IOWA CITY, Iowa — Four different former Iowa players will compete this week in the NFL playoffs, and all of them have a chance to influence their teams’ games.
Buffalo safety Micah Hyde earned his first Pro Bowl selection after 5 interceptions this season. Atlanta defensive end Adrian Clayborn put up 9.5 sacks. Tennessee defensive lineman Karl Klug had 18 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Austin Blythe is a part of the No. 10 offense.
Through the years, several Iowa players have impacted their NFL teams during the playoffs. From Ed Podolak’s incredible playoff game in 1971 to Bob Sanders’ defense-altering presence in 2006 to Wally Hilgenberg’s outstanding 1969 NFL title game performance, there are plenty of memorable days for former Hawkeyes in the playoffs.
It’s difficult to grade offensive linemen, so they weren’t included below. But Jay Hilgenberg and Mark Bortz formed the heart of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Bears’ offensive line. Marshal Yanda was a force for the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. Bryan Bulaga became the youngest player to win a Super Bowl in 2010 with Green Bay and John Niland was perhaps the best offensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back Super Bowls in 1970 and 1971.
As for the others, here’s a list of the top six playoff feats by former Iowa players plus a list of honorable mentions:
Chiefs RB Ed Podolak, 1971 playoff
No player can match Ed Podolak’s performance in a 1971 AFC Divisional Playoff against the Miami Dolphins. In what’s still the longest game in NFL history, Podolak accumulated 350 all-purpose yards in a 27-24 double-overtime loss at Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium.
The game lasted 82 minutes, 40 seconds and took place on Christmas Day. Podolak rushed for 85 yards on 17 carries and caught 8 passes for 110 yards. He was even more impressive on special teams with 155 total yards, nearly all on kickoff returns. His total yardage remains an NFL playoff record.
Podolak nearly ended the game late in the fourth quarter. After the Dolphins tied the score at 24-24 with 1:25 remaining, Podolak took the kickoff and returned it 78 yards to the Miami 22 to set up a seemingly early field goal for future Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud.
“It would probably be the kickoff with a few seconds left at the end of the game, in the fourth quarter [when the score was tied],” Podolak told Sports Illustrated about his favorite memory from the game. “I was able to break it down and get into field-goal range. When I saw the hole open, I just felt: if I didn’t score, I was going to get close enough for field-goal range, and it should be over. That was the highest moment of the game for me.”
About a minute later, Stenerud attempted a 31-yard field goal. He missed. The game went into overtime, where Stenerud and Dolphins counterpart Garo Yepremian each missed field-goal attempts. Finally in the second OT, Yepremian kicked the game winner.
The loss remains painful for all of the Chiefs from that era. Kansas City won Super Bowl IV, but most fans, players and team officials believe the 1971 Chiefs were better. The shine from Podolak’s performance doesn’t fade, however.
“When you take a beating for that long, it doesn’t sink in until the next morning,” Podolak told the New York Times. “The first thought I had was, ‘We’ll be back,’ but it didn’t happen. Had I known what was coming, I’d have been much more devastated.”
It was the final postseason game of Podolak’s career. He finished with 6,907 yards from scrimmage and 40 touchdowns in nine seasons. Counting kick returns, Podolak had 8,343 all-purpose yards. Since 1982, Podolak has been the radio color analyst for Iowa football.
Colts SS Bob Sanders, 2006 playoffs
Bob Sanders’ impressive, yet injury-filled, NFL career included the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2007 and plenty of big plays along the way. But his most impressive contribution came in the 2006 playoffs with the Indianapolis Colts.
Sanders, a strong safety, played in only four games that year, and the Colts were horrific against the run. Indianapolis gave up 2,768 rushing yards (441 more than any other team) at 5.3 yards per carry (also the league worst) and 173 yards allowed per game. In every game the Colts allowed at least 100 rushing yards. Only a dynamic offense led by quarterback Peyton Manning saved the Colts.
But Sanders — who was nicknamed ‘The Eraser’ by head coach Tony Dungy — returned for the Colts’ AFC Wild Card game against Kansas City. The Chiefs featured running back Larry Johnson, who rushed for 1,789 yards that season. Sanders immediately made an impact with an interception, 3 tackles and held Kansas City to 44 total rushing yards in a 23-8 win.
The next week at Baltimore, Sanders produced a game-high 10 tackles and the Ravens rushed for only 83 yards in a 15-6 Colts’ AFC Divisional Playoff victory. In the AFC Championship against New England, Sanders had 6 solo tackles and tipped away a key third-down pass by Tom Brady that led to the Colts’ game-winning score in a 38-34 victory. Against Chicago in the Super Bowl, Sanders had a 38-yard interception return and 3 tackles in a 29-17 win.
“He’s a game-changer,” Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. “His presence gives us a comfort level, knowing he’s going to be back there to clean up for us.”
In Bill Polian’s autobiography, “The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team,” Polian wanted to draft Sanders in the first round but a pre-draft foot injury prompted the Colts to trade out. Polian stewed until snagging Sanders with the 44th pick overall.
“If my father had to give up one of his sons for Bob, one of us would be gone,” Chris Polian said.
