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Here is an animated GIF from an old-school game between the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Trivia questions are below the image.
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?
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.
(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?
In the weekly What-If Wednesday posts, we review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on the 1976 divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
In real life…
The Dallas Cowboys made the Super Bowl in 1975 and returned with a solid season in 1976. The team finished with an 11-3 record.
Few probably remember that the Cowboys and Rams had quite a playoff rivalry. Between 1973 and 1985, the teams faced each other eight times in the playoffs, with each team winning four games.
The bad part for the Cowboys was that three of the wins for the Rams took place at Texas Stadium. The first of those losses was a 14-12 defeat at home during the 1976 playoffs.
Dallas had a 10-7 halftime lead thanks to a Scott Laidlaw touchdown, but the Cowboys fell behind in the fourth quarter after a Lawrence McCutcheon score. The Cowboys drove into Ram territory more than once but could not punch the ball in to regain the lead.
Charlie Waters had one of the great games in team history. He blocked two punts and had a key interception, but his efforts were not enough.
The clip below shows Waters’ second block, which could have set up the game-winner. However, on a 4th-and-10 play, Roger Staubach’s pass to Billy Joe DuPree came up inches short, and the Rams held on for the 14-12 win.
The Cowboys had almost no rushing attack, and many blamed the loss on the running game. This team featured the likes of Preston Pearson, Robert Newhouse, Doug Dennison, and Laidlaw.
The loss played a part in the Cowboys trading four draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for the rights to the second overall pick. With that pick, Dallas took Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh.
What if the Cowboys had defeated the Rams?
If the Cowboys had beaten the Rams, Dallas would have traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings on December 26, 1976. One year earlier, the Cowboys had beaten the Vikings on the road thanks to the famous Hail Mary game.
1. The Cowboys would have beaten the Vikings again.
This is a bold statement, given that the Vikings were the best team in the NFC in 1976. How could I possibly say that that Cowboys would win another game at Minnesota?
WhatIfSports said so. I ran ten simulations of the game on that site, and the Cowboys won seven of them by an average score of 17-15.
This is a Cowboys site. Let’s just accept our win.
2. The Cowboys would have lost another Super Bowl.
I ran another ten simulations of a Cowboys-Raiders matchup in Super Bowl XI. The Cowboys lost eight of them. That would mean back-to-back Super Bowl losses.
3. The Cowboys would still make the trade with Seattle to obtain Dorsett.
This is probably the most important prediction. The Cowboys had three second-round picks, and that would not change even if the Cowboys had made it to Super Bowl XI. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks front office would change its mind just because the Cowboys made it to yet another Super Bowl.
4. The Cowboys win Super Bowl XII but fail to make Super Bowl XIII.
The Cowboys would have become the second team (after Miami) to make three consecutive Super Bowls. After losing the previous two, Dallas would have won Super Bowl XII (just as the Cowboys did in real life).
However, the Cowboys would not make the big game four times, losing in the 1978 playoffs.
* * *
What about the other playoff losses to the Rams?
The Cowboys lost to the Rams in 1979, 1983, and 1985. The 1979 game was especially tough because it was Roger Staubach’s final game.
Had the Cowboys won that game, they would have hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Given that the Rams handled Tampa Bay in real life, it would stand to reason that the Cowboys would fare well. That means that the Cowboys would have faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons.
(Again…Cowboys blog…Dallas wins.)
The Cowboys were not going to make the Super Bowl in 1983 or 1985 even if the Cowboys had beaten Los Angeles. The only difference a win over the Rams would have made in 1983 is that perhaps Tom Landry would not have started Gary Hogeboom during the first half of the 1984 season if White had led Dallas to a playoff win the year before.
Very much by default, I usually corner the market on posts that draw comparisons with Cowboys teams of old. The Dallas Morning News blog asked the following question yesterday, which I planned to answer in full:
Is this the most embarrassing game in Cowboys history? It has to rank pretty high on the list. After all, they’re playing the Rams, dude.
Mr. Vela at Blue and Silver Report beat me to it, though. Here is his summary of really bad games in team history:
* 1970, week 9 — Cardinals 38, Cowboys 0. A second consecutive loss that drops the ‘Pokes to 5-4;
* 1971, week 7 — Bears 23, Cowboys 19. A loss to a weak Bears team in the infamous QB rotation game leaves Dallas 4-3.
* 1978, week 10 — Dolphins 23, Cowboys 16. A second consecutive loss, this one in dreaded Miami, where Tom Landry always lost, drops the Cowboys to 6-4.
* 1981, week 6 — 49ers 45, Cowboys 14. A second consecutive loss drops Dallas to 4-2 after a 4-0 start.
* 1992, week 5 — Eagles 31, Cowboys 7. Dallas comes out of its bye week and gets thrashed on a Monday Night in Philly.
