’75 Playoff Win Was Most Improbable

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This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.

The Cowboys played the Minnesota Vikings tough during the 1975 divisional playoffs. Dallas led 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Vikings began to drive the ball. With 5:11 left in the game, running back Brent McClanahan bowled off left tackle to score a touchdown from one-yard out, giving the Vikings a 14-10 lead.

The Cowboys’ next drive was ugly. They began on the their own 26, but a sack and a penalty for delay of game backed the team up. Facing a 3rd-and-18, John Fitzgerald snapped the ball low (for a second time on the drive), and Staubach had to try to scramble. Dallas had to punt, giving the Vikings a chance to ice the game.

Minnesota faced a 3rd and 2 from the Dallas 47 with just over two minutes left. Fran Tarkenton rolled left on a run-pass option. It looked for a second as of Tarkenton may have a hole, but Charlie Waters grabbed Tarkenton’s jersey and pulled Tarkenton down at midfield. Minnesota had to punt at the two-minute warning.

Golden Richards took the punt at the Dallas 15 with 1:51 left. Dallas had to drive 85 yards for a touchdown to win. On first down, Staubach hit Drew Pearson for a nine-yard gain. It was Pearson’s first catch of the game. On the next play, Staubach missed a pass to Golden Richards, setting up a third down and short.

Fitzgerald’s snap was low, but Staubach fielded it. Carl Eller nearly trapped Staubach, but Roger found a way to roll to his left. He hit Pearson at the 31 to keep the drive alive.

On first down, Fitzgerald once again snapped the ball low. Staubach had to fall on the ball for a seven-yard loss, leading Staubach to pound the ball into the ground. On second down, with just under a minute left, Staubach threw the ball away after being hit by Alan Page. On third down, Staubach could not find anyone open and tried to loft a pass to Jean Fugett. The pass was incomplete, leading to a 4th-and-17 play.

Rookie Kyle Davis replaced Fitzgerald at center. Staubach took the snap on the fourth-down play with 44 seconds left. Staubach launched a ball towards the sideline in the direction of Pearson, who caught the ball but was shoved out of bounds. The referee immediately ruled that Pearson would have come down in bounds but for Nate Wright hitting Pearson in the back. 25 yards on the play, and the Cowboys had new life with 37 seconds left.

On first down, Preston Pearson dropped a ball in the flat, stopping the clock. On second down, Staubach and Pearson made history:

Here is what the announcers Gary Bender and John Unitas said as the play was happening:

Bender: So now we go to a second and 10. 32 seconds left.

[Staubach launches the ball]

Bender: He is going for broke…Drew Pearson…He got it! Touchdown!

[Pearson throws the ball into the stands]

Bender: I didn’t know he had it for a while. [inaudible] I don’t believe it!

Bender: [Describes Pearson throwing the ball over the scoreboard]

Unitas: I don’t believe it. The ball was thrown short, and the defender was not watching as Pearson came back to make the catch.

Bender: He caught that ball on his hip.

Unitas: [inaudible] It was a much better catch than it was a throw.

With the improbable win, the Cowboys were scheduled to travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams.

More References

Box Score

Dallas Morning News Coverage

  • Paul

    Total push off rip off! Arrrgggghhhhhhh!!

  • Mr. Krause, nice of you to stop by!

  • Motley Blue

    I’m a Cowboys fan who has lived in Minnesota for the past 11 years … so I have to hear about Pearson’s “alleged” push-off all the time.

    I don’t think it’s conlusive that Pearson pushed off. I read somewhere that the Vikings cornerback on that play, Nate Wright, said himself that he’s not sure if Pearson pushed him or not. I think he just slipped.

    Regardless, it was a great catch and a play for the ages.

  • There’s a post on Vikings Update that alleges that Drew admitted to Chuck Foreman that he pushed off:


    But I’ve never heard Drew admit to it, so I wonder where they got their information?

    Drew admits in his bio “Hail Mary” at page 127 that there was contact between he and Vikings CB Nate Wright, but he says he didn’t push off.

