Sep 30, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; General view of Oakland Raiders helmet and Lombardi trophies from Super Bowl XI, XV and XVIII during a press conference at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Today, appropriately on a Throwback Thursday, is the 31st anniversary of the Raiders last Super Bowl victory: Super Bowl XVIII, played in Tampa, FL on January 22nd, 1984. The Super Bowl title was the Raiders third in a seven year span, and the second under head coach Tom Flores and with quarterback Jim Plunkett. It was also the Raiders sole championship during their 13-year stint in the city of Los Angeles, and is the only Super Bowl ever won by an NFL franchise representing that city. Here’s how it happened:
The Los Angeles Raiders were, by 1983, established as one of the pillar franchises in professional football. Since the legendary Al Davis had become involved with the team, the team had appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two. The team had won Super Bowl XI after the 1976 season under head coach John Madden, who had retired with the highest winning percentage of a head coach in NFL history.
The Raiders had won the Super Bowl again after the 1980 season, taking the league by surprise by making their way through the playoffs as a Wild Card team and beating a very good Philadelphia Eagles team convincingly in Super Bowl XV.
But of course those teams were called the Oakland Raiders. In 1981, Al Davis had attempted to move his franchise to Los Angeles after not getting some desired stadium upgrades to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The move was voted down unanimously by the owners, but when Davis decided he would move anyway, was blocked by a court injunction. Davis, along with the governing body for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (that had just lost the LA Rams to the suburbs), sued the NFL in an antitrust lawsuit. Davis eventually won his lawsuit, and the team moved its’ home games to Los Angeles for 1982.
With the cat out of the bag before play could begin in 1981, the defending Super Bowl Champion Raiders played a difficult year, marked by tense relations with the Oakland fan base. Jim Plunkett missed significant time with injury, and second-year backup Marc Wilson struggled in relief, completing 47% of his passes and throwing 19 interceptions in 12 games. The defending champs finished dead last in the division with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs entirely.
In 1982, the team began playing home games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, filling a void left behind in LA by the Rams’ departure for the Orange County suburbs. In what was a challenging year for the team, the team still practiced in the Bay Area and many of the players lived there, and tense exchanges with Oakland fans occurred regularly.
The NFL players union also declared a strike in 1982, shortening the NFL season from 16 games to just nine. Tom Flores and the 1982 Los Angeles Raiders, led by Jim Plunkett and a rookie running back named Marcus Allen won eight of those nine games and were the top seed in the makeshift playoffs that year.
The Raiders fell short in a second round game to the Jets, however, and were at home watching when Joe Gibbs and his Washington team, led by a running back named John Riggins and an offensive line unit nicknamed The Hogs, won their first title in Super Bowl XVII against Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins.
While disappointed in the end result of the 1982 season, it was a great inaugural season for the Los Angeles Raiders, who won all four home games that year, including an exciting 37-31 win over the Rams in which the two teams combined for 33 fourth-quarter points. Free agent acquisition Lyle Alzado, in his first year with the Raiders, had tied for the team lead with seven sacks, along with longtime Raider mainstay Ted Hendricks, who played his fourth and final All-Pro season that year.
A third-year linebacker named Matt Millen and Super Bowl XV hero Rod Martin had combined to pick off six passes from the linebacker position that year. Second year defensive lineman Howie Long, in his first real action as a Raider, had logged 5.5 sacks. It was the first year in NFL history that sacks had been kept as an official statistic.
Rookie Marcus Allen, a USC graduate and Heisman Trophy winner who had played his college football in the LA Coliseum, had recorded 14 touchdowns in the nine-game regular season. Hopes were high for 1983.
Those hopes remained high when the Raiders got off to a 4-0 start, with a crushing defense that recorded 17 sacks and 12 takeaways in the first four games, which included a victory over the defending AFC Champion Miami Dolphins. For week five, the Raiders faced the defending Super Bowl champs on the road at RFK Stadium.
Joe Gibbs’ team, after losing to the division rival Cowboys on opening day, had won three in a row, and were up for the unbeaten opponent that was considered the best the AFC had to offer. Washington jumped out to a 10-0 lead and were ahead 17-7 at the half, a lead that extended to 20-7 early in the 3rd quarter.
But then the Raiders came back, as Jim Plunkett fired two TD passes to Calvin Muhammad and a third to TE Todd Christensen. A 97-yard punt return TD by Greg Pruitt followed, and the Raiders had scored 28 points in a row to go ahead 35-20. The Raiders brought massive pressure, as Howie Long got the the quarterback five times and rookie end Greg Townsend recorded his first career sack. But the comeback belonged to Washington’s Joe Theismann, who orchestrated three 4th quarter scoring drives, throwing two TD’s in the final period to retake the lead and the game. The Raiders went back to LA with their first loss of the year.
Beyond the Flag
The Raiders would go 2-2 over the next four, with both losses coming at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, before winning six of the last seven to finish the year 12-4. When it was all said and done, quarterback Jim Plunkett had a career year despite missing three games due to injury: he had completed a career-high 60.7% of his passes for a career-high 2,935 yards and 20 TD’s.
Marcus Allen, in his first 16-game NFL season, had rushed for over 1,000 yards and totaled 1,604 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. Tight End Todd Christensen had a career year, and was named All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time after catching 92 passes for over 1,200 yards and 12 TD’s. The Raiders finished 7th in total offense and third in scoring offense.
The defense also put together a stellar regular season, registering 57 quarterback sacks and 36 takeaways, including 20 interceptions. Howie Long led the team with 13 sacks, rookie Greg Townsend recorded 10.5, and Lyle Alzado added seven. Rod Martin had six sacks and four interceptions. Safety Vann McElroy had a team-leading eight interceptions.
The defense finished fourth overall in the league, and five Raider defensive players were named to the Pro Bowl: Long, Martin, McElroy, Ted Hendricks and Lester Hayes. Todd Christensen and offensive tackle Henry Lawrence made the Pro Bowl as well, as did return specialist Greg Pruitt.
The Raiders bullied their way through the playoffs, rolling the Pittsburgh Steelers 38-10 and then soundly defeating the Seattle Seahawks – to whom they had lost twice in the regular season – 30-14. The Raider offense scored six rushing touchdowns in the two AFC playoff contests and the defense recorded seven takeaways and nine sacks. They came into the Super Bowl hot, having scored 30 or more points in three consecutive matchups.
The Washington team, the defending champs, were a confident bunch, led by Joe Gibbs and their outspoken quarterback, Joe Theismann. They had won the Super Bowl in convincing fashion the year prior, had taken the Raiders’ best shot and won, and had simply bulldozed the entire league on their way to a 14-2 record. Washington scored the most points in the league that year, behind 29 TD passes by Theismann and 24 rushing touchdowns by John Riggins.
The Hogs, Washington’s famous offensive line unit, had pushed around opposing defenses all year: the team ran the ball on 56% of their offensive snaps, for a league-leading 2,625 yards. Riggins, who led the NFL in touchdowns that year, was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Washington had simply overwhelmed LA’s other team in the divisional round, beating up on the hapless Rams 51-7 before facing a tough test from Bill Walsh’s 49ers in the NFC Championship. Gibbs, Theismann, Riggins and the rest of the Washington squad expected to beat the Raiders handily, as did Las Vegas, who favored Washington by 3.