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Behind The Play: JJ Birden


Ever since we launched XvsOsports back in 2015, we've been dedicated to honoring the big plays and iconic moments throughout sports history and giving fans a chance to wear the play. 

The Shot. The Catch. The Hit. The Game winner. The diagrammed shirt concept originated as a way for casual and die-hard fans to relive these moments from around sports: basketball, baseball, football, hockey and soccer, college, pro and youth sports (and yes, we let fans submit plays).  We're thankful for everyone who has supported our work, connected with us on social media, reached out with an email from around the world, submitted a play and have purchased XvsOsports shirts, posters and our book, "Great Plays and Moments in Sports History: Diagrammed. 

Now with the launch of our "Behind The Play" series, we're letting fans, players and coaches share their story and breakdown some X's & O's in sports history -- one play and one shirt at a time. One of the shirts we are featuring in our collection is our collaboration with former NFL wide receiver, JJ Birden. A 9-year pro with Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta and Kansas City, Birden was on the receiving end of some pretty big catches. None were bigger than this touchdown during the 1994 AFC Wild Card game between the Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. 


Behind The Play with XvsOsports:  JJ Birden

Every play has a story behind it. Going into the practice that week we did our homework on Rod Woodson, defensive back and one of the best to ever play the game -- all pro, Super Bowl champ, All-Century Team and a Hall of Famer. Woodson had some tendencies, like biting on double moves like a hook-and-go, or an out-and-up or a slant-and-go, which we call a "sluggo". 

So when a quarterback would pump fake, he (Woodson) would jump on it. So, the coaching staff suggested that we run the "sluggo" route against Rod. Heading into the game, Joe Montana tells me at some point we're going to run the route and asked me what side I'd like to run it from and I said the right side -- this way I could plant on my right foot and then plant on my left foot. We were all set to run the play, but the play before Joe gets hurt and he's on the ground moving slow. But because an injury timeout was called, Joe had to sit out a play and I'm thinking that we're not going to run the "sluggo" route now. 

Dave Krieg came running in from the sideline and right into the huddle, looked at me and said, "We're running it! So, I was excited. When you know you are going to get a pass and one that you can score on, you are like a kid in a candy store. I line up and Rod Woodson is about six or seven yards off and using an inside technique, which is perfect. The ball snaps. I run about three yards and plant on my right foot, and I go for that slant inside...and as soon as I plant with my left foot and I look inside. Rod takes one step inside, and I think, " him! When I plant and turn, there is no way he can recover that fast. 

I'm ahead of him about three to four yards and I'm just waiting for the ball. 

Dave (Krieg) ends up throwing it up and over toward my opposite shoulder, so I had to turn and when you turn as a receiver you kind of lose your sense of direction. As I turn I start to see the ball and know I have to dive for it. I just laid out for it and made the catch. I can feel the ball start to slide so I immediately bring it down into my arms and I just clutched it, fell to the ground and we scored the touchdown. 

I remember after the play running over to the stands and handing the ball to a fan -- Gloria Charles. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career, so I think it's pretty cool that XvsOsports is featuring the play as one of its shifts. 

- JJ Birden 


Wendell Maxey
Wendell Maxey


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