NFL Nation: 2011 Flash Points results

Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Sorry, but I've got to wonder: Where's the love for Bill Parcells?

[+] EnlargeLawrence Taylor
Al Messerschmidt/NFL/Getty ImagesLawrence Taylor accumulated 132.5 sacks during his 13 seasons with the New York Giants.
We asked fans to vote for the most important event in their franchise's history. And with all of the history the teams in the NFC East have to offer, the choices were good and plenty. But while fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys all chose the hiring of a coach, New York Giants fans overwhelmingly selected the drafting of linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1981.

Now, don't get me wrong. This is a fine choice. Given the choices that were offered, I would have picked the same, and the large majority of you did. Sixty percent of the more than 34,000 people who voted went with L.T. "Trading for Eli Manning in 2004" finished a distant second at 15 percent, "Tim Mara buys franchise in 1925" was third at 12 percent and "hiring GM George Young in 1979" got 10 percent of the vote.

Taylor was a transcendent player -- a human hurricane who impacted the Giants, their opponents and the history of the league in as direct and lasting a way as any defensive player who has lived. He led the Giants to two Super Bowls and was the face of one of the league's most famous defenses of all time.

But for reasons that escape me, Young's hiring of Parcells was not listed among the choices. The argument has been put to me, in response to my raising this issue, that it was Young who hired Parcells and so his was the more important hire. But it's not as if Parcells was some kind of system guy or front-office yes-man. He put as large and significant a stamp on those Super Bowl teams as did anyone with the possible exception of Taylor. He hired Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and a slew of coaches who were critical to the Giants' success and have gone on to do great things on their own. I may well have clicked the box for "other" and written in the hiring of Parcells as the answer.

Some of you agreed, including vinnie 43, who wrote: "Hiring of Parcells wasn't on the list? He's the man who invented Giant football -- run the ball, control the clock and play good defense. Parcells was the best move the Giants ever made."

Robbiemustgo32 voted for the hiring of Young: "LT was the defining image of that era of Giants football, but Young drafted him and he hired Parcells. Without Parcells or Belichick, LT may never have won a Super Bowl."

And speaking for the majority, jwao777: "I cannot emphasize enough how important drafting Lawrence Taylor was to the Giants. He literally changed the course of the franchise. I think of the Giants in terms of before LT and after LT."

COWBOYS: Tom Landry hired as head coach in 1960

The Cowboys became known as "America's Team" for the success they had under Landry, who didn't win a title until 1966 but was the chiseled face of the franchise for 29 years. Of the more than 50,000 who voted in the Cowboys poll, 50 percent picked the hiring of Landry as the franchise's most significant event.

[+] EnlargeTom Landry
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireTom Landry led the Dallas Cowboys for almost three decades and won the team two Super Bowls.
Landry put together 20 consecutive winning seasons, won five NFC titles and two Super Bowls. He was an innovator, reviving the shotgun formation and establishing flex defenses. Though it has been more than two decades now since he was fired by a flashy young owner named Jerry Jones, Landry's still the most recognizable figure in team history. Fans justifiably give him credit for the lofty place the team holds in their hearts and in NFL lore.

Jones' 1989 purchase of the team (which resulted in the hiring of Jimmy Johnson as head coach and led to three more Super Bowl titles) finished second with 39 percent of the vote, easily besting the team's 1966 conference title (4 percent) and the 2003 hiring of Parcells (3 percent) which, as we've already discussed, should have been in another team's poll.

I can see the case for either of the top two choices, and frankly I believe I voted for Jones, since the change the franchise has made under him has been more all-encompassing dramatic on and off the field. A couple of people wrote in wondering why the Herschel Walker trade wasn't among the choices, and some others wondered why they couldn't vote for the hiring of Johnson.

DomeRanger83 appears to be in the Landry camp: "If you're old school, the defining moment for the Dallas Cowboys was their 1st Super Bowl win against the Miami Dolphins in S.B. VI. Before having the moniker of 'America's Team' in the '70s, they were the team that 'Couldn't win the big one!'"

But theyoman359 thinks everything changed the first time Jones came down from the owner's box and stood on the field with Johnson: "This gesture catapulted Jones' ego into the stratos, and ever since that day, his will and his ego have clouded the reality of the team's efforts. I think he meant to emulate Steinbrenner, but went too far."

EAGLES: Andy Reid hired as head coach in 1999

Dick Vermeil delivered the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance, and Reid has often been criticized for only delivering one so far (and failing to win it). But in 12 years as head coach, Reid has reached double-digit victory totals eight times. He has won more games (118) and more playoff games (10) than any other Eagles coach. He has delivered seven division titles, coached in five NFC Championship Games and of course reached that one Super Bowl in the wild and wacky season of Terrell Owens.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesAndy Reid has been one of the most successful coaches in the history of the franchise.
Along with Donovan McNabb, Reid launched the Eagles into a cycle of success that represents the longest sustained period of excellence in the franchise's history. His hiring pulled in 56 percent of the more than 34,000 votes cast. Vermeil's hiring in 1976 got 18 percent of the vote. The back-to-back titles in 1948-49 got 12 percent. And the trade that sent McNabb to the Redskins last season got nine percent. I guess because it opened the door for Michael Vick?

DimorphicAU: "Andy Reid has us on the path we are on now, perennial contenders lacking that one final killer blow. Hopefully shoring up the defense in the offseason will put us on track for a SB berth."

(Editor's note: There are worse things, of course, than being perennial contenders...)

Latinferno dissents: "The most DEFINING moment in Eagles history was the 1960 NFL Championship team. The last of the "60-minute men" in HOF Chuck Bednarik making the game-saving tackle to be the ONLY team to defeat the Vince Lombardi-led Packers in the playoffs."

REDSKINS: Joe Gibbs hired as head coach in 1981

Given the choice, the more than 20,000 Redskins fans who voted in our poll justifiably prefer to remember the three Super Bowl titles Gibbs won with three different quarterbacks than to focus on the negative change that was brought about when Daniel Snyder purchased the team in 1999. Gibbs' hiring easily out-polled Snyder's takeover, 63 percent to 26 percent. The hiring of George Allen in 1971 got six percent, and the 1964 trade for Sonny Jurgensen got three percent.

[+] EnlargeJoe Gibbs
AP Photo/Doug MillsJoe Gibbs led Washington to three Super Bowl titles in the 80s and 90s.
There's no doubt that Gibbs will forever be linked to the team's glory years. As much as Landry in Dallas and Parcells in New York, if not even more so, Gibbs is the face of the long-lasting success the Redskins had in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Snyder era has changed things, there is no doubt.

It could be argued that the Redskins' descent into mediocrity under Snyder's stewardship was a more significant (if certainly not more positive) change than the rise to prominence under Gibbs. But I think the fans got this one right. Snyder hasn't wrecked the Redskins beyond repair. The reason expectations are what they are, and the fans are as passionate as they are, is because of what Gibbs built and accomplished.

