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The end of the Cowboys’ first decade as an NFL team should not have been this disasterous. In four seasons, the Cowboys managed a combined regular season record of 42-12-2, including the 11-2-1 record in 1969.
The team’s playoff record during that time: 1-4, not counting Playoff Bowl appearances. The fourth loss came on December 28, 1968 in a 38-14 drubbing at the hands of the Cleveland Browns.
Against the Browns, more than 69,000 fans watched Craig Morton struggle to complete a pass, leading those fans to call for Roger Staubach to come into the game. Morton completed only 8 of 24 for 92 yards and two interceptions. He threw a pick in the fourth quarter that was returned 88 yards for a touchdown by Walt Sumner, giving the Browns a 38-7 lead.
At the end of the game, the fans saw kicker Mike Clark completely miss the ball on an onside kick attempt after the Cowboys scored to make the final score 38-14.
[Incidentally, Clark is best known for (a) kicking the shortest field goal in Super Bowl history; and (b) missing the ball on a meaningless onside kick. Too bad for a player who lasted ten years in the league and made a Pro Bowl]
The Cowboys appeared in one more game following the 1969 season. On January 3, 1970, the Cowboys welcomed a new decade by suffering the first shutout in team history: a 31-0 loss to Los Angeles, which hardly resembled a game.
Good news item #1: Nobody really considered the Playoff Bowl to be a game that counted. When game is known as the Runnerup Bowl, Jam Bowl, and Loser Bowl, most would prefer to forget it.
Good news item #2: The Cowboys had a pretty good decade during the 1970s, to say the least.
During the 1968 season, writer Steve Perkins of the Dallas Times Herald followed the Dallas Cowboys, who were trying to shake off the effects of losses in the 1966 and 1967 NFL championship games. The Cowboys’ season-ending loss to Cleveland led Perkins to title the book, Next Year’s Champions. This label stuck with the Cowboys for three more years.
The loss to the Browns was a bad ending to a great year. Dallas finished the season at 12-2, which remains tied (1977) for the best winning percentage in a season in team history. The season featured a game where Dallas set a record for points scored in a game, and the team finished the season ranked first in both yards and points scored.
Week 1: Dallas 59, Detroit 13
The Cowboys exploded for 59 points in the first week of the 1968 season. Five different Cowboys scored touchdowns on offense (Bob Hayes, Dan Reeves, Craig Baynham, Walt Garrison, and Dennis Homan), while linebacker Chuck Howley scored on a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown, shown below.
Week 2: Dallas 28, Cleveland 7
For the second consecutive season, the Cowboys prevailed in an early-season matchup with the Browns. Defensive lineman Willie Townes returned a fumble for a touchdown in the first half, and two Dan Reeves scores in the second half put the game away for the Cowboys. Cleveland managed only 250 yards in total offense against the Doomsday Defense.
Week 3: Dallas 45, Philadelphia 13
The Cowboys put up 31 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Eagles, 45-13, in week 3. Don Meredith threw five touchdown passes in the win, which featured seven turnovers by Philadelphia.
If you love sportswriting from the 1960s, here is a good sample from Bob St. John:
Philadelphia has worshiped the weird – the Cowboys have played the
straight man. This time the Eagles’ idol turned into a clay god. The
Cowboys wouldn’t be swayed by nonsense and simply splattered the Eagles,
45-13 . . . .
Week 4: Dallas 27, St. Louis 10
Dallas scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull away from the Cardinals. Newly acquired kicker Mike Clark booted a 50-yard field goal to break a 10-10 tie in the third quarter, and scores by Les Shy and Don Meredith iced the game for Dallas. The win was a costly one, as the team lost Dan Reeves for the season with a knee injury.
For the second time in three weeks, Dallas handled the Eagles. The Cowboys raced out to a 14-0 first half lead and never looked back. The game featured a 15-yard touchdown pass from Meredith to Rayfield Wright, marking Wright’s only NFL touchdown.
Week 6: Dallas 20, Minnesota 7
The Cowboys had trouble putting the Vikings away until Cornell Green intercepted a pass by Joe Kapp and returned the ball 55 yard for a touchdown. The win gave the Cowboys a 6-0 record and a two-game lead over the Giants in the Capital Division.
Week 7: Green Bay 28, Dallas 17
Although the Packers struggled in the 1968 season, Green Bay overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the Cowboys 28-17 in week 7. Bart Starr threw four touchdown passes in the win. Up until that point, the Cowboys had never beaten the Packers, and the two teams would not meet again until 1970.
