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Part II of the JMRA World Heavyweight Title of Quarterbacks series brings us to a dramatic transition in our tale.
When we last left you, Joe Montana and John Elway were all the rage in the late eighties.
However, as a new decade began Father Time was ready to pay a visit to San Francisco; meanwhile, the Elway-Dan Reeves union began to erode in Denver.
These happenings along with other odd occurrences led us to the oddest title reign in our voyage.
Reign: September 1, 1991 – September 12, 1992
The Setup: Before we get to the equivalent of the James “Buster” Douglas title reign, this part of our story enters a transition period. A few weird things happened between the 1990 NFC title game and September 1, 1991.
- Montana broke his wrist thanks to a hit by Leonard Marshall during the ’90 NFC title game.
- The man who was poised to claim the title, Jim Kelly, lost Super Bowl XXV to Giants backup Jeff Hostetler.
- Montana injured his throwing elbow during the ’91 preseason.
- One of San Francisco’s chief NFC competitors, the Philadelphia Eagles, lost Pro Bowl quarterback Randall Cunningham for the season to a torn ACL on opening day.
Those four incidents lead us to the second most unlikely title reign on our list. After stinking up Candlestick Park in the ’90 NFC Divisional playoffs versus San Francisco, no one expected Mark Rypien to lead the Redskins to the Super Bowl. Teammate Charles Mann once said of that game, “we knew weren’t going to win it” and the biggest reason for that was Rypien.
Yet, from game one of the ’91 season, Rypien was locked in and became one of the most unlikely starters to win a Super Bowl. In the process, Rypien earned the confidence of his teammates, throwing for 3,594 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions during ’91.
Definitive Moment: There were plenty in ’91 for Rypien but the test of any quarterback is what he can do on the game’s biggest stage. He badly outplayed Jim Kelly in Super Bowl XXVI and earned Super Bowl MVP honors by finishing with 292 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-24 victory.
Clearly, Rypien was a product of circumstance. He had a Hall of Fame head coach (Joe Gibbs), one of the best receiving corps in the league and most importantly, the league’s best offensive line…the Hogs.
Furthermore, he beat Chris Miller and Erik Kramer to get to the Super Bowl, which was one of the true perks for Washington en route to winning the franchise’s third Super Bowl.
The Redskins did not face many teams in the NFC with impressive quarterbacks. Troy Aikman got injured late in ’91 versus the Redskins; Steve Young wasn’t quite ready yet; Brett Favre was still in Atlanta; and Montana and Cunningham were both on the shelf.
Regardless, for one year, no one threw the deep ball better than Mark Rypien. Just like Douglas though, his reign at the top did not last long.
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September 12, 1992 – January 15, 1995
The Setup: By the end of the 1991 season, it seemed to be rather obvious that the next “it” team in the NFL resided in Dallas. The Cowboys shed many of the remains from the Tom Landry era and by 1992 went from the league’s worst team in ’89 (1-15) to a preseason pick to win the Super Bowl.
They did have a relatively big question mark. They knew Emmitt Smith was a legit star at running back and ditto for Michael Irvin at receiver. Believe it or not, questions still existed regarding Troy Aikman.
The UCLA product lived a bizarre existence through his first three seasons in Dallas. Despite the Cowboys finishing 1-15 in ’89, Aikman went 0-11 as the starter. Backup Steve Walsh was the starter lone Cowboys victory of the year versus Washington. Then of course, was the fact that Johnson preferred Walsh, a University of Miami product that Johnson coached while with the U.
The Cowboys improved in ’90 with Aikman as the starter after Johnson finally returned to planet Earth. They still missed the playoffs though, finishing 7-9 in the process. Dallas finally got over the playoff hump in ’91 by finishing 11-5 including a 24-21 regular season victory over the 11-0 Redskins.
However, Aikman was not the quarterback for Dallas during its 17-13 playoff win in Chicago. Instead, it was backup Steve Beuerlein, who was filling in for an injured Aikman. During that same victory versus Washington, the third year pro injured his knee.
Thus, entering ’92, Aikman never started a playoff game, much less win one.
Definitive Moment: Dallas soundly defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins 23-10 on opening night on Monday Night Football to begin the ’92 season. Aikman and the Cowboys made an aging Redskins squad look like a bad spin-off of the George Allen’s Over The Hill Gang from the early ’70s.
While Aikman’s talents were out of this world, he still had to prove he could win in the playoffs. After defeating arch-nemesis Philadelphia in the divisional round, the ‘Boys traveled to San Francisco for the NFC title game.
Leading 24-20 late in the fourth, Aikman hit Alvin Harper on a slant pattern for 60 yards that helped put the game away for Dallas and seal their first trip to the Super Bowl in 13 years.
After playing marvelously on the road by completing 20 of 30 passes for 320 yards and two scores versus the 49ers, Aikman won Super Bowl MVP honors two weeks later when the Cowboys mopped the Rose Bowl with the Bills, 52-17.
Aikman served as the trigger man for the powerful Dallas machine that cranked out three Super Bowls in four seasons. After winning back to back Super Bowls in ’92 and ’93, it appeared Dallas would have a solid shot to three-peat in ’94.
However, a somewhat intoxicated rant by Jerry Jones during the NFL owners meetings in Orlando following Super Bowl XXVIII helped derail a dynasty and set the table for the next quarterback on the list.
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January 15, 1995 – January 8, 1996
The Setup: Leading up to the NFL owners meetings in 1994, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones began to talk loudly about his growing dislike of his head coach, Jimmy Johnson. Jones believed he could easily find a replacement for Johnson if he decided to fire the two-time winning Super Bowl head coach.
Eventually, Johnson and Jones split in March of ’94, paving the way for former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer to lead Dallas towards his history.
As Aikman’s Cowboys ascended to the top of the NFL charts, it was Steve Young and the 49ers, who typically served as their stepping stone. Dallas defeated San Francisco in two straight NFC title games during the ’92 and ’93 postseasons.
To further compound matters, Young languished in the shadow of San Francisco’s favorite son and now Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Joe Montana. The BYU product had great success during his four seasons as a full-time starter, winning the NFL MVP on two occasions in ’92 and ’94, but still failed to get over the hump against the Cowboys.
However, San Fran’s inability to beat the Cowboys pushed the Niners to the brink. They loaded up on defensive talent in free agency (see Sanders, Deion) in order to slow down the diverse Dallas offensive attack.
Young led the stacked 49ers to a 13-3 regular season mark and grabbed another MVP award but in San Francisco, he was going to be judged by Super Bowl rings and not regular season honors.
The spotlight would eventually fall on Young and whether he could finally slay the Cowboys to take a step out of the omnipresent shadow cast by Montana.
Definitive Moment: With all due respect to the San Diego Chargers, who Young and the 49ers demolished in Super Bowl XXIX, his six touchdown performance would have never materialized if not for San Francisco’s victory over Dallas in the NFC title game.
The Cowboys stumbled and fumbled their way through the first quarter, trailing 21-0. Eventually, they got back into the game but Young was not to be denied on this day.
His numbers were far from MVP-like on this Sunday but it was a day of exorcism for Young. He went a pedestrian 13 of 29 for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Unlike his counterpart that day, Young took care of the football and played mistake-free.
Finally, the 49ers had their day in the sun against the Cowboys. As Fox-TV analyst John Madden exclaimed after the game was over, Steve Young was indeed the man.
Categories: The JMRA World Title