KurtzJack56 voted for Snyder and isn't happy about it: "The best thing that he could do right now for the team and the franchise is to sell the team."

rakeshmistry1986 was in the Gibbs camp "by a wide margin": "Even in Gibbs' second go-round, he still led us to the playoffs twice in four years despite how flawed of a team Snyder and Cerrato gave him."

Flash Points: Franchise-turning events

May, 26, 2011
5/26/11
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Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesIn 11 seasons with the Patriots Tom Brady has thrown 261 touchdowns and amassed close to 35,000 passing yards with a 95.2 passer rating.
Who made who?

That was the question readers had to answer to determine the key event that shaped the New England Patriots. Is Bill Belichick the reason for their success, or was it Tom Brady who turned his head coach into a genius, or was it Robert Kraft's decision to hire Belichick in the first place that made all of the above possible?

Among the AFC East clubs in ESPN.com's "Flash Points" series, the Patriots' poll generated the most votes and the closest race.

Readers went with Brady, claiming the Patriots' decision to select him 199th in the 2000 draft was the moment that most impacted the franchise's fortunes.

But Brady was the only AFC East winner not to collect a majority of the votes. He received 46 percent of the nearly 60,000 cast. The decision to hire Belichick was second at 34 percent.

Kraft's purchase of the team received 10 percent, and the 1993 combo of hiring Bill Parcells as head coach and drafting Drew Bledsoe first overall got 8 percent.

Sportsguy1236 reasoned: "Whats more important to a team? Best QB in the league or best coach in the league? I think Kraft and Belichick make a close tie for second behind Brady. Reason being, I think Brady would have been successful anywhere, but Belichick and Kraft rely on each other. Belichick wants full control and Kraft gives it to him."

InStint733 disagreed: "OK, Brady being drafted is not a flash point. Drew getting hurt and Tom coming in to take over is a flash point. Tom Brady's story is a great one, but I have to give Belichick more of the success pie than Brady. I'm a big believer that defense wins championships and Belichick always has a good top 10 D no matter who plays."

JETS: Namath chooses AFL over NFL

We go from the AFC East's closest poll to the most lopsided. Of all the candidates for the most seminal New York Jets moment, readers overwhelmingly went with Joe Namath's decision to spurn the NFL monolith and join the upstart AFL.

[+] EnlargeJoe Namath
AP PhotoJoe Namath changed the course of Jets history when he chose to play in the AFL. Here Namath signs his contract with coach Weeb Ewbank (left) and owner Sonny Werblin in 1965.
That received 69 percent of the vote, and rightfully so. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Namath 12th overall in 1964. But the Jets made him the top choice and gave him a mammoth contract he couldn't refuse.

It was the first flutter of a remarkable butterfly effect. Without that moment, Namath doesn't make the guarantee, the Jets don't win their only Super Bowl and Namath probably doesn't become a cultural icon. Nothing else in Jets history can compare to what Namath did for the organization.

A distant second was the 2008 hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach at 19 percent, followed by the 1997 hiring of Parcells at 7 percent and the formation of the New York Sack Exchange at 2 percent.

Bbarkz took exception with the choices in the poll: "I'm a big Jet fan, but if you were going to say defining moment for the franchise, the only possible option is the guarantee. It's not only the Jets defining moment, but you could argue it was the defining moment for the NFL as we know it."

That's true, but if Namath goes to the NFL, then the guarantee doesn't happen.

Eric5741 summed up the Ryan hire finishing second in the poll: "The team has been so bad for so long that Jets fans can't help but brag about two AFC Championship losses. ... So just give them a break. It's not their fault that their team has done nothing since most of them have been alive."

DOLPHINS: Undefeated in 1972

The Miami Dolphins generated the fewest votes among the AFC East polls, but readers were generally convinced their undefeated 1972 campaign was the most influential moment in franchise history.

[+] EnlargeDon Shula
AP PhotoIt's hard to imagine Miami going undefeated during the 1972 season had the team not hired Don Shula.
I disagree with that verdict, but let's break down the percentages first.

The 1972 season collected 56 percent of the votes. The team's decision to hire head coach Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts in 1970 came in second at 21 percent. Drafting quarterback Dan Marino in 1983 was third at 20 percent. The dramatic turnaround from a one-win team to division champs in 2008 took the other 3 percent.

The 1972 season is symbolic and keeps the Dolphins a topic of conversation every season a team can get off to a hot start. The comparisons will not go away until another team manages to win every game, including the Super Bowl.

The unbeaten feat makes Miami special. So I understand why readers chose it.

But my pick would be Shula's hiring. Without him as head coach two years earlier, can we assume the Dolphins would have run the table in 1972 and won back-to-back championships? No, we could not.

The initial exchange in the comments section under the poll ...

Gofins7933 wrote: "Everybody knows us for our perfect season in '72. That has to be the most defining moment for us."

Marek13brave replied: "Without the signing of Shula there is no perfect season in '72."

Gofins7933 countered: "Even my mom knows about the Fins perfect season. She doesn't know who Shula is."

BILLS: Norwood's kick sails wide

The Buffalo Bills went to four consecutive Super Bowls. Their best chance to win one and avoid the misery of being a perennial bridesmaid came at the end of their first appearance.

[+] EnlargeScott Norwood
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaScott Norwood's missed field goal in the closing seconds of the 1991 Super Bowl would have brought joy to one Giants fan in particular.
With eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV and the Bills trailing by a point, Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal. We all know what happened next. The Bills still are looking for that first NFL championship.

In the "Flash Points" poll, 59 percent of readers voted for Norwood's miss. Then came Jim Kelly finally being forced to sign with the Bills after the USFL collapsed, followed by the 1985 promotion of Bill Polian to general manager at 8 percent, and linebacker Mike Stratton's "hit heard 'round the world" on San Diego Chargers running back Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL Championship Game at 6 percent.

Reader mdavila07 wrote: "It's definitely the Norwood miss. The Bills' legacy would be completely different if they won a Super Bowl. Not to mention, if you tell anyone you're a Bills fan, what do they bring up? Wide right and four straight Super Bowl losses. That is what the Bills are known for, their defining moment."

Dan_Daoust suggested another option: "Doesn't it have to be the Music City Miracle? The Bills had a Super Bowl-caliber team (or at least defense) that year, they got knocked out, and they've been a league doormat ever since. Wide right is an obvious choice, but it wasn't really a fortune-defining moment. The Bills made three more Super Bowls right after that, after all. The MCM, on the other hand almost seems to have had the effect of kicking the team in the groin and then standing on its neck."

I agreed with MattRichWarren's take: "It's going to be Wide Right, but that team doesn't exist without Polian's vision and drafting skill. I went with Polian because it's the right answer."

Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in the history of the New Orleans Saints, maybe even in the history of the entire NFC South, might have come when a coach and a quarterback went for a ride and got totally lost.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton and Drew Brees
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Saints took a chance on Drew Brees when other teams hesitated.
It came on a spring day in 2006 when Sean Payton, recently hired as the coach, took free-agent Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, for a ride that seemed misdirected at the time, but turned out to be a drive to destiny. While touring the area, Payton got off Interstate 10 at the wrong exit and started driving on streets he’d never seen before.

“I finally admitted to Drew, 'I have no idea where we are right now,'’’ Payton wrote in his book, “Home Team.’’

It’s worth a laugh now. But at the time, Payton, Brees, the Saints and the entire New Orleans region really had no idea where anything was. This was a few months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the Saints didn’t even know if they’d be able to stay in New Orleans for the long term.

Brees’ future was just as cloudy. He wasn’t being brought back by San Diego because he was coming off a major shoulder injury and the Chargers were handing things over to Philip Rivers. There was interest from Miami, but the Dolphins weren’t sure about Brees’ shoulder. Neither were the Saints.

But Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis decided to take a gamble. They offered Brees a big contract and a couple of days after being hopelessly lost, he accepted. The Brees signing was the big winner for the Saints in our Flash Points polls about the make-or-break moment in the history of each NFC South franchise.

Forty-six percent of more than 50,000 voters (the highest of all the NFC South precincts) chose the signing of Brees as the biggest moment in team history. Winning Super Bowl XLIV finished second at 36 percent and the hiring of Payton was third at 17 percent.

No argument here. Hiring Payton was significant, but signing Brees is the biggest reason why the Saints went on to win a Super Bowl and make themselves more a part of the New Orleans fabric than ever before.

Let’s turn to a couple of loyal readers for affirmation.

Richard in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote: “Signing Drew Brees has to trump all. When you take into account everything that Drew has done off the field since his arrival, winning the Super Bowl may be the least important thing that he has done for the city of New Orleans.’’

Fred in New Orleans wrote: “As much as I would like to say our turning point was hiring Jim Finks or Jim Mora or maybe even Sean Payton, I think the Saints' turning point was actually made by another team -- when the Dolphins refused to make an offer to Drew Brees. If they make a hard push for him who knows what happens next?’’

PANTHERS: Jake Delhomme's arrival game

Appearing in Super Bowl XXXVIII was the winner of the popular vote as the Flash Point for the Carolina Panthers. That loss to New England drew 42 percent of the vote, and advancing all the way to the NFC Championship Game in only the second season of an expansion franchise finished second at 28 percent.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Craig Jones/Getty ImagesJake Delhomme's debut for the Panthers in September 2003 started Carolina's improbable Super Bowl run.
But I’m going with a moment that wasn’t even on the ballot as my Flash Point for the Panthers -- the insertion of Jake Delhomme at quarterback at the start of the second half of the 2003 season opener against Jacksonville. An unknown career backup with the Saints, Delhomme replaced Rodney Peete and the Panthers just kept winning all the way to the Super Bowl. I was covering the Panthers on a daily basis as a beat writer at that time and as I think back, Delhomme’s emergence in that game was one of the most magical moments I’ve seen in sports.

Let me add that a vocal group of readers made a strong case that Delhomme’s debut should have been on the ballot because that was actually the moment that sparked the whole Super Bowl run. I thought about that for a couple of minutes and decided they were right. So let’s hear from a few convincing readers.

Brian in Charlotte wrote: “Jake Delhomme’s halftime entrance into the game versus Jacksonville seems to represent the best of Panthers history. The team marched to an appearance in the Super Bowl that year and, while we may not have had back-to-back winning seasons, provided the Panthers with both stability and leadership at the quarterback position for the next few years.’’

Evan in Charlotte wrote: “Carolina rode on that momentum to eventually go to the Super Bowl. That whole season was Carolina's defining moment, but it all began at that game. Everything about the Carolina Panthers changed at that moment.’’

Brian and Evan, you’re absolutely right.

BUCCANEERS: Dungy turned the tide

In the closest contest of all our polls, readers voted Tampa Bay’s victory against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII as the defining moment in Buccaneers’ history. That got 39 percent of more than 31,000 votes. The hiring of coach Tony Dungy in 1996 finished a close second at 37 percent and the trade for Jon Gruden, the coach who actually won Tampa Bay’s lone Super Bowl, was third at 21 percent.

[+] EnlargeTony Dungy
Andy Lyons/Allsport/Getty ImagesTony Dungy laid the foundation for a Super Bowl winner in Tampa.
But I’m not going with the simple majority here. I’m going with the hiring of Dungy because I think this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. Much like the signing of Brees and the insertion of Delhomme led the Saints and Panthers to Super Bowls, I view the hiring of Dungy as the move that started Tampa Bay on a path to the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay is a land of transplants and history sometimes gets lost. But I happened to be a beat writer covering the Buccaneers when Dungy was hired (heck, I was part of a media stakeout outside Bern’s Steakhouse as Dungy and ownership were inside sealing the deal).

You have to understand what the Bucs were like before Dungy arrived. They were the joke of the NFL for more than a decade. Former owner Hugh Culverhouse was despised by fans, players and the people who worked for him. The Bucs had gone for more than a decade without a winning season and good coaches such as Ray Perkins and Sam Wyche came to Tampa Bay and became horrible coaches.

Dungy (supported by new owner Malcolm Glazer) quietly changed the entire culture of the Bucs. They began winning and changed uniform colors and logos. Everything changed. Raymond James Stadium was built and filled up every week. The Bucs became consistent winners.

It’s true Dungy couldn't get Tampa Bay over the final hump. He was stubborn and conservative on offense and that got him fired. But he had the Bucs built into such a great defensive team that Gruden was able to come in, tweak the offense and win the Super Bowl in his first season. None of that would have been possible without Dungy’s contributions. He made the Bucs consistently relevant for the first time in their history.

Let’s turn to a couple comments from readers.

Darryl in Springfield, N.J., wrote: “The hiring of Dungy was huge as he helped to instill a culture of winning. However, I think another important step was drafting Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks in 1995 (the moves were made by Wyche and former general manager Rich McKay). Beyond their contributions on the field, Brooks was the heart of the Bucs, and Sapp brought a public swagger to a downtrodden franchise. The history of Sapp and Brooks in Tampa might be different without Dungy, but I think you could also argue that the history of Dungy might be very different without Sapp and Brooks."

Tim in Clearwater, Fla., wrote: “Sam Wyche drafted two first-ballot Hall of Fame players in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. Without these players, Dungy’s tenure in Tampa Bay would likely not have been as long or as successful.’’

True, but Sapp and Brooks didn’t do much in their one season with Wyche. When Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin arrived, they put Sapp and Brooks into a defense that became dominant. In my eyes, it all started with Dungy.