    Instead, he used a “swim” move to get around Wright and come back to Roger’s underthrown pass.

  • Motley Blue

    Foreman probably just made that up. I’ll take Pearson’s written word as “the word.”

    I don’t think Pearson pushed off … but even if he DID … it pre-emptively makes up for the Super Bowl XIII screw job/phantom pass interfence called on Benny Barnes when his feet tangled with Lynn Swann during the fourth quarter.

  • Mike Little

    Fred,you get a gold star for the “Mr.Krause reply.Let’s face it,we all want every call to go our way,but call me crazy I would rather win staight up anyday over a flake gift.Sorry Paul,Drew and Nate were playing for position,and Nate Wright slipped,notice muddy playing conditions.Drew really made a good hip catch.I recall the ref getting beaned by an orange a fan threw.Thanks to Kyle Davis who was able to snap it back to Roger.Fitz was having a day for some reason.Dallas also caught a break when Preston Pearson dropped a pass the play before to stop the clock before Hail Mary time.Roger cemented his legend with this one,and can someone please tell me when Drew Pearson is going in the Ring of Honor?

  • Motley Blue

    I agree, Drew Pearson SHOULD be the first player inducted into the Ring of Honor at the new stadium. He’s long overdue.

  • Mike Little

    Correction to my earlier comment,it was a whiskey bottle that hit the ref,and the orange was thrown right after Pearson made the winning catch.I recall wondering if it was a flag at first.

  • Mike, I’m with you — I like a clean win over a controversial win.

    But I’ll take a controversial win over a clean loss any day!! 🙂

  • Matt Cordon

    On the NFL Films clip it is not very clear about whether Pearson pushed off. However, in the live shot, it looks like Pearson just got his body in front of Wright as Pearson was going back for the ball. If there was a push-off, it doesn’t show up in any of the replays.

    I can’t seem to find it, but I am pretty sure I’ve seen interviews where Pearson denies he pushed off. I can’t believe he’d admit it to Foreman, though.

  • This was the game that sealed my fate as a Cowboy fan. This game and the following game in Los Angeles in which the Cowboys just pounded the Rams 37-7! I remember the Rams game well, but missed a lot of the Vikings game including the final ‘Hail Mary’ pass. Whoa is me, I had given up on the Cowboys and Staubach. A mistake I would not make again, as long as Staubach was the QB!

  • Tim Truemper

    I’m with Matt on the what highlights show. Pearson is not showing any clear pushoff and is instead jockeying for position. What I find interesting is the lessened attention to the 4th down pass that kept the drive going. Thanks to the “push-out” rule for catches in bounds (but the receiver is forced out), the later miracle play occurred. Nate Wright had a rough drive–good coverage but two great plays by Pearson.

  • Scott

    I’ve heard that push off excuse for 30 years… watch the replay and watch Pearson’s hands. His hands are in the air to try and catch the ball – unless he pushed off with his body (?) there’s no way he could have pushed off. Wright fell down on his own. I’ve watched that 1000 times – I still see Pearson’s hands in the air as Wright is going down….

    Christy Mathewson once said, “When a man loses a game he should always have a good excuse at the ready… and keep it to himself.”

  • jeaninmpls

    It is difficult to come to a conclusion about something based on a camera angle which is inconclusive. I saw that game and I saw Drew Pearson push Nate Wright. Everyone saw that play. Even Bud Grant, old “Stoneface” himself saw it happen. Bud did not complain about anything yet he spoke about this. Even two referees saw that play. I remember how horrible that someone got away with something that interfered with a teams ability to win or lose a game. Referees should not be the deciding force in a game. I remember the bottle coming out of the stands and hitting the field judge. I also remember hearing on national television in the third quarter that Fran Tarkenton’s father died and that win or lose he was going to hear some of the worst news of his life. It was a bad day all around for Minnesota and the Vikings. Don’t worry, Romo won’t have a chance next week.

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