A Look Back (1976): Cowboys Cut Two Former Star RBs
As the lockout continues, we will periodically consider some stories from various archives. This one focuses on the team’s final cuts before the 1976 season.
A significant part of the Cowboys’ problem in the Cowboys 21-17 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl X was the lack of a consistent running game. The Cowboys averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in the game, and the trio of Robert Newhouse, Preston Pearson, and Doug Dennison hardly struck fear in the hearts of the Steelers.
During the off-season, the Cowboys brought in two former star running backs in an effort to improve the running game.
One back was Ron Johnson, a former all-pro with the New York Giants. He had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in both 1970 and 1972 but struggled in 1974 and 1975. He was only 28 when the Cowboys signed him, and many thought he would at least compete for a roster spot. However, he failed to impress Tom Landry, and the team let Johnson go in the final cuts.
The other back was Duane Thomas, who was the star of Super Bowl VI. Thomas missed two-a-days in his comeback attempt, and few thought he had a realistic chance to make the team in 1976. According to Landry, Thomas “just didn’t have a good running day at anytime, in practice or our games.”
The Cowboys went with Newhouse and Scott Laidlaw at fullback and with Pearson, Dennison, and Charles Young at halfback.
Dallas went 11-3 during the regular season, but the running game again killed the team in the playoffs. The Cowboys cured that problem one year later by trading with Seattle to be able to take Tony Dorsett.
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Incidentally, one of Thomas’ last significant games came against Dallas when he was a member of the Redskins in 1974. He scored two touchdowns in the game where Clint Longley came off the bench to bring Dallas from behind in a 24-23 Cowboy win. Below is a clip.