Happy Birthday to DeMarco Murray, a Third Round Pick With First Round Talent

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DeMarco Murray was the Cowboys’ third round choice in the 2011 NFL Draft.  The Cowboys certainly got their money’s worth from the former Oklahoma Sooner who gave Dallas all he had during his four years wearing the Cowboys’ star.

In their history, the Dallas Cowboys have selected numerous running backs in the first round of the NFL draft who have gone on to stardom. In 1969 the Cowboys selected Calvin Hill, a multi-talented back who was the first Cowboy to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. One year later, Dallas took silky smooth Duane Thomas who helped lead Dallas to its first Super Bowl title following the 1971 season before forcing his way out of town due to dissatisfaction with his contract.  The 1977 draft brought Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett to Dallas, and all the speedy halfback from western Pennsylvania did was make it all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  13 years after the Dorsett pick, the Cowboys struck gold again selecting Florida’s Emmitt Smith who would pace Dallas to a record three Super Bowl wins in four years and end up enshrined in Canton along with Dorsett. And this past season, first round selection Ezekiel Elliott took the NFL by storm and seems destined for the type of stardom Dorsett and Smith achieved.

When listing the best seasons for a running back in Cowboys history, a third round choice from 2011 muscles his way into the mix alongside the backs selected in the first round.  Coming to Dallas in 2011 out of the University of Oklahoma, DeMarco Murray ended his four year stay in Dallas with a season to remember.

Murray, who turns 29 years old today, set a Cowboys’ record with 1,845 yards rushing in the 2014 campaign and became the first back in NFL history to open a season with 100 plus yards rushing in the first eight games of a season. Murray reached the century mark in a Cowboys’ record 12 of the team’s 16 games, one more than Smith had in the 1995 campaign.   In 2014, Murray and the Cowboys’ talented offensive line helped change the team’s offensive identity from a pass-first group to one that more resembled the early to mid-1990s teams that leaned heavily on Smith and “the great wall of Dallas” offensive line to control games.

According to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value number, Murray’s 2014 campaign ranks right behind three vintage Smith seasons as the best season for a running back in Cowboys’ history:

BEST SEASONS IN COWBOYS’ HISTORY- RUNNING BACK

Approx Value          Year              Back

20                                1992              Emmitt Smith

20                                 1993              Emmitt Smith

20                                  1995              Emmitt Smith

19                                  2014               DeMarco Murray

17                                  1978                Tony Dorsett

17                                   1991                Emmitt Smith

17                                    1994               Emmitt Smith

16                                   1973                 Calvin Hill

16                                    1977                Tony Dorsett

16                                    2016                 Ezekiel Elliott

 

Murray’s time in Dallas was brief, as the workhorse back left the Cowboys following his special 2014 season to join division rival Philadelphia.  A combination of Murray’s departure and injuries to quarterback Tony Romo caused a dramatic falloff in the Cowboys’ production as the 12-4 division winning squad of 2014 slumped to a miserable 4-12 in a mostly forgettable 2015 campaign.  The only good thing coming out of that season was that the Cowboys’ bleak record put them in position to find a worthy successor to Murray in the talented Elliott who helped reestablish the effective style Murray and the Cowboys had demonstrated in 2014.

After a miserable season in Philadelphia in 2015, Murray rebounded to gain 1,287 yards rushing and score nine touchdowns for the Tennessee Titans last season.  The hard-working back demonstrated the style that made him a fan favorite in Dallas in 2014.   Happy 29th birthday whose Cowboys’ career was brief but certainly spectacular.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- The Staubach/Morton Saga

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Born one year apart on February 5th, the careers of Craig Morton and Roger Staubach were linked in many ways.

On February 5, 1942, future Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.   Exactly one year later in Flint, Michigan, Larry Craig Morton was born in Flint, Michigan.  No one could have known at that time how the lives of the two would be intertwined.

By 1964, the Dallas Cowboys were beginning to see some progress in their growth from an inept expansion team to an NFL power.  Coach Tom Landry had building blocks in place in the form of star players Bob Lilly, Lee Roy Jordan, Don Meredith and Don Perkins, but the team needed to continue to add talent.  The 1964 NFL draft brought that to Dallas, as the Cowboys selected future Hall of Famers Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes and Heisman Trophy Award winner Roger Staubach.  Staubach’s pick was made with the future in mind, as the Navy graduate would not be able to play for the Cowboys until 1969 when he has fulfilled his military obligation (Hayes’ selection was also made with the future in mind, but Dallas only had to wait one year to see Bullet Bob burst onto the NFL scene in 1965).

