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Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 5 (1986)

This is the fifth 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, 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 2, 1986

New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

“Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”

The Dallas Cowboys opened the 1986 season with a 6-2 record. For a franchise that had recorded 20 consecutive winning seasons dating back to 1966, it seemed almost a sure thing that the Cowboys would continue to win and return to the playoffs.

But Dallas had to travel to Meadowlands on November 2, 1986 to face the tough New York Giants, who were also 6-2. The Cowboys suffered a huge blow when they lost quarterback Danny White early in the game.

Steve Pelleur played  fairly well, but the Giants took a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, the Cowboys kept game close thanks to a touchdown run by Tony Dorsett.

Dallas could have tied the game or scored the game-winning touchdown late in the game thanks to two long plays inside the Giant 10. But both plays were called back thanks to penalties on tackle Phil Pozderac, who also gave up a costly sack. Rafael Septien’s 63-yard field goal attempt came up short, and the Cowboys lost.

The game cost the Cowboys more than a single loss. Several years ago, I summarized the loss of White as follows:

[I]n five full seasons as a starter, White led the team to the playoffs five times and to the NFC Championship Game three times. Prior to his injury in 1986, his record as a full-time starter beginning in 1980 was 62-24 (the team went 5-6 in games that he did not start during that time period). The team’s record for the remainder of the decade after he suffered his injury was 11-36, with no winning seasons. There were, of course, other factors involved, but the sharp contrast of the team before his injury compared to what happened afterward shows his value.

Among the pivotal regular season games I am summarizing on here, this one ranks right there with the Cowboys’ win over the Washington Redskins in 1991 in terms of importance.

Stay tuned.

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

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

 

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

 

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.

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…

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.

Animated Trivia: Bob Lilly Tackle vs. Cleveland Browns

We’ve been recovering from a flooded house, so no trivia during the past couple of weeks. Sorry.

Here is a play showing Bob Lilly tackling a Cleveland Browns running back. Trivia questions follow the image.

http://gph.is/1dYRYOf

http://gph.is/1dYRYOf

Questions:

(1) During what year did this play occur?

(2) What was the significance of this game?

(3) Cleveland quarterback Bill Nelson threw three interceptions in the game. Charlie Waters picked off one of those passes. Who recorded the other two interceptions?

What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had won the 1980 NFC Championship 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 1980 NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.

In real life…

The label of quarterback Danny White as a failure began with the Dallas Cowboys’ loss in the 1980 NFC Championship Game.

What if the Cowboys had stopped Wilbert Montgomery and the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game?

What if the Cowboys had stopped Wilbert Montgomery and the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1980 NFC Championship Game?

White was, however, anything but a failure. He led the 1980 Cowboys to a better record than the 1979 Cowboys had posted with Roger Staubach at the helm. And one week before the 1980 NFC title game, White threw two late touchdown passes to bring the Cowboys from behind to beat the Atlanta Falcons in one of the great games in NFL history.

White’s magic ran out at Veterans Stadium on January 11, 1981. In 12-degree weather, White completed only 12 of 31 passes for 127 yards with an interception.

The Eagles took a 7-0 lead with Wilbert Montgomery’s most famous play:

Although the Cowboys tied the game before halftime, Dallas could not overcome a 10-point third quarter by Philadelphia. Dallas lost 20-7.

The Eagles turned around and lost to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV. Neither the Eagles nor the Cowboys made another Super Bowl during the 1980s.

What if the Cowboys had defeated the Eagles?

1. The Blue-Jersey Curse Would End

Ask a Cowboys fan over the age of 40 about origins of the blue-jersey curse. Many would point to the 1980 title game.

(Of course, older fans would point to SB V, when Dallas lost to the Baltimore Colts while wearing blue.)

A big win at Philadelphia would have ended the curse, and it is possible that the Cowboys might have worn blue more often. Instead, most of us don’t want to see those blue jerseys.

2. White Might Have Avoided Comparisons with Roger Staubach and, later, Tony Romo

Many fans like to compare current QB Tony Romo to Danny White because both lost big games.

The comparison is not fair because of the big games involved.

Fans during White’s era also liked to compare him to Roger Staubach, and the comparisons were almost always negative towards White.

White led the Cowboys to three consecutive NFC title games and five playoff appearances in six years. A win at Philadelphia might have done wonders to avoid these comparisons.

3. A Sixth Trip

The Cowboys would have made Super Bowl XV with a win over Philadelphia. It would have been the Cowboys’ sixth Super Bowl appearance since 1970 and their second Super Bowl trip to the Superdome in four seasons. Moreover, the Cowboys would have played a Super Bowl in New Orleans for a third time.

The other two trips to New Orleans? Wins in SB VI and SB XII.

4. However…

I ran 10 simulations of a Super Bowl XV between the Cowboys and Raiders on SimMatchup Football. It does not look good. Oakland won 8 of the 10 simulations by an average score of 22-17.

I cannot express my disappointment clearly enough.

5. And So No, White Would Not Avoid Comparisons with Roger Staubach or Tony Romo

Do Cowboys fans remember Craig Morton fondly? He was, of course, the first Dallas QB to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl.

The answer is no. And if Danny White led the Cowboys to Super Bowl XV and lost 22-17 to the Raiders, nobody would remember White or the 1980 season fondly.

Sorry, Danny.

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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had beaten the Rams in the 1976 playoffs?

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.

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

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.

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Most Obscure Player of 1975: Kyle Davis

mop

The 1975 draft for the Cowboys remains part of the team’s great legacy. Twelve players made the squad in 1975, which turned out to be a Super Bowl year. The draft class produced a number of starters, including Randy White, Hollywood Henderson, Bob Breunig, Mike Hegman, and Herb Scott.

The team’s fifth-round pick was a center named Kyle Davis, who was an All-American at Oklahoma. At the time, the team had John Fitzgerald, who had replaced Dave Manders at the center position.

Fitzgerald played most of the 1975 season, so Davis hardly had a chance to prove himself. When Dallas traveled to Minnesota for the divisional playoffs, though, Fitzgerald hurt his arm.

MOP Award Winner for 1975: Center Kyle Davis

MOP Award Winner for 1975: Center Kyle Davis

Dallas had brought the shotgun back to the NFL in 1975 and was running it late in the game while trailing the Vikings 14-10. Fitzgerald was having problems snapping the ball thanks to his injury, and one of his snaps ended up costing the Cowboys a six-yard loss late in the game.

Davis replaced Fitzgerald, and Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson performed their magic. Staubach hit Pearson on a sideline route to convert a 4th-and-16 play, and Staubach then hit Pearson on the famous Hail Mary.

The snapper? Davis, who wins the Most Obscure Player Award for 1975.

Davis was injured and missed the 1976 and 1977 seasons. He did not return to the NFL until 1978 when he played in seven games for San Francisco.

Best obscurity about Davis, other than the Hail Mary? He was not only the deep snapper for the Sooners in college, but he also punted.

 

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