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Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 3 (1971)

This is the third 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, the Mad Bomber game from Thanksgiving Day in 1974 is a famous game, but it was hardly pivotal, given that the Cowboys missed the playoffs that year.

Likewise, 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 7, 1971: 

Dallas 16, St. Louis Cardinals 13

1971“The Dodger Era Begins”

The Cowboys struggled during both the 1970 and 1971 seasons. The team’s turnaround in 1970 was the subject of Part 2 of this list.

In 1971, Dallas was 4-3 following a frustrating 23-19 loss to the Chicago Bears. Tom Landry’s strategy of shuttling Roger Staubach and Craig Morton bombed. The Super Bowl could not have been on anyone’s mind.

Landry named Staubach the permanent starter before the team’s week 8 game at St. Louis. When Dallas fell behind 10-3 at the half, though, some might have thought Landry would go back to Morton.

But he didn’t, and Staubach led the Cowboys to a come-from-behind win. With the game tied 13-13, kicker Toni Fritsch nailed the game-winner. His comment following the win—”I no choka.”

The Cowboys did not choka for the rest of the season, either. The Cowboys won their final seven regular season games by a combined score of 202-77.

Dallas plowed their way back to the Super Bowl, then demolished Miami to win Super Bowl VI.

Although Morton had to start throughout most of the 1972 season because of an injury to Staubach, Dallas remained Staubach’s team during the rest of the decade. By the time the decade—and the Staubach era—ended, the Cowboys were America’s Team.

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

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 2 (1970)

This is the second 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, the Mad Bomber game from Thanksgiving Day in 1974 is a famous game, but it was hardly pivotal, given that the Cowboys missed the playoffs that year.

Likewise, 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.

1970November 22, 1970: 

Dallas 45, Washington 21

“Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”

By 1970, the Dallas Cowboys had become Next Year’s Champions. The team had highly successful regular seasons but faltered in the playoffs.

The 1970 season looked different, but not in a good way. The Cowboys started out with a 5-2 record before losing to the New York Giants on the road on November 8. One week later, the bottom fell out as the Cowboys lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 38-0.

Nine weeks into the season, the Cowboys were 5-4. They trailed both the Cardinals and the Giants in the division and had already lost to the Cardinals twice.

It appeared that Dallas would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1965. This was hardly the best start to the first season after the NFL-AFL merger.

Fortunes changed on Sunday, November 22.  Quarterback Craig Morton, who entered the game with a completion percentage of 41.5, hit on 12 of 15 pass attempts. His two touchdown passes in the second quarter helped the Cowboys build a 24-7 halftime lead en route to a 45-21 rout.

The Cardinals ended their game in a tie with Kansas City. St. Louis improved to 8-2-1 the following week but lost three straight to end the season at 8-5-1.

The Giants lost two of their last five to finish at 9-5.

Meanwhile, Dallas won its final five games of the regular season to win the division with a 10-4 record. The Cowboys then beat the Lions and 49ers in the NFC playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.

Of course, Dallas lost to the Colts in Super Bowl V, so this season did not have a happy ending. Nevertheless, the team had gone one step further than it ever had, setting the stage for their first championship season one year later.

Previously:

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

 

Animated Trivia: Dallas Cowboys vs. L.A. Rams

Here is an animated GIF from an old-school game between the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Trivia questions are below the image.

Trivia:

1. The Cowboys beat the Rams on Thanksgiving Day. During which season did this game take place?

2. Who was the L.A. running back being tackled by Bob Lilly and Cornell Green?

3. Which former Cowboy caught a 41-yard pass for the Rams?

4. Which Dallas player scored the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter?

5. The Rams had changed from their gold-and-blue uniforms to blue-and-white uniforms in 1965. When did the Rams return to gold and blue?

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 1

This is the first 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, the Mad Bomber game from Thanksgiving Day in 1974 is a famous game, but it was hardly pivotal, given that the Cowboys missed the playoffs that year.

Likewise, 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 will focus on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

cowboys.eagles

December 5, 1965

Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

“A Loser No More”

Between the first game in franchise history on September 24, 1960 and week 11 of the 1965 season, the Dallas Cowboys had a combined record of 22-53-4. The ’65 team lost to the Washington Redskins in week 11, dropping the Cowboys’ record to 4-7 with three games remaining.

