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Super Bowl 54 and Great NFL Comebacks

This post is a summary of a Five Minutes of Football History edition of The Game Before the Money Podcast. New episodes are released each Tuesday. Please subscribe to this football history podcast on your favorite podcast app.

Let’s take a look at three fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL Championships and see what they have in common. We all saw the Patrick Mahomes led fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl 54. Kansas City scored 21 points in the fourth quarter after trailing by 10 going into the final period.

Although this comparison isn’t meant to compare Patrick Mahomes with two of the most legendary quarterbacks in NFL history, it is interesting to note what his Super Bowl 54 comeback has in common with Otto Graham’s two-score comeback in the 1950 NFL Championship Game and Johnny Unitas’ legendary drives to win the 1958 NFL Championship Game.

Graham led the Browns to victory over the Rams in 1950 with two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Cleveland won 30-28. Mahomes led Kansas City to three fourth-quarter scoring drives in Super Bowl 54. Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to a game-tying drive at the end of the fourth quarter and a game-winning drive in overtime.

The championships were the first NFL championship for each quarterback. The comebacks in 1950 and 1958 placed a cornerstone from which they built epic careers. Although Graham had already won pro championships in the AAFC, the 1950 NFL championship banner proved his greatness in any pro league. Those comebacks stand as headline moments in their careers.

Graham went on to lead the Browns to the NFL Championship Game for the next five seasons. Unitas pulled another fourth-quarter comeback stunt the next year, in 1959. What’s next for Mahomes? No one knows, but history tells us that it is likely that he’ll return to the Super Bowl at some point in his career.

History also tells us that quarterbacks who win one Super Bowl are also likely to win multiple Super Bowls. As Tom Brady heads into the twilight of his career with a new team, the spotlight searches for who might be the next NFL quarterback to write a storied history with chapters of miracle wins in big games.

Mahomes’ comeback in Super Bowl 54 wrote his first championship chapter. Let’s not forget he led his team to victory after trailing by 24 points in the Divisional Playoffs and 10 points in the AFC Championship. Those wins weaved a magical season together that will be remembered for a long time, just like the wins Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas carved into NFL folklore many years ago.   

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Please note that transcriptions are automatically generated and may contain errors.

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Hi, everybody, welcome to "The Game before the Money Podcast". Celebrating pro and college football history.

This episode is a five minutes of Football History edition comparing three great championship comebacks, but quarterbacks Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas and Patrick Mahomes.

JACKSON MICHAEL, author of "The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL":
Hi, everybody, welcome to "The Game before the Money Podcast". Five minutes of Football History edition that comes out every Tuesday. My name's Jackson Michael, author of the book "The Game Before the Money" and writer director of "We Were the Oilers, The Luv Ya Blue Era", both available on Amazon.com. And today, we're going to talk about three championship comebacks.

The Kansas City Chiefs trailed the San Francisco 49ers by 10 points with about seven and a half minutes left in Super Bowl 54. Patrick Mahomes directed Kansas City to twenty one fourth quarter points to win. Otto Graham led the 1950 Cleveland Browns to victory with two fourth quarter scores against the Rams. And Johnny Unitas rallied the Baltimore Colts in the nineteen fifty eight NFL championship game against the New York Giants. I'll give you details about those comebacks in this episode and also allude to a video with Patrick Mahomes that you can find on YouTube entitled "Patrick Mahomes Breaks down the final plays of Super Bowl 54". And that's on the Kansas City Chiefs official YouTube channel. Two things that all three of these comebacks have in common is that all three quarterbacks led their teams to victory after trailing in the fourth quarter. It was also the first NFL championship for each quarterback.

1950 NFL Championship Game

In 1950, the Browns trailed the Rams by eight points in the fourth quarter during an era when the two point conversion didn't exist.

Otto Graham 1950 NFL Championship Game Comeback

Graham led the Browns to three fourth down conversions on a touchdown drive that pulled the Browns to within a point. Otto Graham later fumbled in that quarter when he was going for extra yardage on a scramble and the Rams recovered. But the Browns defense stopped the Rams and put the ball back in Otto Graham's hands with just over a minute left. The Browns won the 1950 NFL championship game by a final score of 30 to 28, and it was remembered as one of the most exciting games of its day.

