1972: The Packers watched helplessly as a record-setting Raider and a referee stole the show.
Going into 1972, the Packers were not only coming off a 4-8-2 record the year before, but also were facing a staggeringly difficult schedule: Eight of their 14 games were against teams that had winning records in 1971, including the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.
The Packers started the season in impressive style by thumping Cleveland — a ’71 playoff team — 26-10. Week 2 would bring the ever-formidable Oakland Raiders to Lambeau Field.
Oakland opened the scoring with a field goal from 45-year-old George Blanda, but the Packers quickly drove to the Raider goal, taking the lead on a 1-yard plunge by John Brockington.
Later in the opening quarter, Green Bay got the ball back and was poised to score again. On a second-down play from the Oakland 6-yard line, QB Scott Hunter took a single step back from center and pitched the ball out to RB MacArthur Lane, who was running parallel to Hunter’s right.
Lane had a clear path, but the pitch bounced off his hands and into the right-hand corner of the end zone, where Raider S Jack Tatum was in coverage. None of the Packers near the ball saw it, and when it bounced straight into Tatum’s arms, he was off to the races. He quickly dashed out from four yards deep, put a move on Lane, and sprinted untouched for a touchdown.
Or so it was ruled.
As soon as the play was over, Packer players and coaches complained to the officials that the supposed fumble was actually a dropped lateral — or “muff,” in football parlance — and thus couldn’t be advanced. According to NFL rules, the play should have resulted in a touchback for Oakland. But since there was no instant-replay review then, the touchdown stood.
The Packers regained the lead in the second quarter on another Brockington blast, and held it until late in the third, when Raiders QB Daryle Lamonica threw long down the middle of the field for WR Fred Biletnikoff. Packer S Jim Hill intercepted the ball, but officials ruled that he had interfered with Biletnikoff. Oakland got the ball at the 1-yard line, from where Charlie Smith scored the winning points a play later.
The following day, the NFL acknowledged that Lane’s bobble was in fact a muff, and Tatum’s return shouldn’t have been allowed. But it was, and it — along with an equally long runback by Aeneas Williams in 2000 — remains to this day the longest fumble return in NFL history.
Sept. 24, 1972
1 2 3 4 F Raiders 10 0 10 0 20 Packers 7 7 0 0 14
OA: George Blanda 43 FG
GB: John Brockington 1 run (Chester Marcol kick)
OA: Jack Tatum 104 fumble return (Blanda)
GB: Brockington 1 run (Marcol)
OA: Blanda 14 FG
OA: Charlie Smith 1 run (Blanda)
Trivia: Whose record for longest fumble return did Jack Tatum break? The answer will appear in the Comments section tomorrow.
Posted under Commentary
This post was written by Citizen Dan on September 24, 2009