FALCONS: Matt Ryan brought consistent winning

When it came time for Atlanta fans to weigh in on the Falcons' Flash Point, they went with the drafting of quarterback Michael Vick. That move won the vote at 39 percent, while the drafting of Ryan in 2008 came in second at 31 percent.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesAfter three seasons in Atlanta Matt Ryan has thrown 66 touchdowns, amassed more than 10,000 passing yards, and has an 86.9 passer rating.
I’m going to dispute that one. Yes, Vick had a big impact and led the Falcons to some success. But they could never string good seasons together and Vick’s time in Atlanta came to a terrible end when he went to prison. That coupled with the disastrous tenure of coach Bobby Petrino put the Falcons as low as any NFC South team has ever been.

That was at the end of the 2007. A few months later, the Falcons drafted Ryan. Guess what? Since that moment, the Falcons have had three straight winning seasons. Before Ryan’s arrival, the franchise never even had back-to-back winning seasons. Atlanta went 13-3 last season before a disappointing playoff loss to Green Bay.

But the Falcons are built around Ryan and he’s not going anywhere for a long time. In fact, I think the Falcons are right on the cusp of huge success. Let’s turn to a reader for perspective.

Reid in Atlanta wrote: “The true 'defining moment' for the Falcons is not on your list of choices. It was when Arthur Blank purchased the team from the Smith family, who oversaw a comedy of errors and bad personnel choices for decades. Blank may be responsible for the Petrino fiasco, but otherwise his moves have been solid, and a welcome contrast to what preceded him.’’

No argument that Blank has done some great things and made the Falcons more competitive than they ever have been. But I think the best move Blank made was drafting Ryan. That’s when things really turned for the Falcons.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

There is no one in professional sports quite like Al Davis.

Say what you like about the mercurial, jump-suit clad czar of the Oakland Raiders, but the man is one of a kind.

He is the Oakland Raiders. AFC West history lessons must start with Davis.

[+] EnlargeAl Davis
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Raiders have been all Al Davis since 1963, winning three Super Bowls and one AFL championship.
Just set the tone, baby.

Although the Raiders are one of the NFL’s most tradition-rich franchises, there was really no other choice as Oakland’s representative for the pivotal moment in team history. It all started in 1963 when a young, brash offensive mind from Brooklyn left his post as an assistant coach with the rival San Diego Chargers to become the head coach/general manager of the Raiders.

Readers agreed as Davis was a runaway winner, beating the Raiders’ first Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XI, the Raiders’ return to Oakland in 1995 and the trade of coach Jon Gruden to Tampa Bay in 2002.

It has to be Davis. After all, if it weren’t for Davis’ arrival in Oakland, none of the other finalists might have occurred. Nothing has happened involving the Raiders since 1963 that hasn’t had Davis’ fingerprints all over it. Nothing.

Readers noticed.

Rob31340 said: While it does not excuse recent failures, Al Davis is probably one of the three most important figures in NFL History. Even though he has been passed by in matters of business and football in general, no current owner or executive can lay claim to accomplishing more for the league and Oakland Raiders than Al Davis.

Added MicRaider: “Al Davis changed the whole perspective of the organization, and the AFL. This man is responsible for changing football for generations to come in many different aspects of the game, not just on the field, but the business, too .. (nothing else) come close to defining us as the Raider Nation than BIG AL.”

It’s been 48 years and it’s been good and bad, but there’s no denying that Al Davis -- less than two months shy of his 82nd birthday -- has and does define the AFC West.

Broncos: This one’s for John

While Davis has been the face of the Raiders for 48 years as an off-field leader, there hasn’t been a player in AFC West history who had more of an impact than John Elway.

One of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, Elway was the Denver Broncos from 1983 to 1998. He led Denver to five Super Bowls and won the final two in his final two NFL seasons.

Elway’s legacy has lasted beyond his retirement. There are still likely to be more orange No. 7 jerseys in the Mile High stands than any other.

Denver's John Elway
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesJohn Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning two.
This January, as he watched his once-proud franchise slip into irrelevancy, Denver owner Pat Bowlen gave Elway the ball again at the age of 50, asking for another patented Elway comeback, making him the vice president of football operations in Denver.

It all started in 1983 when Denver traded a package to the Baltimore Colts to get Elway after he refused to play for the Colts. This one was a no-doubter. The voting was even more lopsided than Davis’ win in Oakland. The other choices in Denver were Mike Shanahan’s arrival in 1995 as head coach, the drafting of running back Terrell Davis in 1995 and the team’s first Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XXXII.

The readers made it clear what was the flash point in Denver. It was the arrival of the Duke.

Said Arhoades28: “It has to be Elway … Elway and his 5 SBs define this franchise, for me at least.”

Added Jefffree57: “It all started with Elway. He might not have won it until Shanny and TD came. But he sure did keep that team competitive for a long while and a great leader for those SB wins.”

Chiefs: We are champions

When we first started this project, I was leaning toward making the arrival of the great Derrick Thomas in the 1989 draft as the team’s Flash Point.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Hank Stram
AP PhotoKansas City coach Hank Stram and the Chiefs celebrated the franchise's first and only Super Bowl victory in 1970.
He was one of the most ferocious defensive players in the NFL in recent memory and was a major reason why the Chiefs were a consistent contender for much of the 1990s. No player hassled Elway more than Thomas ever did.

He was the face of Kansas City until his tragic death in 2000 from complications following an auto accident.

However, the more I considered it, the more I thought the Chiefs’ lone Super Bowl title in Super Bowl IV is the Flash Point in team history. It was a solid winner over Thomas’ arrival, the arrival of general manager Scott Pioli in 2009 and the team’s move from Dallas in 1963.

I get it. Nothing changes a franchise’s landscape like a championship. I am a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants, who won their first World Series last fall. From now on, whatever happens, that first championship will always be the defining moment of the franchise in my mind.

The same thing happened in Kansas City in January, 1970. The Chiefs were a big deal back in the day and this was the team that will forever be remembered of all Lamar Hunt’s great teams.

Here’s some of what Chiefs’ fans have to say about that team:

Said Jayrodtremonki: “This one is the hardest one for me to call. Winning the Super Bowl and drafting DT are both huge moments for the franchise. Growing up with Thomas as my favorite player it's obviously a little closer to my heart, but it's still hard to put him over the crowning achievement of guys like Dawson, Lanier, Bell, Taylor, E Thomas and Hank Stram.”

Added Freyasfav: “Hank Stram’s teams were fantastic, show the old NFL what they were missing – pizzazz.”

Chargers: The Decade of LT

The San Diego Chargers are the only team in the AFC West never to have won a Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesTeammates raised up LaDainian Tomlinson after he broke the NFL single-season TD record in 2006.
However, they are rich in history. There have been some great players in this organization.

Perhaps no one has defined the team more than running back LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s funny, because this is a quarterback's league and the Chargers have been blessed with great quarterback play. Dan Fouts was a Hall of Famer and Philip Rivers has become an elite quarterback.

Still, LT owned the Chargers.

That’s why the Chargers' taking him with the No. 5 pick of the 2001 NFL draft was the winning Flash Point in San Diego history.

It beat out Fouts’ arrival in 1973, the 2004 draft-day trade with the New York Giants involving Rivers and Eli Manning and the Chargers’ lone Super Bowl appearance, a lopsided loss to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX.

