Dallas Cowboys History

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His Final Plays: Mel Renfro

During his 14-year career, Mel Renfro had some great moments. Perhaps his best post-season was 1970, when he recorded an interception in each of the Cowboys’ playoff games, including Super Bowl V.

By 1977, however, Renfro’s career was winding down. He became the team’s nickel corner, so for the only time since he entered the league in 1964, he was not a starter.

He nevertheless had a few good moments in 1977. He intercepted two passes that year, including a pick in a game against Philadelphia where Dallas clinched the NFC East. (I have that game on VHS tape but cannot access it at the moment.) That pick was Renfro’s last, giving him 52 for his career.

Unlike nearly every other legendary Cowboy, Renfro was able to end his career on a high note. He played sparingly in Super Bowl XII, but he was active and even recorded a tackle.

The sequence:

Renfro is at the bottom of the screen. He played right cornerback in the nickel formation.

Renfro is at the bottom of the screen. He played right cornerback in the nickel formation.

Rob Lytle came near Renfro (#20).

Rob Lytle came near Renfro (#20).

Renfro his Lytle and drives him to the ground.

Renfro hits Lytle and drives him to the ground.

One great career, one final tackle for Renfro.

One great career, one final tackle for Renfro.

No, it wasn’t like Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at-bat, but at least Renfro was still involved as the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl. In today’s game, Renfro probably would have already been a salary-cap casualty.

Renfro’s final play in the NFL was the Broncos’ last offensive play with just over three minutes remaining and the Cowboys leading 27-10.

Denver faced a 4th and 23 from the Dallas 24. Renfro entered the game and played right corner again.

 

Hard to tell, but Renfro is at the top of the screen playing right corner.

Hard to tell, but Renfro is at the top of the screen playing right corner.

Denver's Norris Weese had attempted a pass to Rick Upchurch near the Dallas 5. Renfro was near the ball and appears here on the right side of the picture. This was Renfro's last NFL play.

Denver’s Norris Weese had attempted a pass to Rick Upchurch near the Dallas 5. Renfro was near the ball and appears here on the right side of the picture. This was Renfro’s last NFL play.

Three game minutes later, and the Cowboys were celebrating their Super Bowl win. Renfro retired after that season. He became a member of the Ring of Honor in 1981, and he became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996.

Final Career InterceptionCame against Philadelphia on December 4, 1977. He returned the pick 25 yards.

Final Career TackleRenfro tackled Rob Lytle near the end of the first half in Super Bowl XII.

Final Career Play: He played nickel corner on the Denver Broncos’ final offensive play in Super Bowl XII.

His Last Plays: Cliff Harris

This is a series that focuses on the last games and/or (when possible) the last plays of various members of the Cowboys. The final plays for a few of these players, such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin, are well known. Others may be more difficult to research, but I will do my best.

Cliff Harris is one of several Cowboys who should have a place in Canton, Ohio.

Six Pro Bowls. Named first-team All Pro three times. First-team member of the All-Decade Team of the 1970s.

In fact, Harris is one of only two players named to the first team of the 1970s All-Decade Team who has not been named to the Hall of Fame. The other is former Cowboy Drew Pearson.

Anyway, Harris retired at the age of 31 after the 1979 season so that he could focus on his business interests. That means that his final plays occurred during the same games as Roger Staubach.

In the Cowboys’ playoff loss to the Rams on December 30, 1979, Harris did record a key interception. With Dallas trailing 14-12 late in the third quarter, the Rams had the ball on the Dallas 43. Vince Ferragamo threw a pass over the middle, but Harris picked it off and returned the pick 22 yards. The play set up a Dallas touchdown drive that gave the Cowboys the lead.

Here’s the sequence:

Vince Ferragamo looks downfield.

Vince Ferragamo looks downfield.

Cliff Harris is in the right place and picks off the pass.

Cliff Harris is in the right place and picks off the pass.

Harris races 22 yards to give Dallas great field position.

