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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.
The 1984 season did not turn out to be one to remember for the Dallas Cowboys. The team finished at 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974.
Even for those who watched the team then, it’s easy to forget that the Cowboys began the year with a 4-1 record. With Gary Hogeboom leading the way, Dallas beat the Rams, Eagles, and Packers in the first four weeks of the season and had only lost to the Giants.
In week 5, Dallas traveled to Soldier Field to face the Bears. It was the first trip to Chicago for Dallas since 1973.
This game took place one year before the Bears became dominant. The teams played in 44-degree weather in late September.
The play I happen to remember from that game was a screen pass from Hogeboom to Tony Dorsett. The Cowboys set up the play perfectly, and Dorsett still had the speed that made him a legend.
Here is the play:
The Cowboys won the game 23-14 to improve to 4-1. However, the Hogeboom era did not last long. Dallas lost two straight to the Cardinals and Redskins. Tom Landry soon turned to Danny White again, but though the team finished with winning record, the Cowboys missed the playoffs.
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The Cowboys have a 4-4 record overall at Soldier Field, including a win in the playoffs against the Bears in 1991.
During the 1960s, Dallas traveled to Chicago three times to face the Bears at Wrigley Field, and Dallas won two of those games.
The Cowboys lost their first game at Soldier Field in 1971 in an infamous game where Landry alternated between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton throughout the game.
* * *
The last time Dallas visited Chicago was 2007. The teams were tied at 3 at halftime, but the Cowboys pulled away in the second half to win, 34-10.
Here is today’s Friday Photo Trivia question:
Seven different players had at least one rushing attempt when the Dallas Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.
Tony Dorsett led the Cowboys in rushing with 66 yards on 15 carries.
The player in the picture below was second on the team in rushing with 55 yards on 14 carries.
The trivia question: did the player in the picture score a rushing touchdown?
provided by flash-gear.com
Fans will remember Paul Palmer from the 1989 Dallas Cowboys before they will remember several other players.
Junior Tautalatasi? Curtis Stewart? Eric Brown? Steve Hendrickson? Onzy Elam? Garry Cobb? Kevin Lilly?
The reason Palmer is the Most Obscure Player of 1989 is his place among starting running backs in team history.
Everyone remembers Tony Dorsett. Everyone remember Herschel Walker. And, of course, everyone remembers Emmitt Smith.
In between them was Palmer, who replaced Walker in the starting lineup when Dallas traded Walker to Minnesota for enough draft picks to build a Super Bowl champion.
By the time the Cowboys did win that Super Bowl title, Palmer was long gone, having lasted just one year with the Cowboys.
He was the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 1987 draft, taken by Kansas City. He lasted two season with the Chiefs, gaining just 607 yards before being waived just before the 1989 season.
The Lions signed im, but he only saw the field as a kick returner. When Dallas unloaded Walker, the Cowboys sent two late draft picks to the Lions to acquire Palmer.
For a few weeks, it looked as if Palmer might have some promise. The Cowboys faced the Chiefs on October 22, 1989—just five days after the Cowboys signed Palmer—and he rushed for 85 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Two weeks later, he recorded the only 100-yard rushing game of his career when he gained 110 yards against the Redskins in the Cowboys’ only win of the 1989 season.
In the final six games, however, he only gained a total of 206 yards, including three games where he rushed for less than 20 yards.
Dallas waived him, and though the Bengals signed him during the 1990 offeseason, he never played in the NFL again. He played one season with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football in 1991.
The 1982 season for the Dallas Cowboys started out notoriously, as the team lost its first opening game since 1964. The Cowboys were 1-1 when the players went on strike and remained 1-1 until play resumed in November.
When the NFL returned to the field, the Cowboys enjoyed a five-game winning streak. Losses to the Eagles and Vikings dropped the team’s record to 6-3 to end the regular season.
What most people remember about the season was Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard run in the season finale against the Vikings. (It was obviously a great highlight of all time, but it is easy to forget the play came during a loss.)
The right guard on the 99-yard run was not Kurt Peterson, who was the regular starter. No, the right guard was #73, a future Survivor named Steve Wright.
That’s Survivor, the reality television series. Wright appeared on Redemption Island, for those who still watch that show, which I generally do. He was the 13th player voted out and ended up on the jury.
So he did not win Survivor, nor did he last with the Cowboys. He is, though, our Most Obscure Player of 1982.
After playing in 25 games as an undrafted free agent, Wright was traded to the Baltimore Colts in 1983 for a sixth-round pick, which the Cowboys used for defensive lineman Kurt Ploeger. Wright eventually became a starter with the Los Angeles Raiders.
The 1978 Dallas Cowboys featured several running backs that many (with memories of the 1970s) would remember. This list includes not only Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse, but also Scott Laidlaw, Preston Pearson, and Doug Dennison.
The team did not have great candidates for the Most Obscure Player Award, so we’re going with one of the lesser-known running backs.
