The NFL awarded Super Bowl IX to Pasadena, California on March 19, 1975 at the owners’ meetings held in Honolulu….as this game marked the second Super Bowl appearance for the Oakland Raiders….who lost in their first Super Bowl II against the Green Bay Packers….who were coached by legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Two years after their Super Bowl loss…..the Raiders hired John Madden as their head coach….and under Madden….the Raiders posted and incredible reccord of 83 wins, 22 losses and 7 ties in his 8 seasons as head coach….which counting ties….was a .772 winning percentage….2nd for any NFL team behind only the Vikings at .781….but Super Bowl XI was the first time Madden led his team to a league championship game. They had been eliminated in all 6 of their previous playoff appearances, including 5 losses in the AFC Championship Game.
The Raiders offense was led by quarterback Ken Stabler….who finished as the top rated passer in the AFC….while passing for 2,737 yards and 27 touchdowns….as his 66.7 completion percentage (194 completions out of 291 attempts) was the second highest in the league. Stabler’s main passing weapon was WR Cliff Branch….who caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards with an average of 24.2 yards per catch and 12 touchdowns….while WR Fred Biletnikoff was also a reliable deep threat with 43 receptions for 551 yards and 7 touchdowns….and TE Dave Casper recorded 53 receptions for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns. In addition to their great passing attack, the Raiders also had a powerful running game led by fullback Mark van Eeghen with 1,012 rushing yards and 17 receptions….and halfback Clarence Davis (516 rushing yards, 27 receptions). Another reason for the Raiders’ success on offense was their offensive line which was led by left tackle Art Shell and left guard Gene Upshaw….as well as perennial All-Pro center Dave Dalby.
Injuries early in the season forced the Raiders to switch from a 4–3 to a 3–4 defense…. which benefited the team as they won their last 10 games….finishing the regular season with the best record in the league at 13–1. The Raiders’ defense was anchored by great linebackers such as Phil Villapiano and Ted Hendricks….while defensive end Otis Sistrunk anchored the defensive line. Their defensive secondary was extremely hard-hitting and talented….led by safeties Jack Tatum and George Atkinson….and cornerbacks Skip Thomas and Willie Brown. Brown, Upshaw, Biletnikoff and RB Pete Banaszak were the only holdovers from the Oakland team that was defeated nine years earlier in Super Bowl II.
Many accused the Raiders defense of being overly aggressive, especially Atkinson, who inflicted a severe concussion on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann in the previous season’s AFC Championship Game. Atkinson added to that reputation as the Raiders advanced through the playoffs to Super Bowl XI….where in the Raiders’ 24–21 playoff win over the New England Patriots, Atkinson broke the nose of Patriots tight end Russ Francis….then Atkinson inflicted another concussion to Swann in the Raiders’ 24–7 AFC Championship victory over the Steelers. In reaction, Pittsburgh head coach Chuck Noll complained of a “criminal element” in Atkinson’s play. Atkinson himself denied deliberately trying to injure anyone and pointed out that at 6’0″ and 185 pounds, he was one of the smallest players on the field. The Raiders and their fans were often known to counter these accusations against Atkinson and Jack Tatum by pointing out the physical way that Pittsburgh cornerback Mel Blount covered Oakland’s speedy split end Cliff Branch.
An interesting fact about the team was that two players whose names were not revealed….bought marijuana from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ singer Anthony Kiedis father Blackie Dammett….supposedly smoking it before the game….and playing the Super Bowl stoned….a revelation in Kiedis’s biography from 2004 Scar Tissue (book).
The Vikings were coached by Bud Grant….won the NFC Central for the eighth time in the last nine seasons with an 11–2–1 record….advancing to their fourth Super Bowl in eight years….as the only team who had lost three Super Bowls….having lost Super Bowls IV to the Kansas City Chiefs….Super Bowl VIII to the Miami Dolphins….and IX to the Pittsburgh Steelers…as they did not want to be the first one to lose four…. especially since they were already the first team to appear in a fourth Super Bowl.
Once again, the Vikings had a powerful offense led by 37-year-old QB Fran Tarkenton and RB Chuck Foreman. Playing in his 16th NFL season, Tarkenton was already the league’s all-time leader in pass completions (3,186)….passing yards (41,802)….and touchdown passes (308). He had another fine season in 1976 while completing 61.9 percent of his passes for 2,961 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only 8 interceptions. Foreman had the best season of his career by rushing for 1,155 yards and 13 touchdowns….while also catching 55 passes for 567 yards and another touchdown. Fullback Brent McClanahan also contributed 634 combined rushing and receiving yards. The Vikings also added two new weapons to their offense as veteran wide receiver Ahmad Rashad and rookie wide receiver Sammy White combined for 104 receptions, 1,577 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns. And once again, tackle Ron Yary anchored the offensive line.
The Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” defense was anchored by DE Carl Eller, DT Jim Marshall and DE Alan Page….who were dominating teams throughout the year. During this regular season, they led the NFC in fewest points allowed (176)….while DB Nate Wright led the team with 7 interceptions for 47 yards….as safety Paul Krause had 2 interceptions for 21 yards….and Fran Tarkenton became the second quarterback to start three Super Bowls….following his Super Bowl VIII counterpart Bob Griese.
In the playoffs….the Vikings went on to dominate the Washington Redskins, 35–20….then defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 24–13. Ten of the Vikings’ points in the NFC Championship Game came from blocked kicks.
The Raiders overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the New England Patriots, 24–21….with the aid of a penalty called against the Patriots….when New England’s Ray Hamilton was tagged for roughing the passer in the fourth quarter…. which turned an incomplete pass on 3rd and 18 into a first down….allowing the Raiders to score on Stabler’s 1-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left in the contest. Oakland then faced in the AFC championship game the Pittsburgh Steelers….a team that had won their two previous Super Bowls….while defeating the Raiders in the playoffs in three out of the last four seasons. However, coming into this game without injured starting RB Franco Harris and RB Rocky Bleier….the Steelers were soundly thrashed this time around by losing to Oakland, 24–7.
This was the first Super Bowl game to match both conferences’ No. 1 seeds….and was the last Super Bowl (and first one held in the Rose Bowl) to finish under daylight….a game in which both teams’ placekickers….Minnesota’s Fred Cox and Oakland’s Errol Mann….used the straight-on style. Scheduled on the 9th day of January, the game marks the earliest Super Bowl played during the calendar year. The regular season started one week earlier than usual in order to avoid having playoff games on Christmas Day….which fell on a Saturday in 1976….so, by moving the season up…. the divisional playoffs were held December 18–19….and the conference championship games Sunday, December 26.