Harris races 22 yards to give Dallas great field position.

Unfortunately, that was one of the last career highlights for Captain Crash.

The Rams regained the lead with less than two minutes remaining, and the Cowboys offense failed. The defense needed to pull off a miracle to give Dallas any sort of a chance.

The Rams ran the clock down and lined up for a field goal with 13 seconds left. But instead of attempting the kick to increase the lead to 5, L.A.’s Nolan Cromwell, the holder, went for a fake. Harris was the contain man on the play but missed the tackle, and Cromwell gained seven yards to give the Rams the first down.

The play—

The Rams lined up for the field-goal attempt with 13 seconds left.

The Rams lined up for the field-goal attempt with 13 seconds left. Harris appears furthest to the right.

Nolan Cromwell keeps the ball and runs around right end. Harris has contain.

Nolan Cromwell keeps the ball and runs around right end. Harris has contain.

Unfortunately, Harris missed the tackle, and Cromwell made the first down. Game over.

Unfortunately, Harris missed the tackle, and Cromwell made the first down. Game over.

The Rams lined up in Victory Formation with six seconds left, so it appears that Harris’s final play for the Cowboys was at safety when the Rams ran the clock out.

Harris’s final game was, like Staubach’s, the 1980 Pro Bowl. And Harris had a better game than Staubach.

According to my reading of the Gamebook, Harris recorded three tackles for the NFC and recovered a Franco Harris fumble. His final tackle occurred in the third quarter when he stopped Stanley Morgan after a 20-yard pass from Dan Fouts.

So here are Harris’s final plays:

Final Interception as a Cowboy: Picked off Vince Ferragamo in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ 21-19 loss to the L.A. Rams on December 30, 1979.

Final Plays as a CowboyMissed a tackle on a fake field goal run, then played safety when the Rams knelt on the ball with six seconds remaining, in 21-19 loss to L.A. Rams on December 30, 1979.

Final Tackle as a Professional: Credited with tackling Stanley Morgan in the third quarter of the Pro Bowl on January 27, 1980.

His Last Plays: Emmitt Smith

This is a series that focuses on the last games and/or (when possible) the last plays of various members of the Cowboys. The final plays for a few of these players, such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin, are well known. Others may be more difficult to research, but I will do my best.

Like we do with Roger Staubach, we as fans tend to want to remember Emmitt Smith’s great highlights rather than what happened at the very end. Thus, in a more perfect world, perhaps Emmitt would have eclipsed Walter Payton’s record for career rushing yards and then immediately walked off the field for good. Our final memory might be something like this—

smith

Heck, he could have left for good after his final Thanksgiving Day game as a Cowboy, when he rushed for 144 yards in a 27-20 win.

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But no, he kept going. In his last game as a Cowboy against Washington on December 29, 2002, Emmitt needed to rush for 38 yards to surpass 1,000 for the season. It would have marked the 12th consecutive season for him to rush for at least 1,000 yards.

Instead? 18 carries. 13 yards.

No, I am not going to post a picture from the game.

It was just an amazingly bad ending for such an amazing player. Offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet keep feeding Emmitt the ball, but Emmitt never got anything going. It was not his worst game as pro (16 carries for 6 yards against New Orleans in 1998 probably was), but this performance was one of the worst.

Emmitt’s final run occurred with 8:25 remaining in the game. He lost four yards.

Of course, Emmitt’s career continued after he left the Cowboys. He played two seasons for the Arizona Cardinals.

His final game as a pro ended better than the last game with the Cowboys. He gained a total of 69 yards on 23 carries in a 12-7 Arizona win over Tampa Bay.

The last run of his career wasn’t one to remember, though: he lost two yards and fumbled the ball out of bounds. Ugh.

So in summary—

Final 100-Yard Game as a Cowboy: Gained 144 yards vs. Washington on November 28, 2002.

Final Game as a Cowboy: Gained 13 yards on 18 carries vs. Washington on December 28, 2002.

