The NFL has just completed its 100th season. The NFL and Jim Murray were the same age — Jim would have been 100 in December. In honor of Andy Reid’s first Super Bowl victory and the 100th season of the NFL, we bring you a column Jim wrote on Dec. 27, 1988, in which he writes about another head coach who spent 22 years chasing a ring, only to never get it . . . Chuck Knox. Knox passed away on May 12, 2018, at the age of 86.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 1988, SPORTS
Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Frustrations of Past Count for Something
It has no doubt come to your attention that the people most of us consider the eminent historians of our day — the poets of the press box, the knights of the keyboard, the sporting press — have come to the conclusion that the current crop of National Football League playoff teams constitutes an unworthy cast. They are prepared to dispense a flop production, devoid of stars, weak in drama. It won’t play Broadway and needs a complete second-act rewrite.
I mean, we no longer have the Lombardi Packers, the Halas Monsters of the Midway, the Baugh Redskins, the Jim Brown Browns, the Unitas Colts. What we get are a lot of earnest young athletes flawed by the league policy of pulling everyone down to the lowest common denominator, parity.
Parity is like satire, which in the words of one eminent showman, is what closes on Saturday nights.
But, it is the notion here that parity on the playing field is not what’s wrong with today’s tournaments. It’s the coaching that ain’t what it used to be.
Consider not the offensive and defensive platoons on the field or the special teams, consider the leadership on the sidelines.
Check the AFC. When the final five took their positions at the end of the regular season, these were the five head men on the sidelines: Jerry Glanville of the Houston Oilers, Marty Schottenheimer of the Cleveland Browns, Sam Wyche of the Cincinnati Bengals and Marv Levy of the Buffalo Bills.
See any Vince Lombardis in there? Where are the Tom Landrys, Don Shulas? Where are the likes of Papa Halas, Weeb Ewbank, Bud Grant, George Allen, Hank Stram? Where’s the big-game experience here?
You will notice I left out the name of the other AFC coach in the shootout, Chuck Knox. That’s because Chuck Knox is a throwback coach. He belongs in the context of the names of great mentors of football’s past.
The gamblers say his team doesn’t belong in this postseason crapshoot. I’m not so sure. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the kingdom of the halt, the man who can ride rules.
Chuck Knox may be the only one in the AFC eliminations with legitimate big-game experience. Knox has been there, as they say. He could be the one on horseback here.
Chuck Knox is probably the best-coach-who-never-went-to-the-Super-Bowl. And, there’s the rub.
Chuck Knox is to the Super Bowl what Sam Snead was to a U.S. Open, or Ernie Banks to a World Series. He deserved one, he never got one.
When Chuck Knox came to the Rams for his first head coaching job, 15 years ago, the league thought it had the new Rockne. His first season was 12-2 (the team had been 6-7-1 the year before). His teams were smart, hard-hitting, resourceful, they didn’t beat themselves. They lost the two games by a total of three points. They were eliminated by the more experienced Staubach-Landry Cowboys in the playoffs, but they chalked that up to a learning process. There’d be plenty of Super Bowls to come.
Except, there weren’t. The next season, the Rams won the division again (they won it every year Knox coached them) and won the first playoff game (beating the Redskins, 19-10).
Then came the championship game against the Vikings in frigid Minnesota. Late in the game, with the score Minnesota 14, Rams 10, the Rams had the ball on the Viking 6-inch line. That’s as in a half-a-foot.
The Vikings’ Alan Page jumped offside to beat the snap. That’s smart football when you can only lose three inches in penalty (half the distance to the goal line).
Only, the umpire rules that the Rams’ interior lineman, Tom Mack, had moved first.
The penalty was catastrophic. The Rams were moved back out of line-plunge distance and had to try a pass. It was intercepted. Bye-bye Super Bowl. Minnesota goes.
To this day, Chuck Knox and Tom Mack insist the Rams lineman never moved. They have the film to prove it. “He never even breathed,” Knox was to say.
Two years later, the Rams are in Minnesota again. Temperature: 11 degrees at game time.
The Rams rip through Minnesota as if the Vikings weren’t there. They again have the ball inside the Viking 1. On fourth down, they inexplicably go for a field goal. Minnesota blocks it and defensive back Bobby Bryant scoops it up and runs 99 yards for a touchdown. There goes that Super Bowl.
The next season, the Rams get a break. The playoff game against Minnesota is not only at home but Minnesota’s quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, is hurt.
Except, the day-after-Christmas, the worst rainstorm of the year hits. The field is a quagmire. The Rams’ runners perish in it like woolly mammoths in a tar pit.
Will Chuck Knox ever win a Super Bowl? Will he ever even get to one?
Whatever fates control the Super Bowl, they have it in for Chuck Knox. Three of the five years he coached the Rams, they played for the Super Bowl. Three of the five, they lost.
It would give anyone a complex. In sports, it gives rise to that kiss of death — he-can’t-win-the-big-ones.
Maybe one of those other coaches in this year’s tournament will win it because, like a guy taking up golf, they don’t know how tough it is, yet.
Chuck Knox knows how tough it is. The gamblers don’t like his chances. Maybe, the gods don’t, either.
Chuck Knox can be pardoned by going into the playoffs like a guy waiting for a shoe to drop, or listening for a noise in the attic. On the other hand, none of the AFC coaches he has to face to get to Miami reminds you of Pop Warner.
If a game can be won on the sidelines, he should be the one to do it. All the real coaching experience is in the other conference. He won’t have to face Bill Walsh, Jerry Burns, Mike Ditka or Buddy Ryan till super Sunday. And if he gets there, he’ll finally be in a position where he won’t have to go through life explaining to strangers in bars, “Tom Mack never moved.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 60753, Pasadena, CA 91116
What is the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation?
The Jim Murray Memorial Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established in 1999 to perpetuate the Jim Murray legacy, and his love for and dedication to his extraordinary career in journalism. Since 1999, JMMF has granted 104 $5,000 scholarships to outstanding journalism students. Success of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation’s efforts depends heavily on the contributions from generous individuals, organizations, corporations, and volunteers who align themselves with the mission and values of the JMMF.
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A dozen years ago, Linda McCoy-Murray compiled a book of Jim Murray’s columns on female athletes (1961-1998). While the book is idle waiting for an interested publisher, the JMMF thinks this is an appropriate year to get the book on the shelves, i.e., Jim Murray’s 100th birthday, 1919-2019.
Our mission is to empower women of all ages to succeed and prosper — in and out of sports — while entertaining the reader with Jim Murray’s wit and hyperbole. An excellent teaching tool for Women’s Studies.
Proceeds from book sales will benefit the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization providing sports journalism scholarships at universities across the country.