Option #1 was Alois Blackwell, with his 9 carries for 37 yards in 1978.
Option #2, our winner, was Larry Brinson.
Brinson joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1977. He saw action in all 14 games in 1977 but was cut during training camp in 1978.
He rejoined the Cowboys and saw action in 10 games in 1978. He only carried the ball 18 times but he scored two touchdowns in mop-up work against the Redskins (a 37-10 win) and the Jets (a 30-7 win).
He made it on the stat sheet for Super Bowls XII and XIII as a kick returner. Against the Steelers, he averaged 20.5 on two returns.
He played three years in Dallas and one in Seattle. After leaving the NFL, he became a college running backs coach. He has served on the coaching staffs at Arkansas, Clemson, Rice, Kentucky, and Kansas.
The 1973 Cowboys featured a few lesser known players, including several who played running back. Les Strayhorn, Larry Robinson, and Mike Montgomery were or are hardly household names.
For the Most Obscure Player Award, though, we are going to take a look at jersey numbers. A total of 11 players have worn the number 33 for the Cowboys, including Tony Dorsett and Duane Thomas. Two others included Wendell Hayes (1963) and Timmy Smith (1990).
The other running back to wear #33 was Cyril Pinder, our MOP Award winner for 1973.
Pinder was a star running back and indoor sprint champion at Illinois but was declared ineligible for receiving funds through the athletic department. The Eagles took him in the second round of the 1968 draft, and he played three seasons in Philadelphia before joining the Chicago Bears in 1972. He played two seasons with the Bears before his release.
The Cowboys added Pinder in late September of 1973, and he saw action in five games. Final stats: 12 carries, 15 yards.
He caught the interest of the Chicago Fire of the WFL, and he became the team’s star running back. He gained 925 yards and scored 8 touchdowns in 1974. He remained in Chicago for the 1975 season, playing for the Chicago Winds.
This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.
The Cowboys played without a lead running back during both the 1975 and 1976 seasons. Although the team had successful seasons, the lack of a consistently effective running game eventually hurt the team.
In the weeks prior to the 1977 draft, Tony Dorsett’s agent let the Seattle Seahawks know that Dorsett had no interest in playing in Seattle. Seattle began to shop is number two overall pick around, and the team that became the principal focus of the trade was the Dallas Cowboys. According to a Sports Illustrated article:
Meanwhile, Seattle General Manager John Thompson made two proposals to the Cowboys. The first involved some Dallas draft choices and Linebacker Randy White. “The Cowboys bounced that back faster than we could spit it out,” Thompson says. The second was the deal that eventually was made. The Dallas general manager, Tex Schramm, was euphoric about landing Dorsett. “Dorsett is the outstanding back to come out of college since maybe O. J. Simpson,” he said. “He doesn’t have O.J.’s size, but there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be as successful as Simpson.” Then Schramm talked like a businessman.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the number one overall pick and took Ricky Bell. With the number two pick, Dallas got Dorsett. Seattle picked up nobody of significance with four Cowboys picks obtained for the number two pick overall.
The trade made the list as one of the Top Ten Draft Trades of all time.
We will cover the 1977 draft shortly.
Here’s a look back at a rather obscure game against the Cardinals, who at the time where located in (my home town of) St. Louis.
The Cowboys’ string of opening-day wins that began in 1965 nearly ended in 1979 at St. Louis, when the Cowboys struggled to put away the Cardinals at St. Louis on September 2, 1979.
The game itself itself was forgettable for a number of reasons, but it was slightly memorable (for me at least, given that I remember it) because of Tony Dorsett’s absence. The reason he missed the game was because he dropped a mirror on his foot in July 1979, breaking his big toe. It was one of several odd events that surrounded the start of the ’79 season (Too Tall Jones leaving to try out boxing was another, of course).
With Robert Newhouse leading the way, Dallas took a 10-7 halftime lead. Newhouse finished the day with 108 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown, marking the fifth and final time that he rushed for more than 100 yards in a game. The other starting back was rookie Ron Springs, who would later supplant Newhouse as the team’s starting fullback.
The game featured the premiere of O.J. Anderson, who rushed for 193 yards and a score. Anderson gained more than 100 yards in three of his first four games against Dallas, but only once in the 11 years afterward.
St. Louis took a 14-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a touchdown pass from Jim Hart to Pat Tilley. It looked as if Dallas had regained control when Tony Hill caught a touchdown on a halfback pass from Springs, but a Anderson gave the Cardinals the lead again when he galloped 76 yards for a touchdown.
Dallas trailed 21-19 with just over three minutes to play. The Cowboys were able to move quickly into field goal range, though, thanks to a big 47-yard kickoff return by rookie Wade Manning, a former college baseball player who only returned a total of seven kickoffs for the Cowboys in his one year with the team.
Rafael Septien kicked the game winner from 27 yards out, as Dallas prevailed 22-21.