Week 8: Dallas 17, New Orleans 3
Two touchdowns from Meredith to Bob Hayes were enough to give Dallas a 17-3 win over New Orleans. Hayes finished with 108 yards on six receptions.
Week 9: New York Giants 27, Dallas 21
The Cowboys’ lead in the Capital fell to one game with a loss to the Giants in week 9. Dallas overcame an early 14-0 Giant lead to tie the game at the half. The teams were tied at 21 heading into the fourth quarter, but two field goals by Pete Gogolak gave New York the win.
Week 10: Dallas 44, Washington 24
The Cowboys rebounded from the loss to New York by demolishing the Redskins, 44-24. Dallas led by only three points at the half but outscored Washington 31-14 in the second. Bob Hayes had another 100-yard receiving game, while Lance Rentzel scored two touchdowns. Rookie defensive end Larry Cole scored the first of four career touchdowns by returning a fumble 21 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.
Week 11: Dallas 34, Chicago 3
The Cowboys met the Bears in week 11 for the first time since 1964. The Cowboys made themselves feel at home at Soldier Field by putting up 24 first half points en route to a 34-3 win. Walt Garrison scored twice in the win.
Week 12: Dallas 29, Washington 20
The Cowboys did not have to face Sonny Jurgensen in week 12, but backup Jim Ninowski gave the Cowboys plenty of problems. Ninowski’s third touchdown pass of the day in the fourth quarter gave the Redskins a 20-19 lead. However, a Mike Clark field goal and an interception return for at touchdown by Larry Cole gave Dallas a nine-point win. With a 10-2 record, Dallas wrapped up the Capital Division title for the second consecutive year.
Week 13: Dallas 28, Pittsburgh 7
Bob Hayes scored on a 90-yard punt return and on a 53-yard pass from Don Meredith to help Dallas to a 28-7 win over the Steelers.
Week 14: Dallas 28, New York Giants 10
With nothing to play for, the Cowboys avenged their loss to the Giants by beating New York in the season finale. Bob Hayes scored twice (punt return, reception), and Lance Rentzel gained 130 yards on seven receptions.
Dallas won the Capital Division, setting up a divisional round matchup with Cleveland in the 1968 playoffs. Here were the final standings.
Capital W L T PF PA
Dallas Cowboys 12 2 0 431 186
New York Giants 7 7 0 294 325
Washington Redskins 5 9 0 249 358
Philadelphia Eagles 2 12 0 202 351
Century W L T PF PA
Cleveland Browns 10 4 0 394 273
St. Louis Cardinals 9 4 1 325 289
New Orleans Saints 4 9 1 246 327
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 11 1 244 397
Coastal W L T PF PA
Baltimore Colts 13 1 0 402 144
Los Angeles Rams 10 3 1 312 200
San Francisco 49ers 7 6 1 303 310
Atlanta Falcons 2 12 0 170 389
Central W L T PF PA
Minnesota Vikings 8 6 0 282 242
Chicago Bears 7 7 0 250 333
Green Bay Packers 6 7 1 281 227
Detroit Lions 4 8 2 207 241
Dallas at Cleveland, December 21, 1968
Minnesota at Baltimore, December 22, 1968
Don Meredith only threw 12 passes against the Cleveland Browns in the 1967 divisional round of the playoffs, but he hit on 10 of them. In the shot above, he hit running back Craig Baynham on a three-yard score that put the Cowboys ahead, 7-0.
The Cowboys never looked back. Dallas scored 24 first-half points en route to a 52-14 destruction of Cleveland, giving the Cowboys their first ever playoff win. Meredith threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder to Bob Hayes (shown immediately below), which was the longest play in NFL playoff history up to that point. Hayes also added punt returns of 64 and 68 yards, which set up two more scores. Hayes finished the day with five receptions for 144 yards.
Baynham scored three playoff TDs during his career, and all of them came against Cleveland. His 50 rushing yards complemented Don Perkins 73 yards on the ground Baynham filled in for Dan Reeves, who injured his shoulder earlier in the game.
Although LeRoy Kelly picked up 96 yards rushing for Cleveland, the Browns had trouble getting anything going all day. Frank Ryan completed only 14 of 30 passes, and Dallas shut down Paul Warfield most of the game until Ryan hit Warfield on a 75-yard score with Dallas leading 52-7.
The Cleveland game marked one of only two playoff games in which the Cowboys have scored 50 or more points. Dallas also scored 52 in Super Bowl XXVII. In fact, the Cowboys have scored 40 or more points only three times: the two games where they scored 52, and the 1996 playoff win over Minnesota (40-15).
