The NFL officially kicks off the 2015 regular season.
January 25, 1981
Fans, media and everyone else in New Orleans the week of Super Bowl XV were greeted wherever they looked by the motto of the Oakland Raiders organization - "COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE". This motto and the accompanying Raider logo were emblazoned on giant billboards along highways and streets, on bus stop benches and on the sides of more than 100 city buses. These all helped get a singular message across in this home of the NFC New Orleans Saints - the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders were in town.
The signs were part of the positive environment Raiders Owner- Managing General Partner Al Davis sought for his athletes. The NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles had been installed as 3-1/2-point favorites in this World Championship Game. The Eagles had, after all, defeated these Raiders 10-7 in Philadelphia just eight weeks earlier, recording an embarrassing eight quarterback sacks as they pounded Jim Plunkett from opening kickoff to game's end.
The underdog role sat well with this Raider team. Having started the 1980 season with a 2-3-0 record, then losing starting quarterback Dan Pastorini with a broken leg; having new starters everywhere on offense, defense and special teams; having been returned to Oakland in late March by a court order after having moved the franchise to Los Angeles at the start of that month; having made it all the way to the Super Bowl as a "wild card" team that had to win playoff and conference championship games on the road - this was a team that had not only survived adversity; this was a team that had learned to thrive on adversity.
"The relocations and legal actions were never allowed to become major distractions to our players and coaches," said Raider head coach Tom Flores. "Al Davis would never let these things be distractions. The main purpose was for us to win. Anything else was secondary, and Al would take care of that in his own time. The team never talked about anything but football - winning football. This is a very courageous bunch of guys. They absolutely refused to believe anything but that they could win."
And win they did!
Jim Plunkett took over at quarterback after Dan Pastorini broke his leg early in the 1980 season, the the Raiders to a Super Bowl victory and was named Super Bowl XV Most Valuable Player.
After the 2-3-0 start, the 1980 Raiders went on to win 12 of their next 14 games to end up in New Orleans in January for Super Bowl XV. Included were three postseason wins - 27-7 over the Houston Oilers in the wild card game in the Oakland Coliseum, 14-12 over the Browns in Cleveland Stadium and 34-27 in the AFC Championship Game in San Diego.
The Eagles had won the NFC East with a 12-4-0 record, then beat Minnesota 31-16 in the NFC Playoff and the Dallas Cowboys 20-7 in the NFC Championship Game. Under head coach Dick Vermeil they arrived primed and ready to represent their Conference in Super Bowl XV.
But, again as had happened just four years earlier when the Raiders had totally dominated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, this World Championship Game would be a one-sided triumph for the Oakland Raiders.
Quarterback Jim Plunkett, Most Valuable Player in this Super Bowl, clearly recalls the Raiders mental approach.
"Al Davis didn't say anything special to us that week about the game, other than the fact that he knew we could win it. It wasn't our job to get caught up in the legalities. We just had to go out and play Raider football."
These combat ready warriors in the white jerseys, silver pants and silver and black helmets with the stark pirate logo on each side, quickly established their superiority. On just the third play of the game Raider right side linebacker Rod Martin cut in front of a Ron Jaworski pass on the Eagles 47 and returned it to the 30,
"The Eagles somehow felt they could exploit Rod Martin," veteran linebacker Ted Hendricks explained. "They decided to attack the right side of our defense, away from me. They tested Rod the whole game, and all they got out of it was three interceptions."
It took the eager Raiders offense just a few plays and a few minutes to capitalize on the gift from their alert defense. On third-and-goal from the Philadelphia two-yard line, quarterback Jim Plunkett set up, looking for wide receiver Bob Chandler. Chandler was covered, but when Plunkett started toward threatening to run for the score, an Eagles linebacker responded forward leaving a hook spot unguarded that secondary receiver Cliff Branch quickly filled. Plunkett fired, and Branch clutched the game's first score to his chest. Chris Bahr drilled the extra point to put the Silver and Black ahead 7-0.
