Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Top 9 NFC Championship Games Since 1990

The genesis for this list – and why I ranked the AFC Championship Games – is how good this week’s games look on paper. But as I compiled the list, something pretty remarkable dawned on me.

The NFC Championship Game is probably the most consistent sporting event in American for delivering a great game. Since 1990, there have only been five true blowouts in this game. And even the blowouts have been compelling.

Think about how the Bears/Saints game from 2006 was actually a four-point game going into the last quarter. The Giants 41-0 thrashing of the Vikings in 2000 is as memorable as blowouts come. The blowouts for the Packers (1996) and Eagles (2004) were significant in that they returned to the Super Bowl for the first time in a long time.

There is only one truly unremarkable NFC Championship Game since 1990 and that was Seattle destroying an overmatched Carolina team in 2005. That’s it. With the exception of The Masters, I can’t think of another annual sporting event that delivers a classic almost every year.

*Links on the score goes to the best highlight videos I could find

49ers cowboys
Honorable Mention: 49ers/Cowboys trilogy, 1992, 1993, 1994 seasons
Think about it – the list of great, close games is so good that these classics are relegated to Honorable Mention status. Is that fair? Probably not. But we’re ranking these games on their in-game merit and excitement. There is no doubt all three of these games were great to watch but none of the three came down to the final play or the final minute. I mean, there are FOUR overtime games on this list.

What made these games memorable and why they’ll be discussed as long as people discuss pro football is the magnitude of them. As Pat Summerall famously said before the 1994 version (the YouTube clip has sadly been taken down):

“In one week, we’ll play the Super Bowl. In two weeks, we’ll play the Pro Bowl. Today, we’ll play them both.”

Yep, that’s how big these games were. And Summerall was right – the winner of this game won three straight Super Bowls and none of the Super Bowls were even remotely close. With the onslaught of parity and free agency, it is likely we will never, ever, see two teams tower so mightily over the rest of the league – in any professional sport in America. Its closest doppelganger in today’s sporting culture is Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.

9) Rams 29, Eagles 24, 2001 season
A forgotten game that gave everyone their money’s worth. The 2001 Rams were the “Greatest Show on Turf” and a budding dynasty, which never happened due to the Tom Brady-led Patriots. But we really should have seen the chinks in the armor here, as the Rams struggled to put away the Eagles, who were just rounding into form under Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. This was a week after the Rams had exposed Brett Favre as an aging QB – and yes, that is full eight years before Favre would reappear deep in the playoffs.

Overall, this was a really good game that showed why the Eagles were about to become (almost) the NFC’s best team for the next five years and why the Rams dynasty never happened.

8) Rams 11, Bucs 6, 1999 season
Such a weird game that I can’t remember if it was awesome or terrible. This of course was year 1 of “The Greatest Show on Turf” and they were coming off of one of the most impressive offensive displays in postseason history, when they obliterated the Vikings.

The Bucs, like the Eagles mentioned above, were ascending toward the top of the NFC but weren’t quite there yet. Their defense played an incredible game, but was ultimately done in by a controversial Ricky Proehl, game-winning touchdown catch in an era that was somehow both post- and pre-Instant Replay. It set the stage for an amazing Super Bowl and kicked the Kurt Warner myth-making into overdrive.

giants 49ers
7) Giants 20, 49ers 17 (OT), 2011 season
When I was making this list, I was torn on where to place this. On one hand, it was a very memorable, tight, back and forth game. On the other hand, it was boring. Sometimes low-scoring affairs are due to excellent defenses (see #3 on this list) and sometimes it’s due to offenses being terrible. This was a combination of both, leaning toward the latter. Clearly Jim Harbaugh blamed the offense as Alex Smith would be jettisoned a year later.

Fun sidenote: I was not feeling good the day of this game – maybe why I think it’s boring? – so I watched the game while lying in bed. Having recently moved to Washington, D.C., I did not have cable yet in my bedroom so I watched it old-school via antenna. Why is this noteworthy? Because Comcast inexplicably inserted ill-timed commercials during the second-most watched television program of 2012 and many in DC missed important portions of the game.

Remember that the next time Comcast, or another cable giant, balks at paying for retransmission fees of broadcast. For $0, I watched every second. If I had gotten my act together and gotten my second cable box installed, I would not have been able to. Go Comcast?

