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Theismann: From a screen to a scream

The Raiders' Jack Squirek holds the ball in the end zone after intercepting a pass by Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann during Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa Stadium on Jan. 23, 1984.

The Times' Sam Farmer is in Tampa, Fla., this week covering the Super Bowl.
In a series a Fabulous Forum posts, he looks back at the 1983 Raiders.
You can access his Raiders posts by clicking here and all his Super Bowl posts by clicking here.

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There were two signature plays in Super Bowl XVIII: Marcus Allen's 74-yard touchdown run, and Jack Squirek's interception of a screen pass, which he returned for a touchdown at the end of the first half.

Joe Theismann will never forget that screen pass.

"We ran it in the first game against them, and that was the problem," he said. "It was 14-3 at the time, and the play was called rocket screen. It was a simple rocket screen left. Joe Washington had run it against them in the first game for 90-something yards. It was a big gain for us."

Then, in what turned out to be a disastrous decision, the Redskins tried it again -- from their own 12 with 12 seconds left in the half.

"I'm at the sidelines, I'm talking to Joe [Gibbs] and say, 'What do you want to run?' And he tells me rocket screen. I said, 'I just don't feel good about putting the ball up in the air this far backed up with hardly any time left.' He says, 'We have two timeouts.' And I'm thinking, 'So what? There's no time left.'

"But I think, 'Well, Joe's a great coach. We're in the Super Bowl. I'll listen to him.' I started walking away and I get about 5 feet away, and I turn around. I'll never forget, he points at me and says, 'Run it.'

"So now I'm jogging on the field and I just don't feel good about this. I don't like this. It doesn't make sense. ... But it didn't matter. The sovereign lord has made the decision, so I'm just going to go with it."

So Theismann takes the snap, drops back and sees the Raiders are in a zone defense. What he didn't see was that the speedy Squirek, who had replaced Matt Millen for a play, was a spy, in man coverage on Joe Washington.

"As soon as I get to here..." Theismann said, simulating the moment the football leaves his fingertips. "I'm thinking -- remember 'Black Sunday' where they shoot the football out of the air with a high-powered rifle? -- I'm thinking, 'I hope somebody's up there with a high-powered rifle, and they're going to shoot this sucker out of the air before it lands where I think it's going to go.' ... I saw it in slow motion. It became a nightmare."

-- Sam Farmer

Photo: The Raiders' Jack Squirek holds the ball in the end zone after intercepting a pass by Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann during Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa Stadium on Jan. 23, 1984. The Raiders' Bob Nelson (51) is congratulating him. Credit: Associated Press

 
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