I am not so famous that I need a bodyguard.
Mo Vaughn needed one when he’d visit the Foxy Lady. Maybe Mark Cuban had one when he worked at that Dairy Queen today. If you see Drew Bledsoe in a mosh pit bar, you’re the one that will need a bodyguard, not Drew.
But if you do need one, I have the perfect choice for you.
Why? Anyone who has the guts to walk up to Howie Long and Matt Millen right after their team lost a home playoff game and pick a fight with them makes the decision easy for me. I mean, this guy has no concern whatsoever for his own life. If he’s willing to do the football equivalent of committing suicide in the name of a just cause, hey, I want this guy at my side 24-7.
It was moments after the New England Patriots had exacted revenge on the Los Angeles Raiders by winning a 1985 AFC Divisional Playoff game at the LA Coliseum, 27-20. Sullivan became incensed over Long’s repeated verbal insults being hurled at the Patriot bench during the game. After the game, Sullivan tried his little best to uphold the team honor by going after the former Charlestown standout.
The conversation, according to a Sullivan interview while licking his wounds, was somewhere along the lines of “This gets you back for Darryl Stingley! This gets you back for that roughing the passer call!” It was a noble cause, for sure.
It was Millen, not Long, that exacted the damage to Sullivan’s Irish kisser. Millen slugged Sullivan in the face, and Sullivan would later indicate that “it took a real big man to do this to a guy like me!” Long had the last laugh, saying that “My 5-year old son could kick his butt!”
Long and Millen could laugh long and hard about this silly incident. Sullivan remains the most mocked among a family which has taken a lot of mocking over the years. This writer was at the Coliseum that day, and was puzzled at all the commotion taking place near the tunnel that led to the locker rooms just after the game ended.
But the real last-laughers were the Patriots. Sullivan was right in his pontifications, just not too sharp in how he stated his case to the Raiders. The Patriots did indeed exact sweet revenge for all the misery the Raiders had wreaked on the Patriots during the previous ten years. The Patriots sent the top-seeded Raiders home for the winter with an impressive win at the Raiders’ lair, and went on to an eventual bid to Super Bowl XX.
In defeating the Raiders, the Patriots induced the Silver and Black to commit six turnovers. This was smack dab in the middle of a three-game road playoff win streak for the Patriots, as they induced seventeen takeaways in the three games combined. The Raiders, behind the woeful quarterbacking of Marc Wilson, stumbled and bumbled their way through this game, and in the end the Patriots found themselves heading to Miami and their first AFC title game since the merger.
Fresh off a 26-14 win over the Jets in the Wild Card round at Exit 16-W, the Patriots came out to the left coast, ready to take on the rested Raiders in football-apathetic Los Angeles. It had been raining in the southland basin, but the rain tapered off on the morning of January 5, 1986. The field was in good condition, but puddles could be seen on the track that surrounded the playing surface.
When you talk about “payback”, there is a qualifier. This wasn’t the venue of the last playoff meeting between the two teams, but the Raiders still had Al Davis and a handful of holdovers from that game (Ray Guy, Cliff Branch, Mike Haynes (who played for the Patriots in that game), Dave Dalby, Henry Lawrence). Another Raider/ex-Patriot, Shelby Jordan, was on the 1985 Raider roster and played for the Patriots from 1975-82. Jordan did not, however, play for the Patriots in 1976. The Patriots carried five men who played in that game (Steve Grogan, John Hannah, Steve Nelson, Julius Adams, Pete Brock). The game may have been played at Vermont Avenue and Exhibition Boulevard, but there was plenty of 66th Street and Hegenberger Road out there on that field. Back then, it was near impossible to say “Raiders” and not think “Oakland”.
The Patriots capitalized right off the bat from a Raider turnover. After driving from their 21 to midfield, Rich Camarillo lofted a punt to Fulton Walker. Walker coughed up the ball, and Jim Bowman recovered at the Raider 22. Two plays later, Tony Eason hit tight end Lin Dawson from 14 yards out to put the Pats up 7-0.
Los Angeles gave the ball right back. On their second offensive play, Ronnie Lippett stepped right in front of Dokie Williams and made the first of his two picks on the afternoon. But the Patriots did not take advantage of this gift, and a blocked punt by Greg Townsend gave the Raiders the ball at the Patriot 16. Chris Bahr would boot a 30-yard field goal to make it 7-3 Patriots.
The Raiders would settle down, and the blocked punt was the linchpin for 17 unanswered Raider points. The Raiders would drive deep into Patriot territory on each of their next five possessions of the first half. The Raiders would get touchdowns from Jessie Hester (a 14-yard pass from Wilson) and a 12-yard run by Marcus Allen (who did a somersault into the end zone) and build a 17-7 lead. But a missed field goal by Bahr and another Lippett interception kept the Patriots in the game, and prevented the Raiders from putting this one away in the first half.