* 1995, week 15 — Eagles 20, Cowboys 17. Dallas loses its second in a row and third in five weeks in the infamous 4th-and-1-x-2 game. Their record is 10-4 but they’re being written off as yesterday’s champs, done in by Jerry’s meddling and Barry’s ineptitude.
Every one of these teams made it to the conference championship game. Five of them made it to the Super Bowl. Three of them won it.
What came to my mind immediately was the 1970 loss to St. Louis. The Cowboys started the season at 2-0 but lost to St. Louis in week 3. Dallas beat Atlanta before getting demolished 54-13 by the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys showed resolve by winning three straight but then fell to 5-3 with a 23-20 loss to the Giants.
That’s when the 6-2 team from St. Louis (Cardinals then, of course) visited the Cotton Bowl. The result was worse than the debacle against the Rams on Sunday. Here’s a video.
The Cowboy-killer for St. Louis that day was Johnny Roland, who scored three touchdowns. The Cowboys committed six turnovers.
The Dallas Morning News article then sounded awfully familiar:
The shaky world of the Dallas Cowboys, that club which was once the apple of pro football’s eye, came tumbling down on a cold Monday night in the Cotton Bowl.
You remember the Cowboys, of course … those 40 outstanding individuals without a team, which is somewhat like a man without a country.
St. Louis, heir, apparent to the Eastern Division title, stomped the Cowboys, 38-0, as 69,233 fans gathered at the funeral. The rest of the country interested in professional football watched in living color — So color the Cowboys red.
That 1970 Cowboys team responded brilliantly by traveling to Washington and beating up on the Redskins in a 45-21 rout. Both the Giants and the Cardinals faded down the stretch, and the Cowboys were able to pull out the division with a 10-4 record.
I now have a blog post predicting a 9-7 finish for the 2008 Cowboys, and I am not going to regress a day later. This year’s squad doesn’t have the leadership of Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley, Mel Renfro, and so forth. This team instead has quite a few me-firsts and a bunch of others who seem unwilling to take on leadership roles.
The Cowboys lost some bad games during good years under Tom Landry, as Mr. Vela points out, but what was very common under Landry’s teams was that they tended to bounce right back from defeat. Can you imagine this team losing a game 54-13 and then winning two straight (1970)? Or getting beat 45-14 and then winning four straight (1981)?
What concerns me is that the Cowboys teams of the recent past have shown no relationship to these great teams. There is the 1999 team that started at 3-0 but crawled to a 8-8 finish. There is the 2004 team that started at 2-1 but collapsed afterward, losing six of seven. There is the 2005 team and the 2006 team, both of which looked like playoff teams but could not put anything together at the end the season, finishing with identical 9-7 records.
I would love to believe that this team has some fight in it like the 1970 version, but I just don’t see it. The veteran leadership consists of players who have been on the mediocre or worse teams of the past few years, along with some others (Owens, Thomas) who have only experienced marginal success elsewhere. The team has shown that it will roll over and die when the pressure hits, and I have a feeling that is exactly what we’ll continue to see this Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Between 1973 and 1985, the Cowboys faced the Los Angeles Rams eight times in the playoffs. The teams split the eight games, with the road teams oddly having better success than the home teams during this series.
The first time that Dallas traveled to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the playoffs was the week after the famous Hail Mary game in the 1975 playoffs. Many tend to forget this game. The Rams had equaled the Vikings’ 12-2 record, and many favored Los Angeles to send the lucky Cowboys home.
Unlike the Vikings game, however, the NFC Championship Game that season was never in doubt. Roger Staubach threw for four touchdowns, with three of them going to running back Preston Pearson, who was in his first year with the team. By the time the Rams got on the board, the Cowboys held a 34-0 lead.
Here is the lead-in from Bob St. John:
What had seemed an impossible dream not long ago became not just a reality but a stark reality on a mild Sunday afternoon, the fourth day of the new year.
No longer are the Dallas Cowboys a team of the past, of the future. They are now. There is no myth, fantasy, luck.
Dallas, a team which was very unlikely to make the playoffs, a team which was the most likely not to succeed in the playoffs, utterly demolished the Los Angeles Rams, most everybody’s favorite to bolt, and certainly not back, into Super Bowl X against the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And in doing so, Dallas became the first wild-card team to ever make it since the current NFL playoff system was set up in 1970.
The maybes, ifs and perhapses did not last very long. The Cowboys crashed into a 21-0 halftime lead and coasted in for a 37-7 victory before 84,483 live fans in the Coliseum who were as shocked as the national television audience. Oh, perhaps not so much that Dallas won but with the impressiveness with which it won.
Here is the box score from the game.
* The starter in the game for the Rams was James Harris. He was replaced by Ron Jaworski, later of Philadelphia Eagle fame.
* The Rams kicker: Tom Dempsey, who was best known for his 63-yard field goal as a member of the Saints in 1970.
* Rams running back Lawrence McCutcheon rushed for more than 200 yards against the Cardinals the week before this matchup, but he managed only 11 yards in 10 carries against the Cowboys.