A year later in the 1965 NFL draft, Dallas selected strong-armed quarterback Craig Morton with the fifth pick in the first round.   The 6’4″, 214 pound University of California star looked the part of a budding NFL star, and the Cowboys had a young understudy to Meredith who could step in and do the job if something happened to Dandy Don.

Following the 1968 season, Meredith retired at the age of 31 leaving the Cowboys’ quarterbacking duties in the capable hands of Morton. In his two seasons at the helm, Morton led Dallas to 11-2-1 and 10-4 records with the team reaching its first Super Bowl in the 1970 season.  Dallas lost to Baltimore in the big game with Morton making a few key mistakes in the game’s final quarter and it looked as though Staubach, who had joined the Cowboys in 1969, would have a chance to at least compete for the starting job in 1971.

The saga of the 1971 Cowboys’ quarterback debate is well chronicled. After seven games with no clear starter at the position established, Coach Landry decided to select Staubach for the job and Roger the Dodger did not disappoint him.  Staubach led Dallas to seven consecutive wins to end the regular season, beat Minnesota and San Francisco to get Dallas back to the Super Bowl and threw two scoring passes and won the game’s MVP award as the Cowboys beat Miami 24-3 to become World Champions.

An exhibition season injury to Staubach put Morton back in the driver’s seat in 1972, and he led Dallas to a 10-4 record and a NFC wildcard playoff spot.  The pendulum swung back in Staubach’s direction on December 23rd of that year in a first round playoff game at San Francisco , when he brought Dallas back from a 15 point fourth quarter deficit to shock the 49ers 30-28 (it is interesting to note that the winning score on the day came on a Staubach pass to Ron Sellers, who was also born on February 5th!).

Staubach returned to the top spot in 1973 and led Dallas to a NFC East title with a 10-4 record. Dallas beat the Rams in a first round playoff game with Staubach throwing two touchdown passes, but lost to Minnesota in the NFC title game.

By 1974, it was becoming evident that Morton’s future was not in Dallas.  The Cowb0ys eventually dealt Morton to the New York Giants for a 1975 first round draft pack that the team shrewdly turned into future Hall of Famer Randy White.

Morton was battered and bruised during his time in New York, with several brutal beatings coming at the hands of his former teammates in Dallas. Meanwhile, Staubach led Dallas to a surprising NFC championship in 1975 and was firmly established as one of the NFL’s best at the quarterback position.

1977 saw Morton end up in Denver, and the veteran signal caller found new life in the Rocky Mountains. Morton and the Broncos had a magical year, winning the AFC Championship and earning a berth in Super Bowl 12.  Unfortunately for the star-crossed passer, awaiting him in New Orleans for the big game were the Cowboys.  The Doomsday Defense made life miserable for Morton and the Broncos, forcing turnover after turnover as Dallas won its second World Championship by a 27-10 score.

Staubach’s NFL journey ended in Canton where he took his place among the all-time greats in the league.  Few players were more respected than Staubach, whose never say die attitude made him probably the best quarterback in NFL history in bringing his team back from late deficits.  Morton fought through numerous injuries to have a good NFL career, but never reached the heights achieved by his one time teammate in Dallas.

 

 

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Routing a Rival On the Way to a Title

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Backup tight end Derek Tennell grabs a one yard scoring pass from Troy Aikman to start the Cowboys on their way to a 34-10 stomping of the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC Divisional Playoff game at Texas Stadium on January 10, 1993.

 

From the time the Dallas Cowboys came of age in the 1966 season through Tom Landry’s final NFL East champion team in 1985, the Cowboys’ match-ups with divisional foe generally ended in Dallas’ favor.  Dallas won 31 of the 39 regular season games between the teams during that time period, enraging the Philadelphia fan base.

The tide turned from 1986 through 1991, with the Eagles winning nine of the 12 games between the teams. But in 1991 there were signs that the Cowboys were getting some of their mojo back, and Dallas’ 25-13 win at Veterans Stadium in Week 15 of the season clinched a playoff berth for the Cowboys.

Dallas’ 1992 regular season included a Week Four 31-7 thrashing at the hands of the Eagles at the Vet, but the young and hungry Cowboys bounced back to take a 20-10 decision over the Eagles at Texas Stadium in early November to establish themselves as the NFC East’s top dog.

By the time the 1992 NFL playoffs rolled around, Dallas was surging with the Eagles trying vainly to keep pace.  Philadelphia earned a visit to Dallas with a wildcard round win at New Orleans, setting up a rubber match between the divisional rivals with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship game.

