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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.
Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.
November 7, 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.
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.
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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.
Try to imagine Tony Romo making less than not one but two backup quarterbacks on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster. Now consider this—
The Cowboys lured quarterback Don Meredith from SMU in 1960 by offering him what “was considered one of the finest in the history of professional football.”
Five years later, the team gave him a “slight raise” to about $27,000 per year when he signed a new contract.
Meredith was reportedly happy. He said, “I got what I wanted and I hope the club gets what it wants next season.”
The team selected quarterback Craig Morton in the first round of the 1965 draft, and Morton would make more as a rookie in 1965 than Meredith made even with the raise.
But what was even stranger was that another backup, Jerry Rhome, also made more than Meredith did. Rhome was a 13th round pick in 1964.
Of course, those were long before the days of free agency, so players had no real bargaining power. Moreover, Tex Schramm and the Cowboys were notorious about underpaying even the best players on the team.
I’m guessing Jerry would be quite jealous.
Here’s a quote about one member of the secondary.
He’ll be an outstanding player at safety, whether he makes his move there this year or next season.
Trivia question: Who was the player?
This may help—
On the same day Tom Landry made this statement, the Cowboys announced they had traded Craig Morton to the New York Giants in exchange for New York’s number one draft pick.
The Giants finished 2-12 that season, meaning the Cowboys held the second overall pick the follow season.
The Cowboys selection? Hall-of-Famer Randy White.