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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.
Instead, this series will focus on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.
December 5, 1965
“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.
Though the Cincinnati Bengals became a franchise in 1968, the Dallas Cowboys did not face the new Cincinnati team until 1973. That was because the Bengals were part of the AFL until 1970, and the teams were in different conferences when the leagues merged in 1970.
The teams finally met on November 4, 1973 at Texas Stadium. It was Cincinnati head coach Paul Brown’s first visit to Dallas since he coached the Browns in 1962 and turned out to be his last visit to Dallas during his 25-year NFL career.
In 1962, his Browns lost in a 45-21 blowout to the Cowboys, who were two years removed from their inaugural year. In 1973, the Dallas team was two years removed from its first Super Bowl title, and the result of the game was another blowout win for the Cowboys.
The video highlights and story of the game are below. Interesting note: the loss to Dallas dropped the Bengals to 4-4. Nevertheless, the team rebounded with six consecutive wins to finish the season at 10-4. They made the playoffs but eventually lost to the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.
As for the Cowboys, they also finished at 10-4 and made it to the NFC championship game before losing to the Minnesota Vikings.
By BOB ST. JOHN / The Dallas Morning News
Actually, it all started earlier in the week, though the records will show it ended very impressively for the Dallas Cowboys on a mostly gray Sunday afternoon at Texas Stadium.
“We started working with the right kind of attitude last Wednesday,” said middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, shortly after he’d made a tour of the Cowboys dressing room, shaking hands with every member of the team.
“Since we lost to Washington we really hadn’t had the consistent attitude and concentration. This week we made up our minds. We played well in practice. We were making interceptions and so that meant we were moving better. We felt the same thing would continue in the game.”
It did … in the game, Jordan intercepted three passes in the first period off the arm of Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson, ran one 31 yards for a touchdown and set up a score with anther one. These interceptions sent the Bengals reeling and they never really recovered as Dallas stormed off with an impressive 38-10 victory over a good team before a crowd of 54,944. There were 3,658 no shows.
So Dallas, perhaps, has turned the corner once again, heading for another playoff berth. Anyway, the Cowboys can do worse than remain a single game behind Washington in the NFC Eastern race and could move into a tie for the lead, should Pittsburgh top the Redskins on Monday night.
“We’ve got it started and we’re not going to do the same thing we did after beating the Giants a couple of weeks ago,” continued Jordan. “We were up for that one and then came back in practice the following week and let it get away. So the Eagles beat us. This time we’ll go back out there this week and keep it going.
“We’re not even thinking about a wild card berth. We’re going for the championship.”
The most impressive thing was the Cowboy defense, which did everything it had not been doing. What happened basically was that they had their collars loosened, Cowboy linemen were turned loose more, instead of reading so much and then rushing the passer. Thus there was more pressure than there had been since the Redskin game. And Dallas blitzed 7-3 times, very un-Cowboy like. Conservatism was thrown to the wind.
“They turned us loose, let us go and we went after them,” said cornerback Mel Renfro. “I hope we do it from now on.”
The Cowboy defense was so impressive that Dallas had such fine field positions on the Cincinnati 42, 17, 42, 44 and 7 yard lines. The Cowboy offense only had to go 42, 44, 55, and 7 yards for touchdowns.
“It wasn’t an offensive day,” said quarterback Roger Staubach, who had a fine personal day with 14 hits on 18 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. And he threw no interceptions, the thing that had killed Anderson … killed the Bengals. “Our defense just gave us great field position all day.
“Cincinnati has a fine defense and we needed everything we could get. I’d rate the Bengals on defense right up there next to Washington.”
Jordan first struck with Dallas leading 3-0 on Toni Fritsch’s 34-yard field goal and with neither team seeming able to move. But Anderson threw for wide receiver Chip Myers on the sideline and Lee Roy, whose man was blocking and didn’t go out, ran across field and picked off the throw, following practically the entire defensive entourage to the end zone. The second interception was tipped as free safety Cliff Harris crunched into tight end Bob Trumpy, causing him to cough up a ball he never had control of in the first place. Jordan got the third one by reaching up, one-handing it, and bringing it into control and setting up Dallas in TD business at the Cincy 42.
“On the first interception we blitzed,” said Lee Roy, “I just looked up and he was throwing a down-and-out. It was so hard I didn’t think I could hold it.”
“Jordan has range, experience and is a fine player,” said Anderson. “The first interception was very impressive because he ran a long way to get there. He just seemed to get to the right place at the right time. But that’s what it takes to make a good linebacker.”
Renfro and tackle Jethro Pugh combined to set up the final Cowboy TD. Renfro jarred running back Essex Johnson loose from the ball as Anderson, in trouble, dropped the football off to his back. Pugh picked up the ball and ran 30 yards in about 30 minutes to the Cincy seven, from which Dallas scored. Pugh has never scored a touchdown and was zooming in on the end zone but just couldn’t make it. “If it had been downhill I believe I’d have scored,” said Pugh.
The defense also held the Bengals out of the end zone on four downs from the Dallas four just before the half when a TD could have put them back into the game. Tackle Bob Lilly led two of the charges and Jordan, Pugh, Cole, Rodrigo Burnes and others stopped a final play from a half yard out.
Cincinnati got 10 points in the third period, the big one being much like big ones of recent weeks. Wide receiver Isaac Curtis got behind cornerback Charlie Waters and took a perfect throw for a 50-yard touchdown. A less than perfect throw and Waters of Harrison would have knocked it down.
Anderson was also not pressured on the bomb after faking play action. This was not what he became accustomed to during this day. He was trapped five times for 45 yards in losses. End Larry Cole got him twice and assisted tackle Bill Gregory on another trap, rookie end Harvey Martin banged him down once and Cornell Green got him on a safety blitz.
Cincinnati shut down Calvin Hill which was one of their prime purposes. Hill had a season low of just 39 yards on 16 carries and Dallas wasn’t able to run that well, netting 119 yards.
Split end Bobby Hayes and tight end Billy Joe DuPree each caught five passes, each scoring a touchdown as did flanker Mike Montgomery, taking a Staubach pass over the middle and racing 32 yards for a TD.
But there was a long one to Hayes. Staubach had been blitzed a great deal on this afternoon and this time he spotted it coming with the Cowboys at the Cincy 39. Roger called an audible, which meant Hayes streaked deep. Bobby ran between the two Bengal safeties and took the throw on his finger tips for six.
The specialty teams, a great source of embarrassment for Dallas in recent weeks, perked up greatly. Montgomery’s fine 63-yard opening kickoff return set up Fritsch’s field goal, and Marv Bateman, back from never-never, averaged 53 yards on five punts, and a 57-yarder which backed up Cincy to its own four eventually put Dallas in field position for a TD. Dallas also got boost by Mike Clark, booming all his kickoffs.
But in the end this day belonged to the defense. There were traps, turnovers, interceptions, fine individual plays such as Waters twice throwing Bengals for losses on screens and Dallas was doing what it had not been doing.
“The turnovers were big plays for us today,” said Tom Landry. “We’ve been talking about these since before the Washington game and we got them back today.”
“I hope we continue to cut loose and not play so conservatively,” added Jordan. “We might get hit with a big play and give up some yardage but we’ll also be coming up with the big play.”
So at this time it appears the Dallas Cowboys are not depending on somebody beating Washington. It appears they are depending on themselves.