Dallas had to travel to Franklin Field in Philadelphia to face the Eagles in week 12 on December 5, 1965. Both teams were 4-7 and seemed to be heading nowhere.

Former Dallas kicker Sam Baker kicked his third field goal of the game to give the Eagles a 16-14 lead in the second half.

Baker lined up for another field goal  late in the third quarter. However, Jethro Pugh managed to break through the line to block the kick. Mike Gaechter recovered, giving Dallas the ball in Eagle territory. Don Meredith soon found Frank Clarke on a 21-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys the lead in the third quarter.

Cornell Green blocked another field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, and Baker missed on a short field goal late in the game. Dallas pulled out the win, 21-19.

Not an important game at first glance, but the win sparked a three-game winning streak to end the 1965 regular season, giving Dallas a 7-7 record. Dallas even played in the Playoff Bowl, losing to the Baltimore Colts.

The rest of the 1960s for the Cowboys looked much different than the first half. The Cowboys’ combined record between week 12 of the 1965 season and the rest of the 1960s was 45-12-2. Dallas would not have another losing season until 1986.

San Francisco 28, Dallas 17: Plenty of Shame to Go Around

One of the few highlights from Sunday was Dwayne Harris's 56-yard reception, which set up a Dallas touchdown.

One of the few highlights from Sunday was Dwayne Harris’s 56-yard reception, which set up a Dallas touchdown.

The Dallas Cowboys’ 2014 season was 43 seconds old when they fell behind for the first time against San Francisco on Sunday.

The season was less than 10 minutes old when the 49ers easily drove 80 yards in 4 plays to score their second touchdown. At that point, San Francisco led 14-3.

The season was 10 minutes and 8 seconds old when Tony Romo threw his first interception of the year. One play later, the Cowboys were behind 21-3.

Romo threw two more interceptions in the second quarter.  The 49ers turned around after one of those picks and drove for another score.

It took less than 30 minutes to witness an implosion.

* * *

DeMarco Murray had a good game overall, rushing for 118 yards on 22 carries. However, San Francisco’s Chris Culliver returned Murray’s fumble on the opening drive of the game for a score.

When the Cowboys needed to rely on Murray, they didn’t.

The Cowboys had a 2nd and 1 from the 49er 2 on the Cowboys’ second drive of the game. Dallas tried a play-action pass, but Justin Smith sacked Romo for a nine-yard loss. Dallas settled for a field goal and trailed 7-3. The team would never get close tying the game after that.

Romo threw all three of his interceptions into double coverage. The second of the two occurred when Dallas, while trailing 21-3, moved the ball to the 49er 5 and had a first and goal.

Run Murray? Oh, of course not. Romo rolled to his right, did not see a wide open Dwayne Harris, and threw a lob pass into a group of 49er defenders. Patrick Willis picked off the pass in the end zone, and Dallas did not score again in the first half.

Romo threw one more interception after trying to force the ball into double coverage. San Francisco again moved downfield rather easily, scoring another touchdown with less than 40 seconds left.

* * *

Yes, the Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the second half, but the game was not close. Dez Bryant left the game after apparently suffering dehydration. He was not much of factor before that.

 

The drubbing thrilled the crowd, which apparently consisted of more Niner fans than Cowboy fans. Not surprising, but still disappointing.

The Redskins lost to the Texans, but the Eagles came back to beat the Jaguars. The Cowboys are going to be in an uphill battle for the division. If today is any indication, battle is not the right word.

30 Years Ago: Tom Landry Names Gary Hogeboom as the Starter

Ah, the legend of Gary Hogeboom, whom Tom Landry named as the team’s starting QB 30 years ago this week.

During various times in the 1960s and early 1970s, Tom Landry was rather notorious for swapping starting quarterbacks. Whether it was Eddie LeBaron vs. Don Meredith, Don Meredith vs. Craig Morton, or Craig Morton vs. Roger Staubach, Landry did not seem to shy from quarterback controversies.

Of course, once Staubach led the team to the promised land in 1971, those controversies ended. And when Staubach retired after the 1979 season, Danny White took over without any real competition.

By 1984, the Cowboys had lost in the playoffs during four consecutive seasons. The focus of the news during training camp in 1984 was on the QB position, where Gary Hogeboom was trying to unseat White as the starter.

Landry made a decision 30 years ago to move Hogeboom into the starting position. Landry hardly gave Hogeboom a full vote of confidence.