Final Rushing Attempt as a Cowboy: Lost four yards on a play in the fourth quarter vs. Washington on December 28, 2002.

Final 100-Yard Game as a Professional: 106 yards as an Arizona Cardinal vs. Seattle on October 24, 2004.

Final Game as a Professional: Gained 69 yards vs. Tampa Bay on January 2, 2005.

Final Rushing Attempt as a Professional: Lost two yards on a run with 1:56 remaining on the fourth quarter in a 12-7 Arizona win over Tampa Bay on January 2, 2005.

His Last Plays: Roger Staubach

This is a new series that will focus on the last games and/or (when possible) the last plays of various members of the Cowboys. The final plays for a few of these players, such as Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin, are well known. Others may be more difficult to research, but I will do my best.

Nearly any Cowboys fan knows the final regular-season pass that Roger Staubach threw. With Dallas trailing 34-28 in the final regular season game of 1979 against Washington, Staubach drove the Cowboys the length of the field, setting up an eight-yard touchdown pass to Tony Hill and winning the game. The win gave Dallas the NFC East title.

That is what most people remember about the end of Staubach’s career (and for many of us, that is all we want to remember).

But then there was this game:

staubach

The 11-5 Cowboys hosted the 9-7 Rams on December 30, 1979. The Cowboys had destroyed Los Angeles 30-6 on October 14, and it looked as if Dallas could rightfully expect to host the NFC Championship Game the next week.

As you can see, the Cowboys trailed the Rams 21-19 with less than two minutes remaining, thanks to Vince Ferragamo’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Billy Waddy. Staubach needed to move Dallas into field-goal range for yet another comeback.

It didn’t happen. On 3rd-and-10 from the Dallas 33, Staubach completed the final pass of his career.

To his left guard, Herbert Scott.

That, of course, resulted in a penalty, leaving Dallas with a 4th-and-20 play from its own 23. Staubach’s final pass as a Cowboy was an overthrown attempt to Drew Pearson. The Cowboys never got the ball back, and Staubach’s career came to an end.

As for Staubach’s final pass as a pro, he was not done just yet. He started for the NFC in the 1980 Pro Bowl.

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Though the NFC did prevail 37-27, it was a game to forget for Staubach.

He completed just 3 of 10 pass attempts for a total of 9 yards. He had negative passing yards until he finally hit Wes Chandler on an 11-yard gain in the third quarter. His final pass attempt was intended for Tony Hill, but it fell incomplete. His final play was a handoff to Walter Payton, who ran around the right end for six yards.

So, Roger Staubach’s final plays were as follows:

Final Regular Season Pass: 8-yard touchdown pass to Tony Hill vs. Washington, December 16, 1979

Final “Completed” Pass Attempt as a CowboyThrew the ball in the direction of left guard Herbert Scott, who caught it, in 21-19 loss to L.A. Rams on December 30, 1979.

Final Pass Attempt as a CowboyOverthrew Drew Pearson on 4th-and-20 in the loss to the Rams.

Final Play as a Professional: Handed the ball off to Walter Payton, who gained six yards, in the third quarter of the Pro Bowl on January 27, 1980.

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 10 (2010)

This is the tenth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

mediocrity-1September 12, 2010

Washington 13, Dallas 7

“The Dawn of Mediocrity”

It looked as if the Dallas Cowboys had turned a corner in 2009. The team won its final three games of the regular season to capture the NFC East title and then won a playoff game for the first time since 1996.

Most of that team returned in 2010, and many fans expected the Cowboys to take even more positive steps.

Then Dallas visited Washington on the evening of Sunday, September 12, 2010.

The Dallas offense struggled throughout the first half, and the one drive that ended up inside the Washington 10 ended with a missed field goal by David Buehler.

Washington led 3-0 near the end of the first half. Dallas only needed to kneel on the ball to try to regroup.

