50 Seasons Series: 1968 Cowboys Start Fast and Stay Strong
During the 1968 season, writer Steve Perkins of the Dallas Times Herald followed the Dallas Cowboys, who were trying to shake off the effects of losses in the 1966 and 1967 NFL championship games. The Cowboys’ season-ending loss to Cleveland led Perkins to title the book, Next Year’s Champions. This label stuck with the Cowboys for three more years.
The loss to the Browns was a bad ending to a great year. Dallas finished the season at 12-2, which remains tied (1977) for the best winning percentage in a season in team history. The season featured a game where Dallas set a record for points scored in a game, and the team finished the season ranked first in both yards and points scored.
Week 1: Dallas 59, Detroit 13
The Cowboys exploded for 59 points in the first week of the 1968 season. Five different Cowboys scored touchdowns on offense (Bob Hayes, Dan Reeves, Craig Baynham, Walt Garrison, and Dennis Homan), while linebacker Chuck Howley scored on a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown, shown below.
Week 2: Dallas 28, Cleveland 7
For the second consecutive season, the Cowboys prevailed in an early-season matchup with the Browns. Defensive lineman Willie Townes returned a fumble for a touchdown in the first half, and two Dan Reeves scores in the second half put the game away for the Cowboys. Cleveland managed only 250 yards in total offense against the Doomsday Defense.
Week 3: Dallas 45, Philadelphia 13
The Cowboys put up 31 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Eagles, 45-13, in week 3. Don Meredith threw five touchdown passes in the win, which featured seven turnovers by Philadelphia.
If you love sportswriting from the 1960s, here is a good sample from Bob St. John:
Philadelphia has worshiped the weird – the Cowboys have played the
straight man. This time the Eagles’ idol turned into a clay god. The
Cowboys wouldn’t be swayed by nonsense and simply splattered the Eagles,
45-13 . . . .
Week 4: Dallas 27, St. Louis 10
Dallas scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull away from the Cardinals. Newly acquired kicker Mike Clark booted a 50-yard field goal to break a 10-10 tie in the third quarter, and scores by Les Shy and Don Meredith iced the game for Dallas. The win was a costly one, as the team lost Dan Reeves for the season with a knee injury.
For the second time in three weeks, Dallas handled the Eagles. The Cowboys raced out to a 14-0 first half lead and never looked back. The game featured a 15-yard touchdown pass from Meredith to Rayfield Wright, marking Wright’s only NFL touchdown.
Week 6: Dallas 20, Minnesota 7
The Cowboys had trouble putting the Vikings away until Cornell Green intercepted a pass by Joe Kapp and returned the ball 55 yard for a touchdown. The win gave the Cowboys a 6-0 record and a two-game lead over the Giants in the Capital Division.
Week 7: Green Bay 28, Dallas 17
Although the Packers struggled in the 1968 season, Green Bay overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the Cowboys 28-17 in week 7. Bart Starr threw four touchdown passes in the win. Up until that point, the Cowboys had never beaten the Packers, and the two teams would not meet again until 1970.
Week 8: Dallas 17, New Orleans 3
Two touchdowns from Meredith to Bob Hayes were enough to give Dallas a 17-3 win over New Orleans. Hayes finished with 108 yards on six receptions.
Week 9: New York Giants 27, Dallas 21
The Cowboys’ lead in the Capital fell to one game with a loss to the Giants in week 9. Dallas overcame an early 14-0 Giant lead to tie the game at the half. The teams were tied at 21 heading into the fourth quarter, but two field goals by Pete Gogolak gave New York the win.
Week 10: Dallas 44, Washington 24
The Cowboys rebounded from the loss to New York by demolishing the Redskins, 44-24. Dallas led by only three points at the half but outscored Washington 31-14 in the second. Bob Hayes had another 100-yard receiving game, while Lance Rentzel scored two touchdowns. Rookie defensive end Larry Cole scored the first of four career touchdowns by returning a fumble 21 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.
Week 11: Dallas 34, Chicago 3
The Cowboys met the Bears in week 11 for the first time since 1964. The Cowboys made themselves feel at home at Soldier Field by putting up 24 first half points en route to a 34-3 win. Walt Garrison scored twice in the win.
Week 12: Dallas 29, Washington 20
The Cowboys did not have to face Sonny Jurgensen in week 12, but backup Jim Ninowski gave the Cowboys plenty of problems. Ninowski’s third touchdown pass of the day in the fourth quarter gave the Redskins a 20-19 lead. However, a Mike Clark field goal and an interception return for at touchdown by Larry Cole gave Dallas a nine-point win. With a 10-2 record, Dallas wrapped up the Capital Division title for the second consecutive year.
Week 13: Dallas 28, Pittsburgh 7
Bob Hayes scored on a 90-yard punt return and on a 53-yard pass from Don Meredith to help Dallas to a 28-7 win over the Steelers.
Week 14: Dallas 28, New York Giants 10
With nothing to play for, the Cowboys avenged their loss to the Giants by beating New York in the season finale. Bob Hayes scored twice (punt return, reception), and Lance Rentzel gained 130 yards on seven receptions.
Dallas won the Capital Division, setting up a divisional round matchup with Cleveland in the 1968 playoffs. Here were the final standings.
Capital W L T PF PA
Dallas Cowboys 12 2 0 431 186
New York Giants 7 7 0 294 325
Washington Redskins 5 9 0 249 358
Philadelphia Eagles 2 12 0 202 351
Century W L T PF PA
Cleveland Browns 10 4 0 394 273
St. Louis Cardinals 9 4 1 325 289
New Orleans Saints 4 9 1 246 327
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 11 1 244 397
Coastal W L T PF PA
Baltimore Colts 13 1 0 402 144
Los Angeles Rams 10 3 1 312 200
San Francisco 49ers 7 6 1 303 310
Atlanta Falcons 2 12 0 170 389
Central W L T PF PA
Minnesota Vikings 8 6 0 282 242
Chicago Bears 7 7 0 250 333
Green Bay Packers 6 7 1 281 227
Detroit Lions 4 8 2 207 241
Dallas at Cleveland, December 21, 1968
Minnesota at Baltimore, December 22, 1968