Landry said the Cowboys’ quarterback position, like all others on the team, would be evaluated on a game- by-game basis as part of what he called a ”reshaping” process. That process begins at Anaheim, Calif., Monday night, when the Cowboys open against the Los Angeles Rams.

”This is not like quarterback decisions I’ve made in the past,” said Landry, who was visibly nervous during the Dallas news conference at which he announced the change. ”If we were going to rebuild this team, we would not be thinking about making the playoffs. But we are going to be reshaping this team. We still have the players to make it to the playoffs. We can be in contention this year. But it is going to take a lot of hard work.”

Landry would give no specific reasons for switching from the 32-year- old White, a starter in the last four seasons, to the 26-year-old Hogeboom, who has never started a regular-season game in the N.F.L. but who said earlier this summer that he would seek a trade if he were not given the starter’s role.

”For my own reasons,” the coach said, ”I have a feeling that Gary is right for this game. My feeling is the same about Danny White. He is an excellent quarterback and will continue to be an excellent quarterback. I have coached this game. I have played this game. I have to go on my feelings.”

Of course, White was angry, while Hogeboom had to look over his shoulder. Both players saw action throughout the first half of the season, during which the Cowboys went 5-3. White eventually returned to the starting role. The team was 9-5 heading into the final two weeks of the season, and the Cowboys could have made the playoffs with wins in either week. But Dallas lost both games and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974.

* * *

Something that really caught my attention in the N.Y. Times article was this blurb about Franco Harris:

The Dallas Morning News reported that Bart Beier, the agent for Franco Harris, had called the Cowboys and told them that the accomplished running back was available to play for them at an annual salary of as little as $330,000. That is about $50,000 less than what Harris would have earned this season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waived him last week because of a contract impasse. According to the Dallas newspaper account, Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ vice president for personnel development, rejected the offer out of hand, without even discussing it with Landry.

Hmmm…

Animated Trivia: Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams

Continuing my summer of fun with animated GIFs…

Here is an animation showing Randy White tackling a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Questions appear below the image.

Questions:

(1) During which season did this game take place?

(2) The Cowboys and Rams had quite a history in playoff games during the 1970s and 1980s. What was significant about this game?

(3) For fans of the L.A. Rams: Who was the quarterback in this animation, and what happened to him after this season?

(4) What did Tony Dorsett accomplish in this game?

Dallas Cowboys: Highest Ranked Players of All Time

Larry Allen is among the Top 50 offensive players of all time. http://giphy.com/gifs/xVrNaYcxv9NYI

Larry Allen is among the Top 50 offensive players of all time. http://giphy.com/gifs/xVrNaYcxv9NYI

Pro-Football-Reference.com has engaged in a project for some time now that allows users to vote on the all-time rankings of every NFL player. The project is known as Elo Rater.

Cowboys’ fans will not be happy to see the current rankings, as no Dallas player appears on the top 10 list for offense and only one player appears in the top 10 on defense.

Before I point out some B.S., here are the Cowboys rated in the top 50 for offense and defense:

Offense

17. Roger Staubach
26. Larry Allen

(I am not counting Lance Alworth, though he was a member of the Cowboys towards the end of his career. He ranks 10th.)

Defense

9. Bob Lilly
49. Deion Sanders

(Similarly, I am not counting Forrest Gregg as a Cowboy.)

Now for the criticism.

How many real experts would place Len Dawson in the top 20 offensive players of all time? Yes, he is a Hall-of-Fame player, but #15 overall?

Jim Brown ranks at #3. Gale Sayers is #5. Walter Payton is #6. Barry Sanders is #9. Emmitt Smith, who outrushed all of them? He ranks #130 behind the likes of Chuck Muncie, Calvin Hill, Bob Vogel, James Brooks, Jim Hart, and Jim Langer.

Sure.

I am somewhat less critical of the defensive rankings, though I would rank Darren Woodson higher than #245 overall.

Ten Injury-Prone (or Just Injured) Dallas Cowboys

Fragile-Please-handle-with-careMost news recently has focused on Sean Lee‘s season-ending knee injury suffered during a non-contact drill.

In the history of the Dallas Cowboys, many players have, of course, been prone to suffer injuries. Some, however, have never only been able to contribute a small fraction of what they could because of those injuries.

Below is a list of players who fall into that category.

