Friday, October 3, 2014

Washington vs. San Francisco in the Postseason

Madison Bumgarner's four-hit shutout of Pittsburgh propelled the Giants to the NLDS, where they'll face the 96-win top-seeded Washington Nationals. Stephen Strasburg and Jake Peavy face off to start the first Giants-Nats playoff meeting and the sixth between these two cities in the four major sports.

1975 NBA Finals

Let's start with the one championship showdown before moving to the four NFL games. Before the 1975 season, the Golden State Warriors traded franchise mainstay and future Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond to the Bulls for Clifford Ray and a first-round draft pick (which they would later use on Joe Bryant, Kobe's dad). Ray and Rookie of the Year Jamaal Wilkes were among the supporting cast behind Rick Barry and his 30.6 points per game as the Warriors led the West with 48 wins. They beat the Sonics and Bulls in the playoffs to reach the Finals, where they'd be big underdogs against whoever came out of the East.

The Washington Bullets, led by Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Phil Chenier, won 60 games during the regular season and grinded out playoff victories over the Buffalo Braves and the 60-win defending-champion Celtics to claim the East title.

The Warriors played their home games in Oakland, but with their arena unavailable during the Finals, they played at the Cow Palace (what a name!) in nearby Daly City. But since that also had a scheduling conflict, the Bullets had an unusual choice for home-court advantage. They could have opted to play Game One on the road, then come home for three straight, but they went with a 1-2-2-1-1 format so they could open at home.

They were quickly up against the ropes after Barry scored 24 points and rookie Phil Smith (7.7 ppg during the season) added another 20 to help the Warriors overcome a 16-point deficit and snag a 101-95 upset in the opener.

The next game brought another Bullets double-digit lead and another Warriors comeback. Barry led the way with 36 points as Golden State eked out a 92-91 victory. Six Warriors scored in double figures in Game Three, with Barry topping himself with 38 points, 14 of them coming on 16 of his famous underhand free-throw attempts.

The Game Four coronation back east would be an eventful one. The Bullets held an early 14-point lead before Mike Riordan's hard foul on Barry sent Warriors coach Al Attles onto the court in anger, resulting in his ejection. Once again, Golden State crawled out of the hole. Barry scored 20 points and Butch Beard put in 16, including the last seven of the game. The Warriors held on for a 96-95 win and perhaps the biggest Finals upset in NBA history.

Biggest NBA Finals Upsets by Regular-Season Win Differential

Year Favorite W Underdog W Margin Finals
1975 Washington Bullets 60 Golden State Warriors 48 12 Warriors 4-0
1995 Orlando Magic 57 Houston Rockets 47 10 Rockets 4-0
1958 Boston Celtics 49 St. Louis Hawks 41 8 Hawks 4-2
2006 Dallas Mavericks 60 Miami Heat 52 8 Heat 4-2

1971 NFC Divisional Round

The 9-5 49ers won the West Division while new head coach George Allen guided Washington to the wild card and their first playoff berth since 1945.

Down 10-3 at home in the second half, 49ers QB John Brodie hit Gene Washington with a 78-yard touchdown to tie the game, then put San Francisco in front later in the third quarter with a two-yard pass to Bob Windsor. Up 17-13 in the fourth, the 49ers put the game away when Bob Hoskins (no, not that Bob Hoskins) recovered a botched punt snap in the end zone for a touchdown. San Francisco won 24-20 to advance to the NFC title game, but suffered the second of three straight playoff defeats to the Cowboys.

1983 NFC Championship

This was the only Washington victory of the four head-to-head playoff games, but it got them to the Super Bowl. They were defending champions, held the league's best record at 14-2 and just smoked the Rams 51-7 in the divisional round. San Francisco went 10-6 and edged the Lions in their first playoff game 24-23.

It was all Hogs in the first three quarters as two short John Riggins dives and Joe Theismann's 70-yard score to Charlie Brown made it 21-0 Washington. But Joe Montana fired three TD strikes (two to Mike Wilson and a 76-yarder to Freddie Solomon) to pull the Niners even with seven minutes to play.

Theismann began a 13-play, 78 yard march that would win it for Washington. They caught two breaks in the form of questionable penalty calls that kept the drive going. Kicker Mark Moseley, 0-for-4 on his earlier field goal attempts, hit a 25-yarder for the winning margin and Washington earned another NFC crown. Two weeks later, Marcus Allen ran all over them as they were rocked by the Raiders 38-9.

1990 NFC Divisional Round

The two-time defending champion 49ers went 14-2 for the second straight season and hosted Washington coming out of the bye. The visitors struck first with Mark Rypien's 31-yard touchdown pass to Art Monk and they led 10-7 after one quarter. Montana took over from there, connecting for scores with Jerry Rice and Mike Sherrard. San Francisco picked off Rypien three times, with the last resulting in Michael Carter's 61-yard return for the icing touchdown in a 28-10 win. However, the Giants came into Candlestick a week later and shocked the favored Niners 15-13 during their surprising championship run.

1992 NFC Divisional Round

Coming off one of the NFL's best title seasons, Washington had to sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 in 1992. The six-seed scored a wild-card win in Minnesota to earn another trip to Candlestick to face the top-seeded 14-2 49ers. San Francisco was without Joe Montana, but Steve Young stepped up with an MVP season and his two touchdown passes give the 49ers a 17-3 halftime lead.

Rypien pulled Washington to within four points with a field-goal drive and a fourth-quarter one-yard TD plunge. With just over nine minutes left, Rypien had led Washington to the 24-yard line, but he failed to execute a handoff to Brian Mitchell, which the Niners recovered. They sat on the lead and were able to grind seven minutes off the clock and net a field goal for a 20-13 lead. Washington's last-gasp effort fell short and San Francisco moved on to face the Cowboys in the first of three straight NFC Championship clashes.

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