In September, I ran a piece regarding the Dallas-Cleveland rivalry in the 1960s. Here is the summary:
Between 1960 and 1970, Dallas faced Cleveland 20 times, including the
playoffs. The Browns won 14 of those games, including two huge playoff
games at the end of the 1960s. You might or might not know the names of
some of the Cowboy-killers of the decade: Jim Brown (232 yards vs. Dallas in 1963); Bobby Mitchell (3 TDs in 1960; 140 rushing yards in 1962); Rich Kreitling (several touchdown receptions vs. Dallas); Gary Collins (same); Paul WarfieldFrank Ryan (Cleveland QB); Bill Nelson (Cleveland QB); Leroy Kelly (another of Cleveland’s Hall of Fame RBs).
Meredith, Hayes Black Out Browns (Dallas Morning News, Dec. 25, 1967)
Box Score (Pro Football Reference)
I have argued before that the best analogy for the 2000s Cowboys is the 1960s version of the team. In 1966 and 1967, the Cowboys lost in heartbreaking fashion in the NFL Championship Game. The team was led by a happy-go-lucky (though also very tough) quarterback, a rugged running back, a receiver who made defenses sweat, and a suffocating defense.
Much like the 2008 team, which is also coming off of two consecutive heart-wrenching playoff losses, the 1968 team blew out of the gates with some big wins. The Cowboys scored a team-record 59 points against Detroit in a 59-13 win and also recorded a 45-13 destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles. Nearing the midway point of the season, Dallas had a 6-0 record and looked nearly unstoppable.
Then came the aging Packers– the team that had destroyed the Cowboys’ dreams in both of the previous seasons. On Monday night (pre-MNF days), October 28, 1968, more than 74,000 packed the Cotton Bowl to watch what most expected to be a coronation of the new NFL kings. Instead, Bart Starr threw four touchdowns in the Cotton Bowl and led the 2-3-1 Packers to a 28-17 win over the Cowboys. It was one of only two losses for the Cowboys that season, but it showed that the Dallas team had not turned a corner at that point.
Don Meredith threw a total of 12 interceptions in 1968, and three of them came against Green Bay. Dallas had a turnover ratio of +8 in 1968, but it was -3 vs. the Packers. The league’s top-ranked offense imploded with turnovers.
Here are the video highlights from that game:
Even with a strong finish in 1968, when the Cowboys won five straight, the Cowboys faltered again in the playoffs. Some of the same mistakes the Cowboys made in the Green Bay loss– especially the turnovers– showed up yet again come playoff time, as Dallas lost to Cleveland, 31-20.
What concerns me regarding the 2008 team that just lost its first game is that the problems that the Cowboys have had in the recent past (coverage, tackling) contributed heavily to the loss. The finger-pointing and head-shaking that we’ve seen this week suggest a team that could at some point implode if the players, coaches, and management don’t gain a little bit of perspective quickly. No loss is good, but overcoming adversity by correcting mistakes can make a team rise stronger.
Of course, 3-1 is certain a good start by any measure– Dallas has started 3-1 a total of 18 times in franchise history, and the club has made the playoffs during 14 of this 18 seasons. Many will remember the 1992 club that started 3-0 but was destroyed in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football in week 4.
However, it is probably no stretch to imagine that the Cowboys could start to believe in the can’t-win-come-postseason talk, and then the team may just suffer the fate of the late-60s Cowboys. The good news is that the Cowboys had a strong enough core that when the added quality veterans in 1970 and 1971 they were able to turn that corner. The bad news is that if my analogy holds up, we’ve got two or three more seasons before we are truly Super Bowl contenders.
Last year I saw the video clip I am featuring now. It provides a bunch of highlights from the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, with clips from nearly every era except for the 1990s. It dawned on me that a real challenge would be to try to identify all of the games shown (by year, etc.) and as many of the players as possible. For some parts this wasn’t so tough, but for others, it has proven to be more of a challenge.
Here is the video:
My annotations so far are below. Please feel free to comment, and I will include any additions or corrections as I receive them.
Scene 1 (0:11-0:30): Opening sequence to the Monday Night Football game between Dallas and Washington in 1978. This one was pretty easy. Dallas lost 9-5.
There are a few shots that include stock footage from NFL Films.