10. Robert Brewster, Tackle (3rd Round, 2009)

We begin with two picks from the dreadful 2009 draft. The team picked tackle Robert Brewster with the 75th overall pick. This was during a time when the team had a decent but aging offensive line.

Brewster tore a pectoral muscle during a workout and did not play as a rookie. He was released during the middle of the 2010 season.

He last played in the Arena Football League in 2012.

9. Brandon Williams, Linebacker (4th round, 2009)

The Cowboys needed linebackers even in 2009 and took Texas Tech defensive end Williams with the goal of converting him to outside linebacker.

He tore his ACL during a preseason game in 2009, though. He played in 10 games in 2010 but was waived before the start of the 2011 season.

He was on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad in 2011 and made active roster at the end of the 2011 season. He has not played in the NFL since being waived before the 2012 season by Arizona.

8. Billy Cannon, Linebacker (1st Round, 1984)

If the Cowboys could have picked up the senior Billy Cannon in 1960, he could have been a cornerstone in the new franchise. The senior Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy at LSU, and he was a key member of the Dallas Texans’ 1961 AFL Championship Game.

The junior Billy Cannon lasted eight games into his rookie season. He suffered a spinal injury against the Saints and was forced to retire.

7. Tody Smith, Defensive End (1st Round, 1971)

The Cowboys took USC defensive end Tody Smith with the 25th overall selection in 1971. Smith had to deal with an ankle injury as a rookie and played in only seven games. He had knee surgery during the off-season in 1972 but still played in ten games. Perhaps due to the bad knee, he was disappointing in 1972.

The upside of the Smith selection was that the Houston Oilers gave the Cowboys first- and third-round draft picks in 1974 to acquire Smith.

Smith lasted three years in Houston but was waived while injured before the 1976 season.

Meanwhile, Dallas used the picks from the Oilers to take Too Tall Jones and Danny White.

6. Robert Shaw, Center (1st Round, 1979)

Shaw took over as the starting center in 1980 and did an excellent job in three playoff games.

However, he suffered a catastrophic knee injury in 1981 and was never able to play again. Had he remained with the Cowboys, he probably would have anchored a very good offensive line.

Tom Rafferty did a fine job at center, but the Cowboys struggled to replace Rafferty at guard.

5. Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver (2nd round, 1992)

Smith wound up with more than 12,000 receiving yards while playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As a Cowboy, though, he was injured most of the time and even had to undergo an emergency appendectomy.

He never caught a pass with the Cowboys, who released him before the 1994 season. Jacksonville picked him up during the Jaguars’ expansion season, and he spent 11 years there, earning five Pro Bowl berths.

4. Bill Thomas, Running Back (1st round, 1972)

The Cowboys selected Bill Thomas as part of an effort to replace Duane Thomas. However, Bill Thomas never recovered from a shoulder injury suffered during college, and the Cowboys cut him before his second season in 1973.

He played two more seasons for the Oilers and Chiefs.

3. David LaFleur, Tight End (1st Round, 1997)

The Cowboys desperately needed to replace Jay Novacek in 1997 and used the 22nd overall pick to take LaFleur, thanks largely to an endorsement from Troy Aikman.

LaFleur played four seasons in Dallas, but he suffered through chronic back injuries. The team had to cut him before the 2001 season when he could not pass a physical.

He finished with just 729 yards in four seasons.

2. Mike Sherrard, Wide Receiver (1st round, 1986)

Sherrard had a promising rookie season in 1986, with 41 receptions for 744 yards and five touchdowns. He would have been the team’s top receiver in 1987, but he broke his ankle during training camp. He missed the entire season.

One year later, he suffered yet another broken ankle, causing him to miss yet another season.

The 49ers signed Sherrard through Plan B free agency in 1989, so Sherrard never played for the Cowboys after his rookie season in 1986.

Dallas had to use another first-round pick to take a receiver in 1988, but fortunately the team selected Michael Irvin.

Sherrard played for the 49ers, Giants, and Broncos but suffered through several more injuries. Nevertheless, his career lasted until 1996.

1. Sean Lee (2nd round, 2010).

Lee has the talent and leadership to be one of the franchise’s great linebackers.

He has the body of a porcelain vase and has been injured frequently. In four years, he has missed 18 games.

He will miss another 16 in 2014 while recovering from a torn ACL.

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