The late John Madden won the Super Bowl ring, but the game the former Raiders coach was most proud of came a month ago when he lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
The Raiders had already won the AFC West title and home field advantage in the playoffs two weeks into the 1976 season. The question of whether to rest the starters for the playoffs arose naturally. It’s a problem facing the Giants, Buccaneers and other teams this week.
According to Madden and former Giants coach Tom Coughlin, the answer is overwhelmingly no.
“The worst thing you can say about someone is that they lost on purpose,” Madden said in a video shown at his memorial service last February.
With an 11-1 record and an eight-game winning streak, the Raiders didn’t need to win in Oakland on December 6, 1976, or in the regular season finale the following week. If the Bengals beat the Raiders on Monday night, Cincinnati would clinch his AFC Central title and push the Steelers out of the playoffs. Pittsburgh had eliminated Oakland in his three of the last four years in the playoffs.
“They don’t want to play Pittsburgh, they want to play Cincinnati, so they’re going to lose,” Madden said in the video.
The Steelers tried reverse psychology.
“That week a Pittsburgh group bought a full-page ad for the Oakland Tribune,” John’s son, Mike Madden, said in a telephone interview. “A Raiders player lay down on a mattress, tucked into a bed, and said something along the lines of, ‘We don’t blame you if you lie down.’ . And he was signed “Your friend in Pittsburgh.”
Raiders players were wondering how Madden would handle the situation.
“I would always rather play with the Bengals than with the Steelers,” former linebacker Phil Villapiano said. “Midway through the week, John brought us all together…only John Madden could do it the way he did. F—That. Raiders don’t go in the back door. We go through the front door.”
Like the players, Madden went wild.
“It was exactly what we needed to hear,” said Villapiano. “It was true…the Bengals weren’t as good as the Steelers, so let’s go—beat them both. It’s time to play with them for the marbles.”
Kenny Stabler threw four touchdown passes as the Raiders beat the Bengals 35-20. The Steelers and Bengals both finished the season with his 10-4 record, and Pittsburgh won his AFC Central title on Cincinnati’s sweeping powers of the season.
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John Madden has brought the game out to his son several times over the years.
Mike Madden said, “He really despised the practice of sitting players out late in the season when their playoff positions were decided.”He hated it for many reasons. What would you say to Art Shell when you sit in the Stabler? This game is too dangerous for Snake, but we don’t care about you guys.
“And he also hated that it was against the spirit of competition. Not playing to win surprised him.”
The Raiders defeated the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XI, where the Raiders won their first title with a win over the Minnesota Vikings.
“For the organization, for the football, for what is right, we have to go win,” John Madden said in the video. I don’t know how to play it any other way, and thankfully neither did my players.”
Another team that didn’t rest a starter, the 2007 New York Giants, also won the Super Bowl that season. With his 10-5 record, the Giants were locked in as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs ahead of his season finale against the 15-0 Patriots.
Shortly after Madden’s death in December 2021, Coughlin wrote in a guest essay for The New York Times: The team that can play the best. ”
Coughlin walked into his office at 5 a.m. after the game and found a voicemail from Madden. Coughlin transcribed the words and played the message for his team to hear the next day.
“I’m calling to congratulate you and your team for your hard work last night. It’s not good, but it’s great. I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened to the NFL in the last decade. , I don’t know if they all know that.
“I’m a firm believer in this: There’s only one way to play the game, and it’s the regular season game, and you go out to win the darn game. I’m a part of the NFL, And you were so proud of what your players did and how you did it. The NFL needed it, there are too many opinions like, “Well, they’re trying to rest their players and they don’t have to win, so they can’t win.” It’s not a sport, it’s not a competition. I’m a little emotional about it. I am very proud. ”
Madden believed that football reveals character, and how the game was played was most important.
“He believes this is the best game and has dedicated his life to always be,” Coughlin wrote of Madden. “John’s call reaffirms our belief that you will bring honor and glory to the Giants and the NFL by playing and competing.”
Six weeks after that Week 17 loss, the Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14 to win Super Bowl XLII and ruin New England’s undefeated season.
First-year coach Brian Dabor faces a similar situation this weekend with the Giants, but with other team seeds. and NFC East rivals the Eagles, who need a win or a loss of the 49ers to earn a first-round bye of the NFC playoffs. San Francisco wins the Cardinals and the Giants wins the Eagles to earn the No. 1 seed and bye-bye.
Daboll declined to disclose his plans, saying the Giants will have a week of practice as usual and make a decision on Friday night.
The Lions could end up in a situation where their sole motivation is to push their rival out of the playoffs. If the Seahawks lose to the Rams on Sunday afternoon — Seattle is his 6-point favorite, according to BetMGM — Detroit’s showdown with the Packers on “Sunday Night Football” will send the winner to the playoffs. But if the Seahawks win, the Lions are out of playoff contention before kickoff. In that scenario, Green Bay would beat Detroit to make the playoffs and eliminate the Seahawks, but if the Lions beat the Packers, Seattle would beat Green Bay.
The Buccaneers have no other team to think about. They are locked into his NFC’s No. 4 seed and will face the Falcons, who are falling out of playoff contention. But Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady feels the same as Madden and Coughlin, and not playing this Sunday will “haunt” him.
“Aside from the ACL[injury]I missed the first four games in 2016,” Brady said of the 15 games he missed in 2008 and four due to a Deflategate suspension. “I played everything else.”
Don’t tell him some games are pointless.
“I understand the context, but I don’t think there’s anything pointless,” Brady said on Tuesday’s SiriusXM podcast. No, but that’s important because you’re a professional.
(Top photo of Giants head coach Brian Dabor: Vincent Carchietta/USA Today)