After the Eagles drove for a field goal on their first drive, it soon became apparent that the Cowboys would be the team advancing to the next round.  Dallas’ response to the Eagles’ early score was a 10 play drive that ended with a Troy Aikman scoring toss to seldom used Derek Tennell that put the Cowboys up 7-3.

Late in the second quarter, Dallas blitzed the Eagles for 10 quick points. First, an Aikman 41 yard connection to Alvin Harper set up Jay Novacek’s six yard scoring pass with under a minute to play that put Dallas on top 14-3.  On the ensuing kickoff, talented rookie Darren Woodson caused a fumble that veteran Thomas Everett recovered to set up a short Lin Elliott field goal that gave Dallas a 17-3 lead and a 10 gallon hat sized amount of momentum as the teams went to the dressing room at halftime.

Dallas’ dominance extended to the second half, with Emmitt Smith scoring on a beautiful 23 yard run to give Dallas a three score lead in the third quarter.  Another Elliott field goal and a fourth quarter one yard plunge by Derrick Gainer gave Dallas 34 points on the day, and only a late scoring toss by Randall Cunningham to Calvin Williams allowed the Eagles to score in double digits.

Jimmy Johnson’s soon to be Super Bowl Champion team dominated the Eagles in all aspects of the game. Dallas had 160 yards rushing (114 by Smith) against the Eagles’ 63. Dallas sacked Cunningham five times, including two each by Tony Tolbert and Russell Maryland, while Aikman was only dropped twice.  Dallas gained 346 yards, 168 more than the visitors with Aikman throwing for 200 in 15 completions.

The Cowboys’ 34-10 victory was Dallas’ first post-season win at Texas Stadium since 1982, and the win sent Dallas to the NFC Championship game for the first time since that same year.  Unlike 1982 when the Cowboys would fall short in the conference championship game, Dallas would ride its 13-3 regular season record and its rout of a good Eagles team to an upset victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park that would send Dallas to Super Bowl 27.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Three in One and a 13 Year Drought is Over

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Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo celebrates during Dallas 34-14 NFC Wildcard Playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles on January 9, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.

How many times have we heard commentators indicate that it is next to impossible for an NFL football team to beat another team three times in one season?  Seven years ago today, the Dallas Cowboys became the exception to that rule with their 34-14 NFC Wildcard Playoff win over divisional foe Philadelphia.

In the 2009 regular season, Dallas edged Philadelphia 20-16 at Lincoln Financial Field behind 307 passing yards from Tony Romo.  In the season’s final week, Dallas blanked Philadelphia 24-0 to win the NFC East and to give Dallas the home field advantage in their wildcard contest against the Eagles.

Before an enthusiastic sellout crowd at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys scored a franchise playoff record 27 points in the second quarter to take control of a game Dallas would win 34-14.  The victory was the first Cowboys’ playoff win since a 40-15 victory over Minnesota at Texas Stadium in 1966.

The Cowboys’ first scoring drive of the game began at Dallas’ 45 yard line with 1:25 left in the first quarter.  After Romo connected with Miles Austin for 12 yards and a first down on a crucial third and eight play, Philadelphia’s Sheldon Brown interfered with Austin on a deep pass. The penalty put the ball at the Eagles one yard line, and Dallas quickly cashed in on a touchdown pass from Romo to backup tight end John Phillips.

After Philadelphia evened the score at 7-7 on a 73 yard touchdown strike from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin, Dallas took control of the game.  Dallas drove 85 yards for the go ahead score on a drive that featured a 12 yard run by Cowboys’ halfback Felix Jones, a 15 yard face masking penalty on Philadelphia and crucial Romo completions to Patrick Crayton, Roy Williams and Jason Witten.  Tashard Choice put the ball in the end zone on a one yard run to give Dallas a 14-7 lead.

Dallas’ next drive featured Romo completions of 36 yards to Austin and 17 yards to Williams that set up Shaun Suisham’s 25 yard field goal that put the home team ahead 17-7.

Two plays into the Eagles’ next drive, disaster struck for Philadelphia when Vick’s fumble was recovered by Dallas’ Bobby Carpenter at the Eagles’ 18 yard line.  Three plays later, Romo found Austin for a six yard scoring pass and Dallas had surged to a 24-7 lead.

Dallas’ final possession of the half ended with a 48 yard field goal by Suisham, and the teams went to their locker rooms with the Cowboys holding a commanding 20 point lead.

Any doubt about the outcome of the game was put to rest with 5:44 left in the third quarter when Jones sped 73 yards for a touchdown run that gave Dallas a 34-7 lead.  Jones’ scoring run is the longest post-season rushing touchdown in Cowboys’ history, and is one of only nine rushing scores of that distance or more since the NFL merger in 1970.