With a special running style and an off-field personality to match, Tomlinson became a superstar in San Diego. He turned the Chargers from a bottom feeder to a perennial division champion until his controversial departure in 2010, which left him in tears.

There are no hard feeling. Tomlinson’s legacy lives in San Diego. Jordang702 put it simply: “LT was huge for them!!!!!!”
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Peyton Manning melded a team and a town, resurrected the once-proud horseshoe and will finish up as a contender for the greatest of all time on the quarterback list.

There is no minimizing his impact.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport The Colts selected Peyton Manning, center, with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft.
And there is no debating your votes for the Colts’ selection of Manning with the first overall pick in the 1998 draft as the franchise’s Flash Point that changed its fortunes.

Said DaveatIU: “Without drafting Peyton Manning... they would be the Los Angeles Colts right now. 'Nuff said.”

The Blog Network offered four choices per team, plus the option to vote “other.” And out of 160 total options, the drafting of Manning got a higher percentage of votes on his team’s ballot than anyone or anything else.

As of Thursday afternoon, Manning had a whopping 87 percent of the Colts’ vote. He didn’t win by a little. He outpointed the next three biggest Flash Points in your eyes by 18 percent: Joe Namath’s guarantee for the Jets, the Broncos trade for John Elway and the Packers’ hiring of Vince Lombardi were all at 69 percent.

In general, AFC South voters went modern. With the Jaguars and Texans, there is no other choice. With the Colts and Titans, you chose not to hearken back to Baltimore and Houston, respectively.

I understand many of you don’t regard Baltimore/Indianapolis and Houston/Nashville as single histories. But we don’t get to decide. The Irsay and Adams families did.

As edutil21 wrote: “The question is asking about the colts FRANCHISE, not the cities of Indianapolis or Baltimore, and with that in mind it is perfectly plausible to include anything that occurred during the Franchise's time in Baltimore.”

And so, as big a moment as drafting Manning was in setting his franchise’s course, I think my vote has to go to The Greatest Game Ever Played, the 23-17 overtime win over the Giants in the NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium in 1958.

Without that game, are we certain the league turns into an entity where Manning has the chance to make the impact he has?

j_sleik83 was disgusted with the balloting: “And the idiots voting reign supreme. It's the 58 title game. In NFL history it's number 1, much less Colts history. And btw, Johnny Unitas is still the greatest QB in Colts history.”

Added CPCaesar: “Do Colts fans have zero sense of history?! I can understand a strong showing for Peyton, but to have him blowing out the game that made the NFL into a televised sport is ridiculous! This team has a legacy that includes Don Shula and Johnny Unitas, but it seems as if their impact on the game is lost on a modern fan base…”

There was also a pretty good other mentioned by a few, including krankor: “The actual Colts Flash Point didn't even involve the team. It was in 1955 when the Pittsburgh Steelers brilliantly decided that it would be a shrewd move to cut Johnny Unitas.”

TITANS: Epic playoff collapse set stage for relocation


With the Titans, modern also ruled. I understand why 52 percent of voters clicked the button for The Music City Miracle.

For Nashville sports fans to get a play like that in the team’s first year as the Titans, in the city’s first playoff game, was absolutely remarkable. It put the team’s claws into everyone with any sort of interest that day for the long haul. Quite frankly, it spoiled them, too.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Kevin Dyson
AP Photo/Wade PayneTitans receiver Kevin Dyson (87) looks back as he returns a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown following a lateral. The play is known as the Music City Miracle.
“It is really not even close.....No offense intended to the Oiler faithful, but the Music City Miracle is the best answer, and here is why,” wrote greenlawler. “That one play made solidified the regional fan base. Up until that point there were passionate fans in Middle Tennessee and a few other pockets scattered around the state. But that play and subsequent playoff run sparked a tidal wave of fan support that laid a foundation for the franchise. There are large populations of Titans fans in Alabama, [Mississippi], Kentucky, and Arkansas due to that run.”

With apologies to greenlawler and the majority of voters, I’ve got to go a different direction again.

The Oilers/Titans are, historically, average at best. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the team has had 18 winning seasons, 17 losing seasons and six .500 seasons. It’s 14-19 all-time in the playoffs even counting the AFL days when it won a couple of titles. Since the Music City Miracle season, the team is 2-5 in the playoffs. What was transformed?

Put the MCM aside, and the biggest historical moments for the franchise are generally not wins: A yard short of overtime in its one Super Bowl appearance; back-to-back AFC Championship Game losses in Pittsburgh to end the 1978 and 1979 seasons; and the firing of Bum Phillips after an 11-5 year in 1980.

And the mother of bad playoff moments, that epic playoff collapse in Buffalo on Jan. 3, 1993, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead to lose 41-38 in overtime.

That’s the Flash Point to me.

What if that team or the 12-4 team a year later (that was scarred by that disaster), went to a Super Bowl? What if it won a Super Bowl?

Surely Bud Adams would have maintained a better standing in the city, which would have been more willing to build a new stadium. Take away that loss, and there still could be a team in Houston wearing powder blue and an oil derrick. (And a guy like me, who got his big break in sports writing because Nashville got an NFL franchise, might be an admissions director at some private high school.)

So I align with mag5011ad: “If they don't blow that 32 point lead, I think they represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, not the Bills. With that excitement in the city, they get the support to build a new stadium, which keeps the team in Houston. Most defining moment. . .”

[+] EnlargeMark Brunell
Rick Runion/AFP/Getty ImagesMark Brunell and the Jaguars had a franchise-best 14-2 record in 1999 and hosted the AFC Championship Game.
So does dsachde: “As a fan who's followed this team from Houston, this poll makes me kind of sick. That said, I agree with mag5011ad. After that playoff game, the city started to turn on the Oilers and then Bud decided to dismantle the entire team a year later. That was the end of this team in Houston. The actual move to Nashville was just the punctuation. “

JAGUARS: Quick Final Four appearance boosted city

A trip to the AFC Championship Game in the Jaguars' second season of play had quite an impact on the market in 1996. It got 52 percent of your votes as the Jaguars' Flash Point, and I am in agreement.

But your comments were mostly about the 1999 season, when the Jaguars hosted the AFC Championship Game. They lost to the Titans for the third time that year, in a season which they lost to no one else.

Said markpark64: “I would say the 1999 AFC Championship Game. It was the last home playoff game and ended a run of four straight playoff appearances. The Jags' history can really be divided into pre-1999 (2 AFC Championship Game appearances in 4 years) and post-1999 (only 3 playoff games and 1 playoff win in over 10 years). The team has not been the same since the 1999 loss.”

You also wanted to spin forward, which isn’t the game we’re playing but was understandable.

