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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.


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, 1st Round Pick: OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

The Cowboys took offensive lineman Zack Martin in the first round of the 2014 draft.

The Cowboys took offensive lineman Zack Martin in the first round of the 2014 draft.

ESPN’s broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys’ 16th overall pick in the 2014 Draft focused almost entirely on quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Online sources said that the Cowboys would do it if Manziel were still there.

It did not happen.

However, the Cowboys also did not focus on defense with the pick, either. With defensive tackle Aaron Donald off the board (going to St. Louis at #13), the Cowboys took offensive tackle Zack Martin.

This was Mel Kiper’s guess in his mock draft posted on April 22. Martin began the off-season as someone who could fall to the late part of the first round. However, his stock rose, and some saw him as a top 10 pick.

Now he is a Cowboy. Whether he plays tackle or guard is something that needs to play out over the next few months.

Here is a video:

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The Recent Week 4 Curse

The Dallas Cowboys feel good about themselves after their 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The team can improve to 3-1 for the first time since 2008 with a win over the Chargers on Sunday.

The Cowboys are hoping to reverse a recent curse that has caused a 1-5 record during week 4 games since 2007.

The Cowboys are hoping to reverse a recent curse that has caused a 1-5 record during week 4 games since 2007.

It will require the Cowboys to win during week 4 for the first time since 2007.

Tony Romo has started during week 4 every season since 2007. The team’s record in those games is 1-5.  He has thrown at least one interception during each of these week 4 games.

The week 4 games during the last three games were especially bad.  He threw three picks against the Titans in 2010, three picks in a dreadful loss to the Lions in 2011, and five picks in a loss to the Bears last year.

Here is a complete list of those games:


Dallas 35, St. Louis 7

Romo: 21 of 33, 339 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.


Washington 26, Dallas 24

Romo: 28 of 47, 300 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.


Denver 17, Dallas 10

Romo: 25 of 42, 255 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.


Tennessee 34, Dallas 27

Romo: 31 of 46, 406 yards, 3 TD, 3 Int.


Detroit 34, Dallas 30

Romo: 34 of 47, 331 yards, 3 TD, 3 Int.


Chicago 34, Dallas 18

Romo: 34 of 43, 307 yards, 1 TD, 5 Int.

Dallas record during week 4 since 2007: 1-5

Romo’s statistics: 173 of 258, 1938 yards, 13 TD, 14 Int.

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Most Obscure Player of 1974: Dennis Morgan


The 1974 season was not a good one for the Dallas Cowboys. The team had made the playoffs for eight consecutive years, but the streak came to an end in ’74 thanks to a bad start.

A big part of the problem was last-second losses early in the year. Dallas fell to 1-4 after five games, and three of the four losses came on last-second field goals by the opposing teams.

The last of these losses came against the St. Louis Cardinals, who had one of the best seasons for the organization while it was located in St. Louis. In week 5, a 31-yard field goal by Jim Bakken gave the Cardinals a 31-28 win over Dallas and improved the Cardinals’ record to 5-0. St. Louis finished the season at 10-4, while Dallas finished at 8-6.

A play during that loss to the Cardinals gave us the Most Obscure Player for 1974, though. In the first quarter, a rookie running back named Dennis Morgan returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown. It tied an NFL record and established a franchise record.

The video below shows highlights of the game. Morgan’s punt return starts at about :29.

That play was Morgan’s career highlight. The Cowboys cut him at the end of the season. He played in four games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1975 but did not play again.

According to his Wikipedia page, Morgan’s nickname was “Strawberry” because of his red hair. That’s the extent of the obscurity about Dennis Morgan the football player.

If folks had just done their homework, they may have discovered an actor named Dennis Morgan, who appeared in a number of movies between 1936 and 1956.

The last of those movies was Uranium Boom, a story about two mining partners striking uranium pay dirt. Apparently there wasn’t much more to the story, because the movie only lasted 67 minutes.

I like the title, though, so while we are giving out the MOP Award retroactively, we might as well give Dennis Morgan the football player a nickname retroactively: The Uranium Boom.


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Looking for Some Hope from the 1970 Season

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.