Raider defensive game plans were designed to control Eagles top rusher Wilbert Montgomery and force Philadelphia to go to the pass. Design, through practice and intensity, became execution. Montgomery was limited to just 2.8 yards per carry on 16 runs. Jaworski had to go the airborne route and set a Super Bowl record by passing 38 times.
Philadelphia lost one scoring opportunity when a long touchdown pass, Jaworski to wide receiver Rodney Parker, was nullified by an obvious illegal motion violation. The Eagles subsequently punted, and the Raiders took over deep in their own territory on the 14-yard line. Two downs later Bill King, the long-time voice of Raiders Radio, called the play:
"The Raiders come up third and, oh, just about four. The ball is on their own 20. Branch is to the left against Edwards. Chandler to the right against Young.
"Plunkett on a straight drop back. Here comes the rush, steps up, can't find anybody yet, takes off running to the left, throws on the move. It's caught by King at the 40! He'll get down to the 50. He'll go all the way! Nobody there. To the 20. To the 10. To the 5. TOUCHDOWN RAIDERS!" Running back Kenny King, acquired that year in a trade with the Houston Oilers, had set a Super Bowl record. "I was running a simple six-yard pattern," said King, "when I saw Plunkett scramble. I took off up the field. The linebacker dropped me when he saw Plunkett scrambling, and Jim got me the ball."
The play covered 80 yards, and the Raiders forged ahead 14-0.
The Eagles earned only two more first downs in the opening quarter, but using passes to backs and tight ends they were able to move down to the Raiders 13-yard line in an early second-period drive. There defensive tackle Dave Pear and rookie linebacker Matt Millen made big plays, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 30-yard field goal to trail the Raiders 14-3. The Raiders missed a long field-goal try midway in the second quarter, and the Eagles got off their best march of the half, going from their own 27 to the Raiders 11. The big Silver and Black defense then rose to the challenge. Three plays later the Eagles were still on the 11. Then Hendricks reached up and swatted a 28-yard field-goal attempt to preserve a 14-3 halftime lead for this Oakland team.
Following the Raider philosophy of pressure football - not percentage football - Flores had his offense firing away right from the start of the third quarter. Plunkett hit Kenny King for 13 along the right sideline, then found Chandler crossing diagonally from right to left for 32 more yards. One play later Plunkett, behind an unbroken wall set up by pass protectors Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Dave Dalby, Mickey Marvin and Henry Lawrence, went deep down the left side, where Cliff Branch outpositioned and outleaped Eagles cornerback Roynell Young for a spectacular touchdown that put the Raiders way out in front, 21-3.
Chris Bahr added a pair of field goals - a 46-yarder in the third quarter and a 35-yarder in the final period. The Eagles finally found the end zone early in that fourth quarter. Rod Martin got his second and third pass interceptions, defensive end Willie Jones recovered a fumble, safety Burgess Owens was in on nine tackles, safety Mike Davis knocked down three passes. Raider pass protection was near perfect. Mark van Eeghen ran for 80 yards total. Branch caught five passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, Chandler four for 77 yards and King two for 93 yards and one touchdown. Jim Plunkett completed 13 of 21 for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The Raiders forced four turnovers while committing absolutely none.
Tom Flores addressed the squad and staff in the crowded Louisiana Superdome locker room after the big win: "We won the game. We were the best team. We deserve to be the World Champions, and I'm proud of you. I love it. This is the greatest moment of my life. I'm very proud of this bunch of guys." The final word on this great season by the underdog Raiders belongs to the boss - to Al Davis - as he accepted the Super Bowl trophy from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. "...You know when you look back on the glory of the Oakland Raiders, this was our finest hour...to Tom Flores, the coaches and the great athletes, you were magnificent out there. ...take pride and be proud. Your commitment to excellence and your will to win will endure forever. You were magnificent!"