Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Oakland vs. Houston in the Postseason

The Houston Rockets overcame a 3-1 deficit to shock the Los Angeles Clippers and advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Golden State Warriors host them tonight in Game One of a matchup between the West's top two seeds. It is the fourth time in the four major professional sports that teams from Oakland and Houston are meeting in the postseason.

1967 Raiders d. Oilers 40-7 in AFL Championship
1969 Raiders d. Oilers 56-7 in AFL Divisional
1980 Raiders d. Oilers 27-7 in Wild Card
2015 Warriors vs. Rockets in West Finals

It's been all Oakland in this one, with the Raiders beating the Oilers in three playoff games by a combined score of 123-21. Let's take a closer look at each one.

1967 AFL Championship (highlights here - still can't embed, NFL?)

The Raiders dominated the AFL in '67, averaging over 33 points per game with a +235 point differential (the +154 Chiefs were the only other team above Houston's +59). The Oilers edged the New York Jets to take the Eastern Division crown, just one year after finishing last at 3-11. Played on the same day as the NFL Championship, this one would not go down in history like the other game did (the Packers-Cowboys Ice Bowl at Lambeau Field).

The Oilers hung in with Oakland, only trailing 3-0 in the first quarter while actually outgaining the Raiders 93-52. But the Raiders opened the second with Hewritt Dixon's 69-yard touchdown run (0:55 in above highlight link). In the final seconds of the first half, kicker George Blanda and quarterback/holder Daryle Lamonica lined up for a field goal from the 17-yard line. Lamonica pulled off a fake, hitting Dave Kocourek with a touchdown pass for a 17-0 lead at the break (1:15 in highlight).

Houston fumbled the second-half kickoff, and Lamonica quickly made them pay with a 1-yard plunge for a 24-0 advantage. The Raiders added three Blanda field goals around Houston's lone score, a 5-yard pass in the fourth quarter from Pete Beathard to Charley Frazier. Lamonica added one more Raiders TD in the middle of the final period when he connected with Bill Miller from 12 yards out. The Raiders won 40-7, outgaining the Oilers 364-146 (312-53 after the first quarter)! Dixon and Pete Banaszak teamed up to rush for 260 yards for Oakland.

The Raiders advanced to Super Bowl II in Miami, but Green Bay cruised to a 33-14 victory in Vince Lombardi's final game as head coach of the Packers.

Two years later, the AFL expanded their postseason to four teams. In the new divisional round, the 12-1-1 Western Division champion Raiders (led by rookie head coach John Madden) hosted the second-seeded team in the East, the 6-6-2 Oilers.

If Houston was looking for revenge, they wouldn't get it on this day. In fact, Lamonica and the Raiders gave them an even bigger beatdown than they had two years earlier. Three touchdown throws by Lamonica (two to Fred Biletnikoff and one to Rod Sherman) and a George Atkinson pick-six of Beathard made it 28-0 in the first quarter. After opening up the largest lead after one quarter in NFL/AFL playoff history, Lamonica added a 60-yard TD to Charlie Smith for a 42-0 halftime edge.

Lamonica made history in the third quarter with a second scoring strike to Sherman and a 3-yard pass to Billy Cannon, his sixth touchdown pass of the day. The Mad Bomber became the first of three quarterbacks to toss six TD's in a playoff game, with Steve Young (1994) and Tom Brady (2011) joining him.

The Oilers avoided a shutout with Beathard's 8-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Reed, but Marv Hubbard answered for Oakland, running in from four yards out for a 56-7 score that would be the final margin. The 49-point spread makes this the third-biggest blowout in playoff history, behind the Bears' 73-0 title game victory in 1940 and the Jaguars' 62-7 win over Miami in 1999 that ended Dan Marino's career.

In the AFL Championship Game two weeks later, the Raiders were upset at home by the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs, 17-7.

The Raiders went 11-5, but lost the tiebreaker to the rival Chargers, so while San Diego enjoyed the AFC's top overall seed, Oakland had to play the Oilers in the wild card round. Houston was also 11-5, powered by running back Earl Campbell, who won his third straight rushing title in three years in the league.

These two clubs swapped quarterbacks before the season, with Oakland great Ken Stabler going to Houston for Dan Pastorini. Pastorini broke his leg early in the season, however, and it was Jim Plunkett who led the Raiders to the playoffs.

Campbell fumbled on the first play, leading to a Chris Bahr field goal less than two minutes in. The fumble happened so quickly, play-by-play man Charlie Jones didn't notice it as the NBC telecast continued with their lineup graphics.

He made up for it later in the quarter with a 10-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 Oilers lead.

In the second, Plunkett drove the Raiders into the end zone, with a long completion to Kenny King setting up a 1-yard TD pass to Todd Christensen for the go-ahead score.

That 10-7 score held for the rest of the period and all of the third, with a Lester Hayes interception of Stabler in the end zone preserving Oakland's lead.

The Raiders opened it up on the last play of the third with Plunkett's long pass to Cliff Branch. Then he started the fourth with a 44-yard strike to Arthur Whittington that made it 17-7.

Another Bahr field goal increased the lead to 13 with six and a half minutes to play. Backed up at his own 2-yard line down 20-7, Stabler's third-and-long heave was intercepted by Hayes, who ran it back for the icing-on-the-cake touchdown.

Oakland won 27-7, then moved on to upset the Browns in Cleveland on the infamous Red Right 88 interception. The Raiders got another crack at the Chargers in the AFC title game in San Diego and pulled off another road upset to reach the Super Bowl. They beat the Eagles 27-10 to become the first wild card championship team in NFL history.

** For the purposes of these city-vs-city playoff histories, I count the Warriors (and Sharks) as both Oakland and San Francisco teams. Both cities have their own baseball and football teams, but their winter sports teams are shared by fans on both sides of the bay. I would have added any Houston-San Francisco meetings, but there haven't been any yet. Still waiting for an Astros-Giants World Series.

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