1958 NFL Championship Game

In the 1958 NFL championship game, Johnny Unitas led the Colts to a game tying Field goal on a pressure packed drive with precise passing. The drive didn't start out that way, however. Unitas started that drive with two misfires before hitting Lenny Moore for an 11 yard gain on third down. Unitas then threw another incompletion. He started that legendary drive one for four in passing. That is a long forgotten stat. Unitas didn't back down. However, he followed that third incompletion with three straight completions to Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry for a total of sixty two yards. And those completions led to the game tying Field goal, and that sent the game into overtime. And then the Colts defense stopped the Giants on the first possession of overtime.

Johnny Unitas Game-winning drive

And then Johnny Unitas led a tremendous thirteen play touchdown drive to win the 1958 NFL championship game.

Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl 54

Here's what Mahomes comeback in Super Bowl 54 had in common with the comebacks by Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas. Like Otto Graham, Mahomes recovered from a setback in the fourth quarter. Graham fumbled away an opportunity deep in Rams territory, but then he made up for it. Graham stayed aggressive, and he even scrambled for sixteen yards on one play on Cleveland's next possession. In a similar circumstance, Patrick Mahomes threw a fourth quarter interception deep in forty niner territory when Kansas City trailed by ten and like Otto Graham, Mahomes stayed aggressive and he rallied the Chiefs to score twenty one fourth quarter points.

Another thing that happened while Kansas City trailed by ten points. Mahomes missed Tyreek Hill on a low pass and like Johnny Unitas, incompletions didn't dampen Mahomes' confidence. He had Hill on the next play for a forty four yard gain, and then he later hit tight end Travis Kelce on a one yard touchdown pass. Mahomes gave unique insight on the video and said that he felt the touchdown to Kelce put the pressure on the Forty Niners. Even though San Francisco still had the lead, Kansas City still trailed by three. And this was similar to the Browns and Colts still needing to score after drives.

The Browns defense, the Colts defense and the Chiefs defense each responded with stops after scores that either pulled their team close or tied the game. The Browns defense stopped the Rams, who gave Otto Graham just over a minute and a half to drive for the game winning field goal. The Colts stopped the Giants on a fourth down before Johnny Unitas' game tying drive and Baltimore's defense Then stopped New York on the first possession of overtime.

In Super Bowl 54. After the Chiefs stopped the forty Niners, Mahomes and crew took over on their own thirty five with just over five minutes left. And like Otto Graham, in the 1950 NFL championship game, Mahomes utilized different receivers to make plays. Otto Graham used Dub Jones, Dante Lavelli and Rex Baumgardner. Mahomes threw to Hill, Kelce, and Sammy Watkins. He eventually threw the go ahead touchdown to running back Damien Williams. And like Unitas, throwing completion after completion to Raymond Berry Mahomes through completion after completion on four straight plays on the go ahead drive. His fourth straight completion went to Sammy Watkins for thirty eight yards to the San Francisco Ten. Mahomes threw the touchdown to Williams a couple of plays later and that made him a perfect five for five passing on the drive that gave Kansas City the lead for good.

Now I'm not saying that young Patrick Mahomes is already up there with Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas in NFL greatness.

He's got a long way to go before he gets to that level. However, I am pointing out that these three comebacks do have similar threads. Also, the games in 1950 and 1958 molded the foundation for Otto Graham and especially Johnny Unitas, since Otto had already won four straight AAFC championships. For each of these three quarterbacks, those comebacks were their first NFL championship. For Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas, they were signature moments in two of the greatest quarterbacking careers in NFL history.

No matter what happens in Mahomes' career moving forward, Super Bowl 54 will definitely be a signature moment in his career as well. And while we can't say yet if he's going to consistently lead his teams to championships, we can say that, like Graham and Unitas, his first NFL championship was a thrilling come from behind victory. I'll delve more into all three comebacks on the game before the money.com. In the next few weeks, and for the game before the Money podcast, I will release an episode with Dub Jones, who played in that 1950 NFL championship game with Otto Graham. I'll be posting that within the next few days. Please subscribe to the podcast. If you haven't done so already. And thanks so much to all of our regular listeners.

Thank you for listening to this edition of Five Minutes of Football History on "The Game before the Money Podcast".

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