, Gibbs, but you’ll get full redemption in a few seasons from now.
The biggest play of the game, of course, we’ve talked about, Squirek’s pick-six at the end of the first half. Allen’s big run came with the game out of reach. As fun as it was to watch, it really didn’t affect the outcome of the game. As for the biggest play, no one remembers, how about the pass interference call on Green on the Raiders’ first drive of the second half?
That gave the Raiders great field position, which they took advantage of shortly afterward. The Raiders probably still win without scoring that touchdown, but that pass interference flag made the touchdown happen.
Who’s the best player of this game you’ve never heard of? How about defensive tackle Bill Pickel? He had a sack while helping the Raiders defense pressure Theismann into six sacks on the day. The Raiders forced the Redskins into 50 yards of losses from their half-dozen sacks, and Pickel was a big force in causing most of those.
Marcus Allen’s 74-yard touchdown run stood as the longest run in Super Bowl history for 22 years. In Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker ripped off a 75-yard run for a touchdown, breaking his record. That’s the answer to today’s pop quiz. Parker’s record still stands.
Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why. Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey. He’s an author of multiple NFL books. You can purchase below.
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