By rights, the Redskins-Raiders Super Bowl that concluded the 1983 NFL season should have been one for the ages.
The Washington Redskins were the defending champs and had a powerful offense. Joe Theisman had the best year of his career at age 34 and won the MVP award. John Riggins, also 34, rushed for over 1300 yards and 24 touchdowns. Three offensive linemen, “The Hogs” made the Pro Bowl. The defense wasn’t great—Washington lost its only two games by scores of 31-30 and 48-47, but those two points were all that separated them from a perfect season.
The ‘Skins won a key Week 15 game at Dallas by a 31-10 count to seal the NFC East and #1 seed. Washington then thrashed the Los Angeles Rams 51-7 to start the playoffs, and jumped out to a 21-0 lead on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers rallied to tie it 21-21, but the ‘Skins got the benefit of a couple questionable pass interference calls to get the game-winning field goal.
The Los Angeles Raiders rolled to a 12-4 record, and had five defensive starters in the Pro Bowl. Howie Long recorded 13 sacks, while Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes formed the best cornerback duo in the league. Marcus Allen was an electric talent at running back and veteran quarterback Jim Plunkett had shown he had what it took to win a Super Bowl, having led the Raiders to the Lombardi Trophy in 1980.
Los Angeles coasted to the AFC West title and then easily rolled the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks to reach the Super Bowl.
Further adding to the drama of Redskins-Raiders was that it was the matchup that probably should have taken place the prior year. Los Angeles had been the #1 seed in the AFC, but suffered a big upset loss in the second round of the AFC playoffs to the New York Jets. Thus, these were the teams that had each been the #1 seed in their respective conference for two straight years, and their one head-to-head meeting in 1983 had been a thrilling 37-35 Washington win.
So yes, by rights, the Redskins-Raiders Super Bowl, should have been a battle royal. Only, like most Super Bowls through the 1980s, especially the Dark Ages of 1983-87, it didn’t work out that way.
The Raiders blocked a punt for an early touchdown. Most of the first half stayed competitive, but the fact the Raiders led 14-3 seemed to be another indication that when defense meets offense, always bet the defense. Then disaster struck for Washington.
With just seconds remaining in the first half and the Redskins deep in their own end, they tried an ill-advised screen pass.
Theisman didn’t see linebacker Jack Squirek who stepped in, grabbed the ball and walked into the end zone.
In retrospect, it seems as though the game might as well have ended right there, but reality was different. The Redskins found the end zone early in the third quarter and even though another special teams mishap cost them the extra point, it was still a game at 21-9.
But the lesson that you can’t come from behind unless you first stop the opponent was another one learned anew today. Raider running back Marcus Allen was having a huge day, rushing for 191 yards. After Los Angeles had pushed out to a 28-9 lead, Allen made one of the great plays of Super Bowl history. Allen swept to the left, ran into traffic, reversed course, found a hole on the opposite side of the field and took off on a spectacular 74-yard run for the touchdown that eliminated any residual doubt about who would win.
Allen was named MVP, and the Raiders 38-9 win gave them their third Super Bowl championship. The Los Angeles Raiders were an organization on top of the world. It seems hard to believe that not only have they not won it all since, they’ve only even played in one other Super Bowl, that being in 2002. In 1983, they turned a hyped matchup into rubble.