Scene 2 (1:02-1:05): This shows a shot of Joe Theismann being sacked by Ed Jones. Other players in the scene were Bill Bates, Jim Jeffcoat, and Don Smerek. This one has given me trouble, but I think that this was a shot from the 1983 game that the Redskins won 31-10. I do not see the 25th Anniversary patch on the Cowboys uniforms that were worn during the 1984 season, and Bates and Jeffcoat were not around prior to 1983.
Scene 3 (1:06-1:08): Bob Lilly tackles Larry Brown in this shot, with Sonny Jurgensen handing off. The Redskins are wearing their yellow helmets with the “R” symbol rather than the crimson helmets, and the yellow helmets were only worn during the 1970 and 1971 seasons. I cannot determine which season this was, though, because all of the players I can identify (Larry Cole, George Andrie, Bob Lilly, Sonny Jurgensen, Larry Brown) played in both games.
Scene 4 (1:10-1:13): Drew Pearson apparently catches a touchdown pass in this shot. I believe this was a 53-yard score from the 1978 game at Texas Stadium. I am not sure who the defensive back is.
Scene 5 (1:14-1:21): This is a shot of Don Meredith’s 44-yard pass to Billy Howton in a 21-17 loss to Washington in 1963.
Scene 6 (1:24-1:27): Mel Renfro tackles #31 for the Redskins. I am not sure when this play occurred.
Scene 7 (1:27-1:30): This shot shows Roger Staubach being injured in a play where he tries to score on a run. I’ve always thought that this was from the 1974 Thanksgiving Day game, but perhaps I am wrong. The shots that follow are certainly from that game, though.
Scene 8 (1:30-1:45): There are two shots of Clint Longley hitting Billy Joe Dupree and Drew Pearson in the famous Thanksgiving Day game in 1974.
Scene 9 (1:46-1:56): This shot shows Ron Fellows picking off Joe Theismann in the opening day game in 1985 when Dallas won 44-14 (and led the Texas Stadium crowd to sing Happy Birthday to Theismann).
Scene 10 (1:57-2:00): This shot shows Theismann being blitzed by a number of Cowboys (Bill Bates, Dennis Thurman, Dexter Clinkscale). You can see the 25th Anniversary patch pretty clearly, so this must have been during the 1984 game that Washington won 30-28.
Scene 11 (2:00-2:01): This is a tough one. It shows #53 for the Cowboys tackling #29 for the Redskins. Given that the pants that the Cowboy player was wearing are grey instead of silver, I don’t think that this was Bob Breunig, who did not join the team until 1975 when the Cowboys had silver pants. This is more likely from the 1972 or 1973 season, and #53 at that time was a backup linebacker named John Babinecz. Anyone else think otherwise?
Scene 12 (2:01-2:06): This shot shows Charlie Waters celebrating a touchdown, which occurred in a 31-10 Dallas win in 1975. Other Cowboys in the shot: Cliff Harris (#43), Bill Gregory (#77), and Dave Edwards (#52).
Scene 13 (2:06-2:50): There are several plays from the Cowboys’ 34-16 win over the Redskins in 1977. Among the plays are Roger Staubach’s 50-yard TD pass to Golden Richards and a pass from Tony Dorsett to Drew Pearson. Both Billy Kilmer and Joe Theismann played quarterback for Washington that day.
Scene 14 (2:50-3:16): This sequence shows several plays from the Cowboys’ 31-30 come-from-behind win at Washington in the opening week of the 1983 season. Among the plays were the 75-yard and 51-yard touchdown passes from Danny White to Tony Hill.
Scene 15 (3:17-4:15): This sequence shows a series of plays from the 35-34 win at Texas Stadium in 1979, including the famous Larry Cole tackle of John Riggins and Staubach’s throw to Tony Hill to win the game.
Scene 16 (4:16-5:02): This part shows some out-of-sync highlights of the Cowboys’ 41-35 win over the Redskins on opening day in 1999.
Scene 17 (5:02-5:25): This scene shows highlights from the Cowboys’ 27-0 win at Washington in 2003. This game featured rookie Terence Newman picking off three passes.
Scene 18 (5:25-6:00): This sequence shows highlights from the Cowboys’ 27-20 win on Thanksgiving Day in 2002.
Scene 19 (6:01-6:34): This shows highlights from Dallas’ 21-18 win at Washington in 2004.
Scene 20 (6:35-7:13): This features a series of highlights from the Cowboys’ 21-14 home win over Washington in 2003.
Scene 21 (7:13-7:20): The final highlight shows Vinny Testaverde hitting Patrick Crayton on a 39-yard touchdown pass that gave Dallas an improbable 13-10 win in 2004.