Losing Badly and Winning Ugly During Super Bowl Seasons, Pt. 1

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This post is part one of a two-part series.

The Cowboys have reached the Super Bowl eight times, and there are a few common elements present in most of those seasons: (a) strong starts; (b) some bad losses; (c) some ugly wins; and (d) strong finishes. As fans and the press bash the Cowboys for their 4-1 start (I am not completely innocent of doing so, either), let’s take a look at the Super Bowl seasons of the 1970s to get some perspective. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the 1990s Cowboys.

1970: NFC Champions

The Cowboys finished the 1970 season with a 10-4 regular season record. Dallas beat Detroit and San Francisco to advance to Super Bowl V, only to lose to Baltimore.

Strong Start: 2-0

The Cowboys began the 1970 season by beating the Eagles and the Giants. Neither game was a blowout, but both teams were division rivals by that point.

Bad Losses: at Minnesota; vs. St. Louis

The Cowboys were 3-1 when they visited Minnesota in week 5 of the 1970 season. The Vikings handed Dallas won of the worst defeats in franchise history by beating the Cowboys 54-13. Dallas committed four turnovers in the loss.

The Cowboys stumbled to 5-3 and then hosted the Cardinals. In another horrific performance, the Cowboys turned the ball over six times in a 38-0 rout at home. It turned out to be the last loss of the 1970 season.

Ugly Win: vs. Philadelphia

The Cowboys’ second game against the Eagles in 1970 came in week 7. The Cowboys were 4-2, while the Eagles were winless at 0-6. Dallas had to rely on big plays to come away with the win in a game that the offense managed just eight first downs.

Strong Finish: Five Straight Wins

The 1970 Cowboys rebounded from the bad loss to St. Louis by winning their final five games. The last game was a huge 52-10 rout of the Houston Oilers.

1971: Super Bowl Champions

The first Super Bowl championship came during a season when the Cowboys were 4-3 at one point and looking as if they may not make the playoffs. Then came a streak for the ages.

Strong Start: Two Big Wins

Dallas began the 1971 season with two big wins over Buffalo and Philadelphia. The Cowboys scored more than 40 points in both games.

Bad Losses: vs. Washington, at New Orleans, at Chicago

All three of the Cowboys’ losses in 1971 were ugly. The Cowboys gave up 200 yards rushing to the Redskins in week 3 in a 20-16 loss. Two weeks later, Dallas committed six turnovers in a 24-14 loss to the 1-2-1 Saints. The final loss came in the infamous quarterback rotation game against Chicago, when Dallas alternated Roger Staubach and Craig Morton and committed seven turnovers in the process.

Ugly Win: vs. Giants

Dallas beat the Giants in week 4 on Monday Night Football, but the Cowboys also turned the ball over six times.

Strong Finish: Seven-Game Winning Streak

The Cowboys famously finished the 1971 season with a seven-game winning streak, thanks to the new leadership provided by Roger Staubach.

1975: NFC Champions

The 1975 season represented the only time that the Cowboys were surprise visitors to the Super Bowl. The team only managed a 10-4 record but pulled off a miracle in the playoffs to propel the Cowboys to Miami.

Strong Start: 4-0

After finishing 8-6 and missing the playoffs in 1974, the Cowboys appeared to be rebuilding. However, a 4-0 start turned some heads. Two of the wins came against division opponents, including a 37-31 win over a strong St. Louis team.

Bad Loss: vs. Green Bay, vs. Kansas City

There is a famous shot of Golden Richards pulling in a Roger Staubach pass for a touchdown after tipping the ball in the air. I’ll try to find the clip. This shot is from the 1975 game on Monday Night Football during which the Cowboys turned the ball over seven times in a 34-31 loss. A win would ahve put Dallas into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East, but instead Dallas sank to 5-3 by losing to Kansas City.

The other ugly loss came earlier in the season against Green Bay in week 5. Dallas entered the game at 4-0, while the Packers were 0-4. Green Bay left the game 1-4 thanks to five Dallas turnovers.

Ugly Win: at New England

Dallas simply could not put away a struggling Patriots team in a 34-31 Dallas win.

Strong Finish: 5-1

The Cowboys made the playoffs as a wildcard by winning five of their last six games, including a big 31-10 win over the Redskins in week 15. Without the win over Washington, Dallas would not have made the playoffs that year.

1977: Super Bowl Champions

The 1977 season was one of the strongest in team history. Dallas rolled through the regular season to finish 12-2, then blew through the playoffs to reach Super Bowl XII and win the team’s second title.

Strong Start: 8-0

The Cowboys had their best start in history in 1977 by beginning the season at 8-0.

Bad Losses: vs. St. Louis

The 1977 season did not feature too many ugly losses, but the week 9 loss to St. Louis on Monday Night Football was a little bit embarrassing. Dallas followed up the loss by losing to Pittsburgh the following week.

Ugly Win: vs. Philadelphia

Roger Staubach struggled through some of the latter part of the 1977 season. In the team’s week 12 win against the Eagles, Staubach completed just 13 passes and threw two interceptions. However, thanks to the heroics of Tony Dorsett, who rushed for 206 yards, the Cowboys pulled away in a 24-17 win.

Strong Finish: Four Straight

The Cowboys beat the Redskins, Eagles, 49ers, and Broncos during the final four weeks of the 1977 season to roll into the playoffs with momentum.

1978: NFC Champions

The Cowboys looked to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 1978 but fell short in one of the great Super Bowl games of all time.

Strong Start: 2-0

Dallas started the 1978 season with a huge 38-0 rout of Baltimore on Monday Night Football in a game where the Cowboys racked up 583 yards on offense. Dallas beat the Giants 34-24 the following week.

Bad Losses: at Los Angeles, at Miami

In two of the team’s four losses in 1978, the Cowboys turned the ball over five times. These losses came against the Rams (Week 3) and the Dolphins (Week 10). Dallas fell to 6-4 with the loss to Miami.

Ugly Win: vs. Philadelphia

Prior to this game, Tom Landry benched Tony Dorsett for missing a team practice, and the second-year running back only played sparingly behind Preston Pearson. Roger Staubach completed just 10 passes on the day for 108 yards. In the second half, Dorsett got back into the lineup, but the Cowboys had trouble putting the Eagles away.

Strong Finish: Six Straight

The Cowboys finished the 1978 season by winning six straight games. In four of those games, Dallas scored more than 30 points.