6) 49ers 28, Falcons 24, 2012 season
This just happened last year so maybe time will bump it up the list, but it was an excellent back and forth game that was rocking and rolling for three-plus hours. I would rank it higher but, as I mentioned Monday, the prior week’s Seahawks/Falcons game was far superior. I can’t bump it up to the Top 5 if it wasn’t even the Top 1 2012 playoff game that took place in the Georgia Dome.

If it were the AFC Championship Game, it easily would’ve been #2.

5) Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT), 2007 season
Everything from here is pure awesomeness. If you want to circle a moment when the NFL went from a really big deal to the biggest possible deal in American television, Championship Sunday 2007 is a great place to start. Buoyed by the Patriots’ run at perfection, there was added media attention to these games, as if that was even possible.

To top it off, this was Favre’s last game as a Packer, in Lambeau, in one of the coldest games ever played against the upstart team from the world’s biggest media market. Any wonder nearly 54 million tuned in? It was also a taut thriller that featured missed field goals, overtime and one last crippling Brett Favre interception. Or so we thought…

4) Cardinals 32, Eagles 25, 2008 season
Quite simply, the most entertaining championship football game I can ever remember, with Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb hucking it all over the field in a wild, back and forth game that was only topped by the Super Bowl. Man those Cardinals were fun!

Many people forget that it was 24-6 at halftime and it looked like Arizona was going to cruise. Then shit went cray and the Eagles stormed back to take a 25-24 lead, before Kurt Warner did his Kurt Warner thing and led the comeback. My memory of this game is just taking a big, deep breath when it was over. I didn’t move from my couch yet I was exhausted.

Yeah, I wasn’t in good shape in January 2009. Too many Tostitos.

49ers giants 19903) Giants 15, 49ers 13, 1990 season
The antithesis of the 2011 title game between these two same teams as the 49ers and Giants smacked the living crap out of each other for three straight hours. The Giants knocked out Joe Montana – in the process, basically ending his 49er career – and didn’t score a touchdown, settling for five Matt Bahr field goals, including the game-winner. The last of which came following a Lawrence Taylor strip and Giants fumble recovery as the 49ers were trying to run out the clock.

The 49ers, do not forget, were big favorites and everyone was already counting on a 49ers/Bills Super Bowl, as the latter had put up 51 points, including 41 in the first half, on the Raiders to make their first of four fateful Super Bowl trips. The Giants, led by The Hoss, produce two stunning upsets in a row and cemented Bill Parcells as a Hall of Fame coach.

2) Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT), 1998 season
I struggled with which game to rank #1 – and both are horror shows for Vikings fan. No complaints from me if you flipped the order.

Everyone knows the story here as the Vikings were 15-1 in the regular season, riding rookie Randy Moss and basically destroying everything in its past. The whole world was ready for Broncos/Vikings in the Super Bowl. Then Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the year that would have made it 30-20 late. The Falcons tied it up. They won in overtime. We got this all-time classic and an all-time stinker in the Super Bowl. Oh what could have been…

1) Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT), 2009 season
I know the Seahawks set the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium or whatever, but no crowd has ever felt as loud as the Superdome on this night.

This was an amazing game with amazing subplots and ESPN should start working on the 30 for 30 now. Adrian Peterson was a man amongst boys – running for 122 yards and three touchdowns – but had two critical fumbles. Brett Favre was on the verge of returning to the Super Bowl after getting pounded to a pulp – against Peyton Manning, could you imagine the hype? – before throwing a crippling late-game interception.

As for the Saints, they had the feel-good story of helping the city heal post-Katrina. However, we would find out later that this game was part of BountyGate and the pounding Favre took was borderline criminal and will never be seen again in professional football.

Or maybe, we’ll see it Sunday between the Seahawks and 49ers. One can hope, right?

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4 comments:

  1. Good list but I think you have the 1990 NIners game too high.

    ReplyDelete
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      Delete
  2. Where's Bears/Packers??

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  3. Funny how for #7 you said you weren't feeling well...I can attest to that, as a Ravens fan that just watched one of the most gut wrenching losses earlier that day I layed in a fetal position for like 14 hours after that game..lol

    ReplyDelete