After Allen’s touchdown, the Patriots embarked on perhaps their most important drive of the season up to that time. Craig James broke off a run of 16 yards and caught a screen toss for 24 yards, and Mosi Tatupu ran for 22 yards off right tackle. The Patriots caught a break when Long was called for offside at the Raider 9, giving the Patriots a first and goal at the Raider 4. Replays showed that Long was drawn offside by Brian Holloway, but the Raiders were flagged. Payback?
Three plays later, facing third and goal at the two, the Patriots lined up in a shotgun formation. Eason handed off to James (the Patriots ran out of the shotgun often this game, with generally good success), and James ran around left end towards the end zone. Hannah made arguably his most famous block, as he cut down Stacey Toran at the ankles as textbook as it could have been done. James walked in and cut the deficit to 17-14.
Lippett’s second pick set up a game-tying 45-yard field goal by Tony Franklin, but Raiders found just enough time to drive 66 yards to a 32-yard field goal by Bahr just before halftime. The Patriots were down at the half, 20-17, but had played the Raiders as tough as the Raiders themselves played error-prone.
The Raiders would pay dearly for their mistakes in the decisive third quarter. Wilson (who would wind up with a passer rating for this game of only 22.9) brain cramped his way to two burned time-outs on the first Raider drive of the second half. A sack by Don Blackmon relegated those time-outs to the blunder category in a hurry, as those time-outs would be dearly needed at game’s end. The teams would later trade fumbles, and the Patriots had the ball at their own 32.
Eason directed the Patriots on a 54-yard scoring drive which led to a game-tying 36-yard field goal by Franklin near the end of the quarter. Featured on that drive was the first completion of the day to a Patriot wide receiver, a 22-yard strike to Stanley Morgan. This stands as a testimonial to the Raider cornerbacks (Haynes and former stick-um expert Lester Hayes) for their great work, but it stands as a greater testimonial to the Patriots for being able to pull off a road playoff win without any help at all from Morgan and Irving Fryar.
With the score knotted at 20, Franklin kicked off to Sammy Seale. The ball went right through Seale’s wickets, but he picked up the ball and took off. Seale never bothered to cradle the ball, and Tatupu stripped the ball from Seale. The ball bounded into the end zone, and Bowman pounced on the ball. In the span of about ten seconds, the Patriots had as many points. It was Bowman’s second fumble recovery of the game, and it sent the otherwise obscure Patriot defensive back into legend status.
Bowman’s first NFL touchdown gave the Patriots a 27-20 lead. The Patriots spent the rest of the game protecting that lead. They did it thanks to an interception by Fred Marion in the fourth quarter, and a killer drive where they made two key third down conversions with the Raiders down to just one time-out and unwilling to stop the clock. Perhaps the prettiest play of the game was on that drive, when James ran for 14 yards off right tackle out of the shotgun on third and 12. That play was a literal backbreaker, as the Raiders did not use that last time-out until inside the two-minute warning.
Los Angeles would get the ball back for one final possession. A facemask penalty on Mickey Marvin wiped out a crucial 25-yard pass from Wilson to Allen on fourth and four. Faced instead with a fourth and 17, Wilson launched a desperation pass towards Williams at the right sideline. The ball came in low after being tipped by Hester, and fell just beyond his fingertips to the ground as his teammates on the sideline winced in disgust. The game was over.
Billy Sullivan had a grin on his face as wide as the Hollywood sign. His Patriots had knocked the Raiders out of the playoffs, and would go on to Miami to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
And despite his son’s failed attempt to uphold the honor of the team, payback was especially sweet. Penalties were involved at two critical junctures of the game. The Raiders killed themselves with turnovers. And the Patriots got 104 rushing yards from James, who was named the game’s MVP.
The Patriots felt sky high after this most unexpected win. It made the legions of Patriot fans who still had a bad taste from 1976 left over in their mouths feel euphoric. The win unfortunately did not cause Darryl Stingley to rise up out of his wheelchair and walk again, but it seemed to take a lot of the sting off the controversial playoff loss nine seasons earlier. It gave the Patriots two road wins on their improbable quest for a Super Bowl berth, and they had every reason to feel confident going into the Orange Bowl the following week.
This writer was one happy critter at game’s end. A single Patriot fan amongst a sea of grumpy Raider fans at game’s end, I let out my exuberance for everyone to see. This was Los Angeles, not Oakland, so I didn’t fear for my life, never mind that the LA Coliseum is one block north of Watts.
One fan yelled to me, “Wait till you get to Miami! The Dolphins will kick your (posteriors)!” Oh, yeah, that Miami jinx. Go head for your history books to see how the Patriots handled the jinx.
We’ll give you a hint. They handled it a wee bit better than Sullivan handled Millen.