Instead, Tony Romo threw a pass to running back Tashard Choice, who fumbled. DeAngelo Hall recovered and returned the recovery for a touchdown.

The remained close, nevertheless, as the Cowboys scored in the third quarter. Dallas trailed only 13-7 late in the game, despite being called for numerous penalties.

In the final two minutes, the Cowboys moved the ball from their own 19 to the Washington 13. With three seconds remaining, it looked as if Romo had thrown the game-winning touchdown to Roy Williams. However, a holding call on Alex Barron negated the play, and Dallas lost.

The Cowboys never really recovered that year. They started the season at 1-7 before Jerry Jones finally fired head coach Wade Phillips. Jason Garrett took over to lead the team to a 5-3 finish, leading Jones to hire Garrett as the permanent head coach.

Dallas struggled for three years, recording 8-8 records in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Of course, Garrett led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record in 2014 and the first trip to the playoffs since 2009. However, the team had to survive a long period of mediocrity before accomplishing what it did in 2014.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Part 6, November 24, 1991: “A Dynasty Is Born”—Dallas 24, Washington 21

Part 7, November 23, 1997: “A Dynasty Crumbles”—Green Bay 45, Dallas 17

Part 8, September 3, 2000: “Pickle-Juice Loss Signals Dark Times Ahead”—Philadelphia 41, Dallas 14

Part 9, October 23, 2016: “Welcome, Tony Romo”—N.Y. Giants 36, Dallas 22

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 9 (2006)

This is the ninth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

October 23, 2006

N.Y. Giants 36, Dallas 22

Once upon a time, Tony Romo was a new shining star.

Once upon a time, Tony Romo was a new shining star.

“Welcome, Tony Romo”

The Drew Bledsoe era in Dallas was not a long one. He started only 22 games for the Cowboys, and his 12-10 record was not horrible.

The team was, though, mediocre at best in 2005 and 2006 when he started. He could make plays with his arm, but he too often stood like a statue in the pocket.

The team was not going to fall back into its 5-11 ways with him at the helm, but the team also wasn’t going to get close to the Super Bowl with him as the starter.

Dallas had a backup named Tony Romo, who had provided quite a bit of excitement during preseason games. When Dallas started the 2006 season at 3-2, including a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 5, fans started calling for Romo to take over.

In week 6, Romo threw his first NFL pass and led the team to a touchdown during cleanup work against the Texans.

One week later, the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants with both teams sporting 3-2 records. Dallas needed a win to keep pace with the Eagles and have an edge over the Giants.

Instead, Bledsoe’s limitations cost the Cowboys. Although he rushed for a touchdown, he also threw a costly pick at the end of the first half.

Because of that play, Dallas coach Bill Parcels had little choice but to turn to Romo. A new era began.

Of course, the Giants picked off Romo’s first pass attempt. By the end of the night, the Giants had picked off Romo three times, returning one of those picks 96 yards for a touchdown.

Then again, Romo threw two touchdowns, including a 53-yarder to Patrick Crayton. He brought excitement to the QB position—more so than any other QB had in quite some time.

With Romo as the starter, Dallas eventually improved to 8-4 before finishing at 9-7. His era continues to this day, of course.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Part 6, November 24, 1991: “A Dynasty Is Born”—Dallas 24, Washington 21

Part 7, November 23, 1997: “A Dynasty Crumbles”—Green Bay 45, Dallas 17

Part 8, September 3, 2000: “Pickle-Juice Loss Signals Dark Times Ahead”—Philadelphia 41, Dallas 14

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 8 (2000)

This is the eighth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

September 3, 2000

Philadelphia 41, Dallas 14

weird-eats-pickle-juice-ss“Pickle-Juice Loss Signals Dark Times Ahead”

The 1999 season for the Dallas Cowboys was a frustrating one. The team held a lead in every game, yet only finished 8-8 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Vikings.