Said SeattleJaguar: “It may be too soon to say, but I think the promotion of Gene Smith to GM will be looked at as the most significant turning point for this franchise. The fan base is starting to become more mature and a unique football culture is beginning to establish itself. We are seeing a young, die-hard, fan base emerge from the 'Jaguars babies' of the 90s. If you go to any games, its remarkable how young the fans are and they will stay loyal to the Jags, unlike the old farts that abandoned the team after the 90s. Go Jags!”

TEXANS: Controversial draft choice proved correct


Texans fans voted, narrowly, for the drafting of Mario Williams in 2006 over the awarding of the franchise in 1999.

[+] EnlargeHouston's Mario Williams
AP Photo/Matt YorkMario Williams has recorded 48 sacks for the Texans since they drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft.
Williams has been slowed by some injuries the last couple of seasons. I believe he’s underrated as a pass-rushing force, though I am skeptical about his move to weak outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme.

The Texans got crushed for the selection, but history shows they knew exactly what they were doing. He’s a superior player to Reggie Bush or Vince Young.

The decision to draft Williams did not transform the team, but there is nothing that’s boosted a nine-season-old team in such a dramatic fashion.

Said vonstev1668 “Though I voted for the win against the Cowboys [in the franchise’s first game], the truth is the Texans haven't had their defining moment yet.”

Said EMajorwitz: “Trick question, hasn't happened yet. [Dom] Capers and [Charley] Casserly essentially ruined this team with their horrible drafting and free-agent signings. Other than Andre Johnson, I don't like a single first-round pick. Nearly a decade into the franchise's history and we still haven't made the playoffs while recent expansion teams like Carolina and Jacksonville have been deep into the playoffs."
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

A longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant named Bill Walsh was having a hard time convincing NFL teams to hire him as a head coach.

The Bengals had promoted another assistant, Bill "Tiger" Johnson, when Paul Brown retired after the 1975 season. Walsh spent 1976 as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers before leaving the NFL entirely for the best head-coaching job he could get. Years later, Walsh accused Brown of conspiring to keep him from advancing.

Bill Walsh
Malcolm Emmons/.US PresswireThe 49ers won three Super Bowls under coach Bill Walsh.
While Walsh was building a winner at Stanford, the sputtering San Francisco 49ers were running through four head coaches in less than two calendar years. Young owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. made Walsh the fifth in 1979.

"Caution should be exercised in proclaiming Bill Walsh the savior of the 49er franchise," Bay Area columnist Ed Jacoubowsky wrote at the time. "But the selection of Walsh as director of the club's football operations probably is the best step the young owner could have taken."

Probably? Let's make that a "definitely" in hindsight.

The organization would never be the same. Offensive football would never be the same. The balance of power in the league itself would shift for a decade, and then some. This was the most crucial event in 49ers history and more significant than any the team's current division rivals have experienced.

That message came through clearly at the SportsNation ballot box, where Walsh's hiring received significantly more votes than any other NFC West Flash Point among the more than 129,000 ballots cast across the division. The 49ers' Flash Points drew more than 44,000 votes, most in the NFC West, and Walsh's hiring commanded better than half of them.

"If the 49ers never hired Bill Walsh, they would not have changed the organizational structure of the team, how players are graded and drafted, how to prepare those players for the season and utilize them on the field of play," razzberry80 wrote. "Bill changed EVERYTHING. Joe Montana was the best, but without Bill Walsh, Joe is probably not drafted by the 49ers."

Another 49ers fan, servegmo, credited Walsh for drawing him in as a fan living in Costa Rica.

"He is the reason people from all over the world started watching football," servegmo wrote. "He put the 49ers in a position where they changed football as a whole -- the offseason preparation, the inclusion of black coaches, the practices, the West Coast offense, how he managed the draft (drafting the best players EVER at quarterback, wide receiver and safety). How many coaches can say that?"

The 49ers won three Super Bowls in 10 seasons under Walsh, who qualified as a football visionary in strategy, philosophy and personnel evaluation. Walsh became famous for scripting plays to separate in-game emotions from the decision-making process. His personnel moves and broader philosophy scripted more lasting success: five Super Bowls, including two won after Walsh retired from the sideline.

With full support from DeBartolo, who had learned from past mistakes, Walsh showed an exceptional eye for talent. Has any coach possessed a superior vision?

"When he drafted Ronnie Lott, he thought, 'He's a corner now, but he'll be a longtime All-Pro safety,'" former Walsh assistant and two-time NFL head coach Dennis Green said for this project. "When he drafted Roger Craig, he saw him as a fullback now, but a little small for the fullback we really needed, so we would draft a fullback and Craig would make the transition to running back.

Trent Green
AP Photo/Harold JenkinsTrent Green's knee injury paved the way for Kurt Warner to step in at quarterback.
"Bill did that sort of thing constantly when he thought players could fit in a certain way and be very unique players."

Walsh's hiring commanded 53 percent of votes cast for the 49ers' Flash Points, with "The Catch" ranking second at 37 percent. Of course, there never would have been such a signature play if Walsh hadn't put together a 1979 draft class featuring Montana in the third round and Dwight Clark in the 10th.

RAMS: Trent Green's injury pivotal

The Kurt Warner story might never have been told if the San Diego Chargers' Rodney Harrison hadn't knocked out Green with a severe knee injury during the 1999 preseason.

Fans voted that moment supreme with 49 percent of more than 28,000 votes. Only Mike Jones' Super Bowl-saving tackle against Kevin Dyson (36 percent) came close to challenging.

The comments section of the Rams-related item drew barely more than a dozen contributions, however. So much for exit polling.

[+] EnlargePaul Allen
Robert Giroux/Getty ImagesPaul Allen helped bring an NFC title to Seattle.
"The ownership change [in 1972] precipitated everything that has happened to the Rams in 'modern' times," patdpenguin wrote. "The true answer to the question would be the ownership change, but as a lifelong fan, speaking with my heart, I would choose the Trent Green injury. Prior to that, the team had not proven anything, and was spinning its wheels."

SEAHAWKS: Paul Allen trumps all

The Seahawks were planning a move to Los Angeles during their darkest days of the 1990s, at one point even conducting free agency from an elementary school parking lot in Southern California.

Allen wasn't much of an NFL fan at the time, but he rallied to the cause of keeping the team in Seattle. Allen led a push to secure a new stadium, contributing $130 million of his own money in exchange for $300 million in public funding, as part of a deal to purchase the team.

Within a couple years, the team had landed Mike Holmgren as coach and general manager. Multiple division titles and the first Super Bowl in franchise history followed.

"I went with Allen buying the team," DiLune2 wrote. "It is hard to point to any one of those [other] moments as the one point where it all changed. They were part of a long, ugly slide. Allen buying the team, though, was the one point in time where you can look and say, 'It all changed right there.'"

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images Larry Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 152 yards and three TDs in the NFC Championship Game.
CARDINALS: Beating Eagles to reach Super Bowl

Sixty-eight percent of more than 26,000 Cardinals voters pointed to the team's victory over Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. No option for any team drew a higher percentage.