Colts TE Dallas Clark, 2006 playoffs
One of two prominent former Iowa players on the Indianapolis Colts’ 2006 Super Bowl team, tight end Dallas Clark carried almost equal importance that season as Bob Sanders. The Colts were 10-1 with Clark in the starting lineup, but a knee injury cost him his final five games of the season, and Indianapolis lost three of those games.
But Clark returned in time for the playoffs, and his impact cannot be overstated.
In the AFC Wild Card game against Kansas City, Clark hauled in 9 catches for 103 yards in the Colts’ 23-8 win. Clark produced perhaps the most important offensive play in Indianapolis’ 15-6 win at Baltimore in an AFC semifinal. With the Colts leading 12-6 and 3:57 left in the game, Clark hauled in a third-and-5 pass one-handed from Manning and turned it into a 14-yard gain to extend the drive and set up the clinching field goal. Clark finished that game with 2 catches for 41 yards.
“That was a huge play in the game,” Dungy recalled, as reported by Colts.com. “I remember thinking, ‘We’re up six points. If we can make a first down, we can pretty much ice the game. If we don’t, they have a chance to score and as well as we’ve played, we’re going to lose by one point.’”
Clark came up huge in the AFC Championship against New England, catching 6 passes for 137 yards in a 38-34 victory. Clark had a 25-yard third-quarter reception and a 23-yarder early in the fourth quarter that set up game-tying touchdowns. He also had a 52-yard catch that aided in a field-goal drive.
Against Chicago in Super Bowl XLI, Clark caught 4 passes for 36 yards in the Colts’ 29-17 win.
Vikings LB Wally Hilgenberg, 1969 playoffs
Former Iowa linebacker/guard Wally Hilgenberg started 19 playoff games and all four Super Bowls for the Minnesota Vikings. Hilgenberg was named one of the 50 Greatest Vikings in 2011 and was a key contributor on all of coach Bud Grant’s best teams.
Hilgenberg’s most important contributions came in 1969 during the NFL playoffs, especially in the 1969 NFL Championship against Cleveland. Hilgenberg started at right outside linebacker that 8-degree afternoon at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. Late in the first quarter with the Vikings leading 14-0, Hilgenberg and fellow Vikings linebacker Dennis “Dirt” Winston hit Cleveland running back Leroy Kelly and forced a fumble. Hilgenberg recovered at the Cleveland 42-yard line, which led to a Minnesota field goal.
In the second quarter, Hilgenberg dropped in coverage with Cleveland fullback Bo Scott. Cleveland quarterback Bill Nelsen’s pass was underthrown, and Hilgenberg earned his first career interception at the Minnesota 34-yard line. The Vikings scored a touchdown soon afterward en route to a 27-7 NFL title. Minnesota then met AFL champion Kansas City in Super Bowl IV, which the Chiefs won 23-7.
Jets RB Shonn Greene, 2009 playoffs
Iowa’s Shonn Greene claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back in 2008. As a rookie with the New York Jets in 2009, Greene put up a playoff performance that elevated his profile nationally even more than his award.
In an AFC Wild Card game, Greene ran for 135 yards on 21 carries to lead the Jets past Cincinnati 24-14. Greene, who tied the score with a second-quarter touchdown, took over the game late in the third quarter, rushing four times for 24 yards. In the fourth quarter, he carried 4 times for 19 yards on a drive that produced the game-clinching field goal.
In an AFC semifinal the next week at San Diego, Greene was even more productive in the Jets’ 17-14 upset against the Chargers. Greene rushed for 128 yards on 23 carries. On a drive straddling the third and fourth quarters, Greene ran 3 times that produced a go-ahead touchdown. On the next drive, Greene popped a 53-yard touchdown gallop that put the Jets ahead 17-7. In the fourth quarter alone, Greene ran 11 times for 80 yards.
In the AFC Championship, Greene rushed 10 times for 41 yards in a 30-17 loss to Indianapolis. But in the postseason, Greene ran 54 times for 304 yards at 5.6 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns.
Falcons KR Tim Dwight, 1998 playoffs
Perhaps Iowa’s greatest pound-for-pound player, Tim Dwight made quite an impact in his rookie year with the Atlanta Falcons. As the team’s primary punt and kick returner, Dwight helped the Falcons win 14 games and claim the NFC West Division title.
In a 1998 NFC Divisional Playoff against San Francisco, Dwight returned a kickoff 23 yards and 3 punts for 4o yards. Coincidentally, Dwight inarguably is Iowa’s greatest kick returner, and he faced off against 49ers punter Reggie Roby, who indisputably is Iowa’s greatest punter. The Falcons won 20-18.
The next week in the NFC Championship at Minnesota, Dwight produced statistics in three different categories in the Falcons’ shocking 30-27 upset of the seemingly invincible Vikings. Dwight returned 4 kickoffs for 110 yards, 2 punts for 35 yards and rushed 3 times for 5 yards.
Dwight wrapped up his postseason with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 34-19 loss to Denver in Super Bowl XXXIII. Dwight finished with 210 kick return yards on 5 returns and rushed once for 5 yards.