Gone in 2000 were Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, but the Cowboys had some new weapons that gave the fans hope. Joining Rocket Ismail at receiver was former Seahawk Joey Galloway. The speed of those two receivers was supposed to drive defenses nuts.

On defense, Dallas added cornerback Ryan McNeil, who had recorded nine interceptions in 1997 while with the Rams. The Cowboys also added former Giant Phillippi Sparks. Those two had to replace the duo of Sanders and Kevin Smith after the latter injured his knee in training camp.

None of those roster moves worked.

Dallas opened the season against division-rival Philadelphia, which successfully executed an onside attempt on the opening kickoff. The Eagles scored on that drive on their way to a 24-6 halftime lead. The game was never close, and Dallas lost, 41-14.

The game became somewhat famous because of news that the Eagles had consumed pickle juice to address the heat in Texas Stadium that day. It turns out that Dallas would need much more than pickle juice to compete in 2000.

By halftime, the Eagles had knocked Troy Aikman out of the game with a concussion. He had not yet completed a pass when he suffered the injury. Randall Cunningham made his Dallas debut but could not give the Cowboys much of a boost.

Aikman eventually returned a few games later, but his career would end after the 2000 season thanks largely to back and concussion problems.

Galloway scored a fourth-quarter touchdown against the Eagles but later injured his knee. He was lost for the season. He returned to the Cowboys in 2001, but he never made the impact the team expected after sending two first-round picks to Seattle to obtain him.

The defense was no better. After allowing 41 points to the Eagles, the Cowboys went on to have their worst defensive season since 1989, when the Cowboys finished 1-15.

Dallas recorded a 5-11 record and would repeat this in 2001 and 2002. By the time the team returned to the playoffs in 2003, nearly all of the key players from the dynasty era were gone.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Part 6, November 24, 1991: “A Dynasty Is Born”—Dallas 24, Washington 21

Part 7, November 23, 1997: “A Dynasty Crumbles”—Green Bay 45, Dallas 17

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 7 (1997)

This is the seventh part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

November 23, 1997

Green Bay 45, Dallas 17

“A Dynasty Crumbles”

The Cowboys had historically performed well against the Green Bay Packers until Dallas took a trip to Lambeau Field in 1997.

The Cowboys had historically performed well against the Green Bay Packers until Dallas took a trip to Lambeau Field in 1997.

The Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the 1990s had been falling apart from the moment the team won Super Bowl XXX.

First, it was Michael Irvin’s arrest for drug possession and his subsequent suspension at the beginning of the 1996 season. Second, it was the false allegations that Irvin and Erik Williams had raped a woman. The latter occurred just days before Dallas lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 playoffs.

The 1997 season was not a great one. Barry Switzer was arrested for gun possession in an airport before the season began, so the team had yet another distraction to begin the year.

A loss to San Francisco in week 10 left the Cowboys with a 4-5 record, but not all hope was lost because Dallas rebounded with consecutive wins over Arizona and Washington.

The 6-5 Cowboys then had to travel to Lambeau Field for the first time since 1989 (the teams played in Milwaukee in 1991). Green Bay had lost five consecutive games to Dallas, but the last four of those took place in Dallas.

The Packers were the defending Super Bowl champions, and they played like it. Although the Cowboys took a 10-7 lead in the first half, it seemed to be a matter of time before the Cowboys fell apart. Brett Favre threw three touchdowns in the second half, and the Packers rolled over the Cowboys, 45-17.

Some of us irrationally believed the Cowboys had enough talent for the dynasty to continue throughout the decade. The loss to Green Bay ended that illusion.

Dallas lost four more games in 1997 to finish at 6-10. A 20-7 loss to the Giants in the season finale was so bad that Irvin cried on the sideline.

Although Dallas replaced Barry Switzer with Chan Gailey, and the Cowboys returned to the playoffs in 1998 and 1999, the team was never the same.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Part 6, November 24, 1991: “A Dynasty Is Born”—Dallas 24, Washington 21

Dallas Cowboys: History of Division-Clinching Games

The Dallas Cowboys clinched their 22nd division title in franchise history with a 42-7 win over the Colts.