The runner-up for the Cardinals -- securing a new stadium in 2006 -- lagged with only 16 percent. But some felt strongly it should have prevailed.

"Wow, this is a slam dunk," longtime blog contributor Leesters wrote. "The stadium changed this team overnight. It went from the least competitive financial situation in the league to one of the best, in one year. Free agents could be afforded, better coaches, better home-field advantage. If it wasn't for this stadium, there would be no NFC Championship win."
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

Fly into the city of Pittsburgh, and there is no doubt what is the most memorable moment in Steelers' history.

Inside Pittsburgh International Airport there is a life-sized statue of Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception." Harris caught a deflection off teammate Frenchy Fuqua late in a 1972 AFC divisional playoff game to score the winning touchdown in a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Franco Harris
AP Photo/Harry CabluckJimmy Ware just missed bringing Franco Harris down and changing the course of NFL history.
One of the most unbelievable plays in NFL history turned out to be the biggest turning point for the Steelers. It was Pittsburgh's first-ever playoff victory and it jump-started the team's run to an NFL-best six Super Bowl titles, including four championships in the 1970s.

Msdmr writes: "[Pittsburgh] had only been to playoffs twice at that point. It got them out of the doormat category, gave them tangible proof that they could win."

Krankor watched the "Immaculate Reception" live on television nearly four decades ago: "I was a kid at the time, about 10 years old. What I remember most clearly was that, after the play, the delay while the officials decided what to call was unprecedented. I'd never seen anything like it, before or since."

Not everyone is impressed by the memorable play, especially those outside of Steeler Nation. Washed_up_ball_player writes: "Funny how the No. 1 selection, the 'Immaculate Reception,' is just a lucky play where the football gods smiled down on the Steelers. That sounds like the definition of the Steelers to me."

The "Immaculate Reception" led the way with 34 percent of the 40,000-plus votes as of 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, edging Pittsburgh's 1974 draft (31 percent) that included four Hall of Famers in linebacker Jack Lambert, center Mike Webster and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. The Steelers' 1974 draft is often considered the greatest in NFL history. We may never see four Hall of Famers drafted by one team in the same year again.

Former Steelers Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll also had his share of supporters. Noll's hiring in 1969 received a solid 26 percent of the vote. Noll coached Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s before retiring in 1991. He started an impressive run of only three head coaches -- Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin -- running the Steelers since 1969.

Jebei_espn also writes: "The Steelers were always bad before they hired Chuck Noll and have been consistently good since then. Noll turned the franchise around and with great support from the Rooney family they started a great tradition that continues to this day."

RAVENS: First draft was huge

Speaking of impressive draft classes, the Baltimore Ravens had one of their own during their inaugural season in 1996.

The Ravens landed two future Hall of Famers in the first round. Baltimore selected left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the No. 4 overall pick and middle linebacker Ray Lewis at No. 26 overall, which received an impressive 54 percent of the vote as of Tuesday afternoon. Both players were longtime stalwarts on offense and defense, and Lewis, 36, still leads the Ravens entering his 16th season.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Jonathan Ogden
AP Photo/Wally SantanaThe Ravens took Jonathan Ogden with the No. 4 pick in the 1996 NFL draft.
DaReel2008 summed it up best by writing: "Drafting Lewis and Ogden was our defining moment, and the others mentioned -- even the Super Bowl -- aren't even close. Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are two of the best players to ever play their positions. They not only helped carry the Ravens to a Super Bowl, but made us a perennial contender for most of the last 12 years. Our team prides itself on its character and its toughness, both of which are embodied by these two players, who will be in the HOF upon their first year of eligibility."

The Ravens also got a nice sleeper in the fifth round of the 1996 draft by getting receiver and return specialist Jermaine Lewis. He was the first of many gems Baltimore's front office was able to discover in the middle and late rounds.

Baltimore's Super Bowl XXV victory over the New York Giants following the 2000 season came in second place with 40 percent of the vote. It remains the Ravens' only Super Bowl victory.

Clifford from Baltimore makes a good case for Super Bowl XXV when he writes: "It solidified the identity of the franchise. The Ravens were a good defensive football team for two years or so before their Super Bowl run, but winning a championship with defense effectively defined the entire culture of the team as a whole."

BROWNS: Hard luck adds to Cleveland curse

Now we get to the downtrodden segment of our "Flash Points" series. After more than 50,000 votes -- the highest total in the AFC North -- "The Fumble" and "The Drive" led the way among Browns fans with 37 percent.

Cleveland's championship drought in pro sports is at 47 years and counting. The Browns' teams of the late 1980s were solid and had a chance to break that streak. But Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway and the Denver Broncos broke Cleveland's heart in back-to-back years with a pair of late-minute victories.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Earnest Byner
AP photo/Mark DuncanCleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner (44) is comforted by teammate Brian Brennan (86) after Byner fumbled in the closing minutes of the 1987 AFC Championship game.
First, Elway drove Denver 98 yards for a touchdown with 37 seconds left to force overtime in the AFC Championship Game following the 1986 season. The Broncos got a field goal in overtime to win 23-20 and advance to the Super Bowl.

Denver and Cleveland met in the AFC title game one year later, and Earnest Byner's late fumble on the 3-yard line thwarted a chance for the Browns to tie the score in regulation. Following a late safety, Denver held on to win 38-33.

Daffy87 writes: "I would lean towards 'The Fumble' and 'The Drive' since that's the first thing that comes to people's minds when they bring up the Browns. Anytime anything bad or strange happens in a game, announcers roll the film."

I interviewed Byner a few years ago to discuss his fumble. The play serves as a cruel reality, because Byner had a solid career, rushing for 8,261 yards, but he will be most remembered for one bad play.

"To be honest, it helped me be a better man and a better person," said Byner, who now is an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Going through something like that really gives you perspective that life is not over when you have something tragic happen or something that definitely challenges you."

Both Denver teams lost in the Super Bowl. Cleveland fans can always wonder if those Browns teams would have been a better representative for the AFC and perhaps won at least one championship following the 1986 or 1987 season.

BENGALS: Downhill since Montana

The Cincinnati Bengals have had some highs and lows in their history. But an overwhelming 49 percent of Bengals fans chose Joe Montana's late, game-winning drive to lead the San Francisco 49ers over the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII as Cincinnati's biggest turning point.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's John Taylor.
US PRESSWIREJohn Taylor catches the winning touchdown against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII
GreatestBengalsFanOfAllTime writes: "The last-minute loss to the 49ers defines the Bengals, forever and always. Many fans like to say it was the Mike Brown era, but the truth is, the Bengals weren't exactly legends under Paul Brown, either. The last-minute loss to the 49ers accurately sums up the entire history of Bengaldom in one simple phrase: 'So close, yet so far.'"

Trailing 16-13, the 49ers needed to drive 92 yards in the final three minutes to win the Super Bowl. Montana got in rhythm and connected with receiver John Taylor with 34 seconds left to win the game, 20-16. It was the last Super Bowl appearance for the Bengals, who in turn have struggled mightily for the past two decades.