Vikings S Paul Krause, 1970 playoffs. It’s only natural that the NFL’s all-time leading interceptor (81) would have a few more in the postseason. Krause did that in the 1969 postseason, when he picked off passes in the NFL title game against Cleveland and then in Super Bowl IV against Kansas City. But Krause was perhaps more impressive in 1970 in the Vikings’ 17-14 loss to San Francisco. In the first quarter, Krause recovered a 49ers’ fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead.
Packers DB Micah Hyde, 2016 playoffs. Few players are as versatile as Hyde, who parlayed a big-time playoff performance into a major free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills last offseason. In the 2016 NFC Wild Card game against the New York Giants, Hyde recorded 6 tackles and returned 5 punts for 53 yards. Against Dallas in an NFC semifinal, Hyde intercepted a pass, sacked QB Dak Prescott for a 6-yard loss and had 4 tackles. In an NFC title game defeat to Atlanta, Hyde had 2 tackles.
Chargers K Nate Kaeding, 2007 playoffs. Kaeding ranks eighth in NFL history in field-goal percentage, hitting 86.19 percent of attempts. He struggled a bit more in his playoffs, but on the worst possible weather day, Kaeding came up with his best performance. Kaeding drilled four field goals in the Chargers’ 21-12 AFC title game loss at New England. With a fierce 17 mph wind, the wind chill turned Gillette Stadium in a less-than-balmy 9 degrees.
49ers S Merton Hanks, 1994 playoffs. Hanks put up one of the most underrated seasons by a former Iowa player when he paced the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers with 7 interceptions and was second in tackles with 76. Hanks earned the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl nods that year and was named the 49ers’ most courageous and inspirational defender. In a 1994 NFC Divisional Playoff, Hanks intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards against the Chicago Bears. In the NFC title game against Dallas, Hanks had 5 tackles in a 38-28 victory. Against San Diego in the Super Bowl, Hanks had 2 pass breakups and 2 tackles in a 49-23 win.
Chargers RB Ronnie Harmon, 1995 playoff. Harmon produced in multiple playoff games for the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, but his best moment came in a 1995 AFC Wild Card game against Indianapolis. Despite a 35-20 loss, Harmon caught 10 passes for 133 yards. His first four catches converted third-and-long situations into first downs. His next one was a 24-yard reception on second-and-9. In all, nine of Harmon’s 10 catches produced first downs.
Chargers WR Don Norton, 1960 AFL title game. Norton caught passes in five postseason games for the Chargers organization and won an AFL title in 1963. Statistically, his best performance came in 1960 in the inaugural AFL title game, which the Chargers lost 24-16 to the Houston Oilers. Norton caught 6 passes for 55 yards that day. But his top day was in 1963 during a 51-10 AFL title victory against the Boston Patriots. Norton caught 2 passes for 44 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown.
Packers DL Aaron Kampman, 2003 playoffs. Kampman was one of the NFL’s better defensive linemen in the mid-2000s, and he showed it for two NFC playoff games. In an NFC Wild Card overtime win against Seattle, Kampman had a sack and 5 tackles. In the Packers’ NFC Divisional Playoff, a 20-17 overtime loss to Philadelphia, Kampman recorded 2 sacks and 5 more tackles.
Raiders RB Nick Bell, 1992 playoff. In the middle of a baffling NFL career, Bell put together a solid performance for the Raiders in a 10-6 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Wild Card game. Bell rushed 20 times for 107 yards. Bell didn’t start the game, but his 20 carries were 10 more than the rest of the team combined.
Bills WR Quinn Early, 1996 playoff. Early had a 12-year NFL career and played in three different NFL postseasons. He caught 7 passes for 93 yards and a score in a 1992 NFC Wild Card loss with the New Orleans Saints. But his best performance came in 1996 with the Bills in a 30-27 upset loss to Jacksonville. Early hauled in 9 catches for 122 yards, compiling more than half of Buffalo’s receiving yards in that AFC Wild Card game.
Jets S Damien Robinson, 2002 playoff. Robinson came up with big plays in consecutive playoff games with the Jets. In a 41-0 AFC Wild Card win against Indianapolis, Robinson picked off Peyton Manning and returned it 24 yards. The following week in a 30-10 loss to Oakland, Robinson intercepted another pass and added 5 tackles.
Giants/Packers DB Emlen Tunnell. Few players competed in as many historic games as Tunnell, who recorded 79 interceptions and was a nine-time Pro Bowl player before his Hall of Fame induction. As one of the greatest New York Giants, Tunnell started against the expansion Cleveland Browns in a 1950 divisional playoff (which the Browns won en route to the NFL title). Tunnell later started in the Giants’ 1956 NFL championship win against Chicago and also in the 1958 title game against Baltimore, in which commonly is referred as the NFL’s greatest game. Tunnell then followed Vince Lombardi to Green Bay, where he started in the 1960 NFL title game (a 17-13 Philadelphia win). In his final game, Tunnell helped Green Bay beat the Giants 37-0 for the 1961 title.
Vikings LB Chad Greenway, 2012 playoff. In a 24-10 NFC Wild Card loss to rival Green Bay, Greenway recorded 10 tackles on a frigid night.