The Dallas Cowboys clinched their 22nd division title in franchise history with a 42-7 win over the Colts.

The Dallas Cowboys have struggled to win the NFC East in recent years, but in their history, the Cowboys have had great success within the division, as well as the old NFL Eastern Conference and Capitol Division before the merger in 1970. After beating the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the Cowboys have won 22 division titles in the history of the franchise.

Below is a list of division-clinching games. Note that in a couple of instances, the Cowboys won the division thanks to losses by other teams. Note also that until 1978, the NFL regular season featured only 14 regular-season games instead of 16.

Week 13, 1966: The Cowboys lost to Washington on Dec. 11 and saw their record fall to 9-3-1. However, a Cleveland loss to Philadelphia on the same day clinched the NFL Eastern Conference title for the Cowboys.

Week 11, 1967: Dallas 46, St. Louis 21. The Cowboys ran away with the new Capitol Division of the NFL and clinched the division title with a win on Thanksgiving Day.

Week 12, 1968: Dallas 29, Washington 20. The Cowboys’ win over the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, coupled with a loss by the Giants three days later, gave the Cowboys the Capitol Division title for the second straight year.

Week 12, 1969: Dallas 10, Pittsburgh 7. The Cowboys wrapped up their third consecutive (and final) Capitol Division title by beating the Steelers in an ugly game at Pitt Stadium.

Week 14, 1970: Dallas 52, Houston 10. The Cowboys reached Super Bowl V in 1970, of course, but the playoff position was not secure until Dallas routed Houston in the season finale, giving the Cowboys the NFC East title.

Week 14, 1971: Dallas 31, St. Louis 12. The Cowboys had secured at least a playoff berth by the time they played the Cardinals in the regular season finale in 1971. A 31-12 win gave Dallas the division title over a Washington team that faded late in the season.

Week 14, 1973: Dallas 30, St. Louis 3. Dallas had entered its week 13 matchup with Washington a game behind the Redskins. However, the Cowboys beat Washington and then beat the Cardinals in the regular-season finale. A tiebreaker gave the 10-4 Cowboys the NFC East title.

Week 13, 1976: Dallas 26, Philadelphia 7. The Cowboys had stormed out of the gate in 1976 with a 9-1 record but could not clinch the division title until they beat the Eagles in week 13. Dallas won the division with an 11-3 record, followed by Washington and St. Louis, which both finished at 10-4.

Week 12, 1977: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 14. The Cowboys had little trouble winning the NFC East in 1977, wrapping up the division title with two games remaining.

Week 14, 1978: Dallas 17, New England 10. The 1978 season was the first to feature 16 regular-season games. Dallas clinched the NFC East title yet again with two games remaining thanks to a win over the Patriots coupled with losses by Washington and Philadelphia.

Week 16, 1979: Dallas 35, Washington 34. This is perhaps the most famous division-clinching game in the history of the Cowboys. Roger Staubach brought Dallas from behind to beat Washington in his final regular-season game.

Week 15, 1981: Dallas 21, Philadelphia 10. After losing the division title to Philadelphia in 1980 thanks to a tiebreaker, the Cowboys earned revenge by wrapping up the division with a win over the Eagles.

Week 15, 1985: Dallas 28, New York Giants 21. The Cowboys celebrated their last NFC East title under head coach Tom Landry with a 28-21 win over the Giants. Although Dallas, New York, and Washington each finished with 10-6 marks, Dallas won the title on tiebreakers.

Week 15, 1992: Dallas 41, Atlanta 17. After a seven-year drought, the Cowboys won a division title thanks to a win on Monday Night Football over Atlanta. This win featured one of Emmitt Smith’s most famous touchdown runs, where he did his best impression of Barry Sanders.

