The Los Angeles Rams are making their fifth appearance in the Super Bowl in the 2022 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Rams are listed as the favorites in this game, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, whom the Rams invested major trade capital in a year ago in a trade designed specifically to produce this very outcome.
The first time the Rams reached the Super Bowl, in the 1979 season, they were decided underdogs against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of three of the previous five Super Bowls, led by their ferocious “Steel Curtain” defense and a dangerous passing game led by quarterback Terry Bradshaw and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
The Rams, on the other hand, had gone 9-7 in 1979 and entered the playoffs with a completely unknown backup quarterback at the helm. But in what was nearly one of the great Cinderella stories in all of sports, young Vince Ferragamo threw a huge scare into the mighty Steelers in Super Bowl 14 at the Rose Bowl.
Ferragamo was pressed into service after Pat Haden went down with an injury
Ferragamo seemed destined to play for the Los Angeles Rams, having been born in Torrance, CA, and playing his high school ball in the Los Angeles area. After two seasons at Cal, Ferragamo transferred to Nebraska in 1975 and played his final two years there before being taken in the fourth round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Rams to serve as backup to starter Pat Haden.
But midway through the 1979 season, Haden broke a finger on his throwing hand and Ferragamo was thrust into the starting role as the team entered the playoffs. There, Ferragamo engineered one of the biggest upsets in playoff history, beating the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the Divisional Round on a late 50-yard touchdown pass to Billy Waddy, Ferragamo’s third touchdown pass of the game.
The 21-19 victory proved the last game of the legendary career of Roger Staubach, who retired soon after.
Ferragamo then managed the Rams to a 9-0 victory over the equally upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game to reach Super Bowl 14.
Against Bradshaw’s mighty Steelers, Ferragamo almost pulled off a Super upset
Ferragamo set two historic milestones before ever taking a snap at the Rose Bowl. No quarterback in the first 14 years of the Super Bowl had ever started the game in the same season as his first career start, and no backup quarterback had ever started a previous Super Bowl.
But against the veteran Steelers and its championship-tested defense, Ferragamo held his own, leading an early touchdown drive to take a 7-3 lead, then orchestrating two lengthy drives in the second quarter that led to field goals and a 13-10 halftime lead. On the latter drive, Ferragamo completed a pass on 4th-and-8 to keep the drive alive.
The Steelers struck right away in the third quarter with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Swann, but Ferragamo was not deterred, hitting Waddy for another enormous 50-yard pass, this time setting up a halfback option touchdown pass by Lawrence McCutcheon that gave the Rams the lead right back at 19-17.
But when the Steelers re-took the lead in the fourth quarter on Bradshaw’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth, the clock struck midnight for Ferragamo and the Rams. After driving the Rams to the Steelers’ 32-yard line with just under six minutes left, Ferragamo made his only mistake of the game, forcing a pass to Rod Smith that was intercepted by Jack Lambert. The Steelers scored at the other end for a 31-19 lead and the Rams’ impossible dream was over.
To Canada and back, Ferragamo’s career took some interesting turns
Haden was re-instated as the starter in 1980 but the brittle quarterback was injured in Week 1 and Ferragamo replaced him again, this time remaining the starter the rest of the season. He threw 30 touchdown passes, but the Rams lost a rematch against Dallas in the Wild Card round.
The next season, Ferragamo bolted the NFL for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League and a one-year, $600,000 contract. But Ferragamo struggled and returned to the Rams in 1982, threw for 509 yards in a game, the second-highest single-game total in NFL history at the time, and led the Rams back to the playoffs in 1983, the same season Bradshaw retired from the league.
Ferragamo played his last NFL game in 1986, opened a real estate company in Orange County, CA, and bought a winery. He still offers NFL advice on a local California radio station. In his latest installment, he warns the Rams not to under-estimate the underdog Bengals in Super Bowl 56.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference