Rafael Septien celebrates his game winning 41 yard field goal in overtime in Dallas 30-27 win over New Orleans at Texas Stadium on October 21, 1984.
With the Cowboys over half a year away from taking the field for the 2018 season, we are going to go back in time to check out a random game from the team’s past and make some observations after watching that game. Most of my collection of over 125 Cowboys’ games is from the relatively recent past, but I have collected some older games over the years and You Tube also allows for the viewing of some games I do not have in my collection. Today’s game is from October 21, 1984 as the Cowboys hosted New Orleans in a Sunday Night Football game at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys started the 1984 season winning four of their first five games but stumbled badly in weeks six and seven, losing to division rivals St. Louis and Washington. Heading into the Sunday Night game with New Orleans, the Cowboys were in a major slump and also were experiencing an old Texas tradition, namely a quarterback controversy. With the team’s fortunes on the decline, 1984 starter Gary Hogeboom was experiencing the wrath of an impatient fan base.
New Orleans entered the game at 3-4, and also sported a two game losing streak. The Saints and Bum Phillips were a respectable 3-2 following New Orleans’ victory over Phillips’ old Houston team, but consecutive losses to Chicago and the Los Angeles Rams had the Saints in the all too familiar position of being a sub .500 team.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Early in the game, the broadcast team of Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and O.J. Simpson commented on the start differences between the performances of the two franchises over the previous two decades. It was pointed out that the Cowboys entered 1984 sporting 18 consecutive winning seasons, while the Saints started the season with 17 straight non-winning campaigns. At the end of the four quarters plus of football on this long evening, some of the reasons for the teams’ contrasting fortunes would be evident.
The Cowboys had long been known as having one of the NFL’s most entertaining and successful offensive units. In 1984, the team took a major step backward.
With former stars Drew Pearson, Robert Newhouse and Billy Joe DuPree retired, and with valuable backup receiver Butch Johnson having been traded to Denver, the Cowboys’ offense lacked the pizzazz it had shown in previous seasons. Throw in less less than solid play at the quarterback position and injuries to key members of the line, and the stage was set for a mediocre season on offense.
A look some figures from the 1983 and 1984 seasons shows how things had taken a step backward in Dallas:
Pts scored 479 (2nd in NFL) 308 (18th)
Passing TDS 31 19
Yards per Pass Attempt 6.5 5.5
Yards per Rush Attempt 4.1 3.7
No one ever disputed that new starter Hogeboom had an NFL-quality arm, but 1984 called into question whether he had the complete package to be a successful signal caller,
The good and bad of the fifth year pro were both on display in the contest. In the first half, Hogeboom rifled a beautful pass to Tony Hill on an out pattern for a first down. In the second period, the tall passer’s perfectly placed laser of a throw connected with Doug Cosbie despite the tight end’s being sandwiched by two Saint defenders.
Hogeboom’s other side was shown in the third quarter, when he tried to force a pass under pressure to running back James Jones only to have New Orleans’ Dirt Winston intercept the toss and return it for a score to give the Saints a 27-6 lead.
The Central Michigan product’s career never took off in Dallas. Among Cowboys’ passers with at least 400 career pass attempts, Hogeboom was dead last in quarterback rating with a 65.4 mark. He finished 6-6 in the 12 games he started for Dallas, sometimes showing flashes of brilliance but also (not always solely due to his fault) experiencing periods of less than solid play.
THE EARL OF IRVING
On Thanksgiving Day 1979 at Texas Stadium while playing for the Oilers, battering ram running back Earl Campbell ran nearly 200 yards to help the Oilers defeat Dallas 30-24. On this evening in 1984, Campbell was in Saints’ colors and displayed some of the skills he showed nearly five years earlier.
Several superb runs by Campbell, along with a surprising 62 yard touchdown burst by unheralded Saints’ back Hokie Gajan, helped the visitors post an overpowering 191 rushing yards in the first half of the game. Adjustments by Dallas would limit the Saints to only 45 rushing yards in the second half of the game.
STARTING THE COMEBACK
The Cowboys entered the fourth quarter of the game trailing 27-6, and the prospects of a patented Cowboys’ comeback looked bleak, Just when it appeared a 4-4 record was all but a certainty for Dallas, rookie Chuck McSwain made a special teams’ play that jump started a Dallas rally.
McSwain stormed in from the right side of the Dallas line to block Brian Hanson’s punt. The ball rolled all the way to the New Orleans three and when Tony Dorsett ran for a touchdown on the next play, the Cowboys were within striking distance with most of the final period left to play.
Veteran Dallas cornerback Everson Walls said after the contest that he “thought the blocked punt was the turning point (of the game). McSwain shot through and made the play”.
A LONG DRIVE
The game began at the unusually late time of 8:45p Central Time due to a presidential election debate between President Ronald Reagan and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. It took the Dallas offense close to the midnight hour to show signs of life on this unusual evening.
Trailing by 14 points with roughly six minutes left in the game, substitute quarterback Danny White took the Cowboys on a long drive that featured many big passing plays. First, White connected with Mike Renfro on an 18 yard completion to move the ball to the Saints’ 33. Three plays later on a third down and 10 situation, White threw to Hill for 15 yards and a first down. Another third down conversion, this one on an 11 yard pass to Ron Springs, moved the ball to the Saints’ 37, and Renfro’s second big catch of the possession took the ball inside the Saints’ 20.
The payoff on the drive was a perfectly executed 12 yard touchdown pass on a slant from White to Renfro. The score brought Dallas to within seven points of the reeling Saints, sent what was left of the Texas Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
Although he was most ineffective for the time he was in the game, New Orleans’ starting quarterback Richard Todd left the game with New Orleans up by two scores. An injury to Todd forced the Saints to go to veteran backup Kenny Stabler, and the results were less than positive.
Around 13 months earlier, Stabler was the Saints’ starting signal caller and managed New Orleans to a 20-19 lead late in the fourth quarter. With roughly two minutes to go in the game, the fearless former Raider star gambled that he could make a big play in the passing game despite being within the shadow of his own goal line. That gamble proved to be a bad one, as Dallas linebacker Anthony Dickerson sacked Stabler for a safety that gave Dallas a surprising difficult 21-20 win.
In this game it was deja vu all over again for Stabler, except this time the Cowboys scored seven points instead of two. Facing a third down and long play from inside his own 10 yard line, Stabler dropped back to throw but was sacked by hard charging Cowboys tackle Randy White. The hit by White forced a fumble that teammate Jim Jeffcoat recovered in the end zone, and the Cowboys had come all the way back to tie the game at 24-34.
Jeffcoat’s score was one of four he would have as a Cowboys, tying him with Mr. Cowboy Bob Lilly and Redskins’ killer Larry Cole for the most career touchdowns for a Dallas defensive lineman.
Cowboys defensive end Ed Jones and New Orleans linebacker Ricky Jackson may not have been in the headlines following the game, but both showed why they were among the NFLs best at their positions.
Jones was a major factor in helping the Cowboys shore up their run defense in the second half, often getting penetration into the Saints’ backfield to thwart running attempts.
Jackson was a major thorn in Dallas’ side, picking up one and a half sacks, registering seven tackles and even being credited with a pass defenses.
TURN OUT THE LIGHTS
Overtime ended quickly as Dallas, thanks to a pass interference penalty, drove into Saints’ territory where Rafael Septien kicked a 41 yard field goal to win the game.
During Tom Landry’s time as Cowboys’ head coach, Dallas was 3-1 in overtime contests at Texas Stadium and 6-3 overall.
1984 would end up being an unusual non-playoff season for Dallas, but the comeback win helped the Cowboys stay in the thick of playoff contention all the way to the final week of the season.
New Orleans would go 3-1 in the weeks immediately following the game, but would lost three of their last four games to end the season with a 7-9 mark.