Bengals owner Mike Brown taking over the franchise was a distant second with 27 percent. Brown's father, Hall of Famer Paul Brown, starting the franchise in 1968 was third with 13 percent, and drafting left tackle Anthony Munoz in 1980 was fourth with eight percent.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

The most important moment in Green Bay Packers history was nearly scuttled by an unlikely source. Shortly after Vince Lombardi accepted the Packers' job as head coach/general manager in 1959, his wife was "distraught," according to historian David Maraniss.

Marie Lombardi approached New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, who owned Lombardi's contract as a Giants assistant coach. As Maraniss writes in "When Pride Still Mattered," Marie begged Mara to block her husband's move.

[+] EnlargeVince Lombardi
AP PhotoCoach Vince Lombardi (upper right) led the Packers to five championship wins in seven seasons.
Mara declined, knowing Vince was ready to be a head coach. Marie stood by her husband. And the rest, as they say, is Packers history.

Lombardi's arrival in Green Bay was your overwhelming choice as the Packers' Flash Point, and it received a higher percentage of votes (69 percent) than any individual event offered in last week's series of polls. Lombardi won his first NFL title in 1961 and collected four more before giving up the job in 1967, building an unmatched legend and painting the franchise in gold mystique for generations to come.

Some of you made impassioned arguments for Curly Lambeau's push to sell stock and make the franchise a non-profit organization in 1923, a short-term fundraising effort that embedded a structure still in operation today. "How can it not be Curly?" wrote mallow420. "If Curly doesn't save the Packers then there's no Packers to hire Lombardi."

Hadessniper allowed that "Lambeau making the Packers public is more important for the Packers, as without that there is simply no way Green Bay keeps a team." But, wrote hadessniper, "Lombardi is probably more important for the NFL as a whole. The NFL was gaining popularity, but Lombardi gave the game a legend. Without Lombardi the NFL wouldn't be what it is today."

Timarquardt was more direct: "Get back to me when someone else wins five championships in seven years. That's Lombardi's legacy and with all due credit to Curly, he did it when there was a bunch of good teams. Curly saved the franchise, obviously important, but without those Lombardi years the team never would have had the following through the dark years of the '70s and '80s to be successful."

What's fascinating to me is that Lambeau actually wanted Lombardi's job in 1959, a decade after an internal power struggle led to Lambeau's ouster. As Maraniss recounts, Lambeau flew to Green Bay during the interview process and launched a campaign to capture at least the general manager position that Lombardi ultimately filled. Dominic Olejniczak, president of the Packers board of directors, resisted the urge to hire him despite heavy public support.

The Flash Point mandate was less clear for the NFC North's other three teams. Let's sort through them in alphabetical order:

BEARS: A hero of 1985

About half of you voted for the arrival of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, the architect of the 46 defense that led the Bears to a championship in 1985.

Buddy Ryan
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesBuddy Ryan's 46 defense formed the identity of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears team.
Lewie21982 was livid and wrote: "Who are these people voting?? Are you just idiot baby boomers, hippies, or the '80s mullet crowd??? I was born in the '80s and clearly know the decision of drafting Red Grange or instituting the T-Formation was the most significant thing the Bears have ever done. The Bears have nine championships and eight of them were before Buddy Ryan, Mike Ditka, or the 46 defense ever came around!!"

I hear ya, Lewie21982. Red Grange made the Bears an early heavy hitter in pro football, and George Halas' schematic innovations led to the golden age in franchise history -- four world titles in seven years between 1940-46. But I understand where the baby boomers, hippies and mulleteers were going.

The 1985 Bears were the best team in franchise history and one of the most dominant of the NFL's post-merger era. With all due respect to Ditka and running back Walter Payton, Ryan's 46 defense was the biggest reason. It's impossible for a single moment to spawn something so impactful, and I heard a suggestion for ex-general manager Jim Finks acquiring many of that team's stars. But without Buddy Ryan, the 46 defense doesn't exist and the 1985 Bears as they were known never come to be.

LIONS: Forgetting yesteryear

The Detroit Lions' Flash Point vote got more action than any team in the division, garnering more than 53,000 votes. On that, we can agree.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Barry Sanders
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty ImagesBarry Sanders had a Hall of Fame career but couldn't get the Lions a championship.
But did the decision to draft running back Barry Sanders have more impact than any other event in franchise history? About 60 percent of you thought so, although the comments reflected a wider disparity.

I'm not on board, and neither was j_sleik83. We agree that quarterback Bobby Layne brought the Lions what Sanders never did. J_sleik83: "Bobby Layne in combination with the Hall of Fame defensive backfield the Lions had during the entirety of the '50s IS their defining era. Barry Sanders didn't lead them to the promised land, Layne did."

I mean no disrespect to Sanders, who forged a Hall of Fame career on some otherwise undermanned teams. But with Layne behind center, the Lions won NFL titles in 1952 and 1953. He contributed to a third in 1957, and upon his subsequent departure, Layne placed a (possibly apocryphal) 50-year curse on the franchise. (For that reason, DWargs thought trading Layne away is the defining moment in franchise history: "Haven't gotten close to a championship since.")

Several of you pointed to the ownership of the Ford family as the primary reason for that dubious run. Regardless, I understand that Lions history is defined more by failure than success. But on an otherwise desultory landscape, the Lions once had a brilliant run. Bobby Layne was the single biggest reason why.

VIKINGS: Varied opinions

I did either an excellent or terrible job of choosing options for the Minnesota Vikings' Flash Point: All four possibilities received between 19 and 32 percent of the vote. Assembling the "Purple People Eaters" had the highest percentage, but its total was hardly a mandate among the 38,000 or so votes cast.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota coach Bud Grant
AP Photo/Jack ThornellBud Grant won 152 games as coach over 18 seasons.
Scanning the comments, it was clear that you agreed on only one thing: A Vikings Flash Point needed to reflect a long history of dysfunction.

Even looking beyond the obvious, Ymacdaddy offered this litany: "Herschel Walker, Metrodome [collapse], Gary Anderson, Dimitrius Underwood, too many in huddle, big-game chokers, etc. How about Darrin Nelson before Marcus Allen?"

The 1989 Walker trade, in which the Vikings ultimately gave up five players and six draft choices, received multiple mentions. So did Gary Anderson's shocking field goal miss in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. BuckeyeVikes80 is "still reeling from that 12 years later."

Dbatten1 noted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach's Hail Mary pass to Drew "Push" Pearson in the 1975 playoffs. TampaPacMan's moment was the final play of the 2003 season, when the Vikings lost the NFC North title and a playoff berth by giving up an improbable touchdown to Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole. It was "the signature moment in a franchise history littered with failures!" wrote TampaPacMan.

If it were up to me, Bud Grant's arrival would rank as the most significant moment in Vikings history. Many of us would agree that Grant has made the single-biggest impact in this franchise's 50 years. But what do I know? I just work here.

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