Week 18, 1993: Dallas 16, N.Y. Giants 13. If the 1979 game on this list is not the most famous, the 1993 game is. Emmitt Smith played much of the game with a separated shoulder, yet willed the Cowboys to an overtime win to give Dallas its second consecutive NFC East title.

Week 14, 1994: Dallas 31, Philadelphia 19. Unlike the 1993 season, the Cowboys wrapped up the division title well before the regular season ended, winning the title with three games remaining.

Week 17, 1995: The Cowboys had a one-game lead over the Eagles heading into the regular-season finale in 1995, so it looked as if Dallas would need to beat the Cardinals to win the NFC East. As it turned out, the Eagles lost, so the Cowboys had won the division before playing Arizona. The win over Arizona was not meaningless, however, as the Cowboys secured home-field advantage in the playoffs thanks to a loss by San Francisco.

Week 16, 1996: Dallas 12, New England 6. The Cowboys overcame a 1-3 start and were able to wrap up a record fifth consecutive division title by beating New England in a game that featured nothing but field goals.

Week 16, 1998: Dallas 13, Philadelphia 9. The Cowboys won their sixth NFC East title in seven years by beating the Eagles in a rather unimpressive game. Dallas would not win another division title for nine years, though.

Week 14, 2007: Dallas 28, Detroit 27. Dallas won the NFC East title with three games remaining thanks to a come-from-behind win over the Lions. Tony Romo’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 22 seconds remaining gave Dallas the win.

Week 17, 2009: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0. With the division title on the line in the season finale, the Cowboys thumped the Eagles in a 24-0 shutout. Dallas hosted the Eagles one week later, when the Cowboys won their first playoff game since 1996.

Week 16, 2014: Dallas 42, Indianapolis 7.  For three consecutive years, the Cowboys lost in their season finale to division opponents with the division title on the line. In 2014, however, the Cowboys took advantage of a Philadelphia loss to Washington and clinched the division title by routing the Colts.

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 6 (1991)

This is the sixth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

Steve Beuerlein came to the rescue in a 1991 game at Washington.

Steve Beuerlein came to the rescue in a 1991 game at Washington.

November 24, 1991

Dallas 24, Washington 21

“A Dynasty Is Born”

By 1991, the Dallas Cowboys had rebounded from two years as the league’s worst team to become a mediocre team. The 1990 squad just missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record, thanks largely to horrific performances by backup quarterback Babe Laufenberg, who filled in for an injured Troy Aikman during the final two games.

The 1991 squad won four straight during September and October to improve to 5-2. However, the team then lost three of four, including a 22-9 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 12.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Dallas had to travel to Washington to face the undefeated Redskins. Washington had come from behind to beat the Cowboys in September, and the Redskins had beaten the Steelers 41-14 one week before hosting Dallas.

Despite a start that included an interception return for a touchdown by Washington’s Martin Mayhew, the Cowboys managed to take a 14-7 halftime lead thanks to an Emmitt Smith touchdown and a Hail Mary play to Alvin Harper in the end zone just before the end of the second quarter.

However, it was hard not to think of the 1990 season when Aikman went down again with an injury. The backup in 1991 was former Notre Dame player and former Raider Steve Beuerlein, who had thrown only five passes in 1991 before replacing Aikman.

Early in the fourth quarter, though, Beuerlein found Michael Irvin on what turned out to be a 24-yard touchdown pass. The Cowboys held off a Washington rally and handed the Redskins their first defeat of the season.

Dallas did not lose another regular season game in 1991 and even beat Chicago at Soldier Field that season. Dallas lost to Detroit in the second round of the playoffs, but the franchise’s fortunes had changed.

Consider this: Between the first game of the 1988 season and the Week 13 game at Washington, Dallas had a combined record of 17-42 with no playoff appearances.

Between the Week 13 win at Washington and the end of the 1995 season, Dallas recorded an overall record of 54-15 during the regular season with a playoff record of 11-2.

That, friends, was a dynasty.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14