1968 Cowboys vs. 2008 Cowboys: An Updated Analogy
I have argued before that the best analogy for the 2000s Cowboys is the 1960s version of the team. In 1966 and 1967, the Cowboys lost in heartbreaking fashion in the NFL Championship Game. The team was led by a happy-go-lucky (though also very tough) quarterback, a rugged running back, a receiver who made defenses sweat, and a suffocating defense.
Much like the 2008 team, which is also coming off of two consecutive heart-wrenching playoff losses, the 1968 team blew out of the gates with some big wins. The Cowboys scored a team-record 59 points against Detroit in a 59-13 win and also recorded a 45-13 destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles. Nearing the midway point of the season, Dallas had a 6-0 record and looked nearly unstoppable.
Then came the aging Packers– the team that had destroyed the Cowboys’ dreams in both of the previous seasons. On Monday night (pre-MNF days), October 28, 1968, more than 74,000 packed the Cotton Bowl to watch what most expected to be a coronation of the new NFL kings. Instead, Bart Starr threw four touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and led the 2-3-1 Packers to a 28-17 win over the Cowboys. It was one of only two losses for the Cowboys that season, but it showed that the Dallas team had not turned a corner at that point.
Don Meredith threw a total of 12 interceptions in 1968, and three of them came against Green Bay. Dallas had a turnover ratio of +8 in 1968, but it was -3 vs. the Packers. The league’s top-ranked offense imploded with turnovers.
Here are the video highlights from that game:
Even with a strong finish in 1968, when the Cowboys won five straight, the Cowboys faltered again in the playoffs. Some of the same mistakes the Cowboys made in the Green Bay loss– especially the turnovers– showed up yet again come playoff time, as Dallas lost to Cleveland, 31-20.
What concerns me regarding the 2008 team that just lost its first game is that the problems that the Cowboys have had in the recent past (coverage, tackling) contributed heavily to the loss. The finger-pointing and head-shaking that we’ve seen this week suggest a team that could at some point implode if the players, coaches, and management don’t gain a little bit of perspective quickly. No loss is good, but overcoming adversity by correcting mistakes can make a team rise stronger.
Of course, 3-1 is certain a good start by any measure– Dallas has started 3-1 a total of 18 times in franchise history, and the club has made the playoffs during 14 of this 18 seasons. Many will remember the 1992 club that started 3-0 but was destroyed in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football in week 4.
However, it is probably no stretch to imagine that the Cowboys could start to believe in the can’t-win-come-postseason talk, and then the team may just suffer the fate of the late-60s Cowboys. The good news is that the Cowboys had a strong enough core that when the added quality veterans in 1970 and 1971 they were able to turn that corner. The bad news is that if my analogy holds up, we’ve got two or three more seasons before we are truly Super Bowl contenders.