Dallas out gained the Eagles by 420 yards to 340 yards, and the final score of 34-14 would likely have been even more in Dallas’ favor if not for 14 penalties on the home team.   The Cowboys rushed for 198 yards, with second year man Jones gaining 148 on only 16 carries. Romo threw for 244 yards, two scores and did not throw an interception.  Austin led Dallas’ receivers with seven catches for 82 yards and a score.

The Cowboys forced four Eagles’ turnovers, sacked Philadelphia quarterbacks four times and held the Eagles to only 56 yards rushing in what was probably Wade Phillips’ finest moment as Cowboys’ head coach.

The win sent Dallas to Minnesota, where the team’s hopes of advancing were rudely put to rest in a 34-3 Vikings’ win.  That loss was a disappointing way to end the year, but the team’s 11-5 record, its first playoff win ever at Cowboys Stadium and a clean three game sweep of bitter rival Philadelphia were enough to take away some of the sting of the loss.

 

 

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History-Fearless Cowboys Dominate Green Bay to Advance to 1994 NFC Title Game

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Cowboys’ receiver Alvin Harper speeds toward the end zone on a NFL playoff record setting 94 yard touchdown reception in the Cowboys’ 35-9 NFC Divisional round victory over the Green Bay Packers at Texas Stadium on January 8, 1995.

Trying to select a single adjective to describe the Dallas Cowboys of the early to mid 1990s is not an easy task.  They could be called confident, talented, controversial, unique and dominant.  Thinking back to 22 years ago today when the Cowboys  routed the Green Bay Packers 35-9 in a NFC Divisional round playoff game, the descriptive word that seems to best fit the Cowboys from 1991 through 1996 is “fearless”.

The Cowboys played to win, not to prevent losing.  Think back to the 1992 NFC Championship game when Dallas put the ball in the air to seal its first Super Bowl berth since 1978 or to the Thanksgiving Day game of 1994 when Dallas went toe to toe and eventually wore down Green Bay despite having its third string quarterback at the helm.  The Cowboys’ coaches and players of that special era knew that the team had the ability to rise above the norm, and that fearlessness was on display 22 years ago with the Cowboys’ in the shadow of their own end zone.

At Texas Stadium to face the Cowboys in the first round playoff game were the Green Bay Packers, a talented squad led by quarterback Brett Favre and receiver Sterling Sharpe.  The Packers came into the game having dropped three straight contests to Dallas at Texas Stadium, including a playoff loss in 1993, and it looked like it might be more of the same for the visitors when Emmitt Smith capped off the opening drive of the game with a five yard scoring run to give Dallas a 7-0 lead.

The Packers bounced back on their first possession, using a few Favre passes and a 20 yard run by receiver Robert Brooks to set up a 50 yard field goal by Chris Jacke to make the score 7-3.  Dallas was held to only one first down on its next possession, but the Cowboys’ defense did that one better forcing a three and out despite the Packers starting the drive in Dallas territory.   Craig Hentrich’s punt pinned Dallas back at its own six yard line, and the Packers’ defense came on the field with a golden opportunity in place to turn the tables against a Cowboys’ offense that had averaged 35 points scored in its three most recent games against Green Bay.  Dallas responded to that potentially disastrous situation with the fearlessness and execution that made the Cowboys the NFL’s team of the 1990s.

Instead of going the safe route and allowing All-Pro halfback Emmitt Smith to move the ball away from the Cowboys’ own goal line, Dallas went for the Packers’ jugular vein.  Troy Aikman took the snap and faked a hand-off to Smith, a move that kept the Packers’ safeties from getting too deep.  The unmatched Cowboys’ offensive line (with help from tough as nails fullback Daryl Johnston) kept the Packers’ line at bay, allowing Aikman to launch a beautiful post pattern that landed in long striding receiver Alvin Harper’s waiting arms near the 50 yard line. Harper raced down the sideline, did some fancing stepping to avoid Green Bay’s Terrell Buckley and George Teague near the Green Bay 10 and exploded into the end zone with a then NFL record 94 yard scoring pass that shocked the Packers and put Dallas ahead 14-3.

By halftime, the Cowboys had an insurmountable 28-9 lead and Green Bay’s story of futility at Texas Stadium would be adding another chapter.  Two time defending Super Bowl Champion Dallas won 35-9, and would be heading to the NFC title game to take on San Francisco.

In the lopsided contest, Michael Irvin (111), Harper (108) and Jay Novacek (104) would all exceed 100 yards receiving.  That game remains the only game in Cowboys’ playoff history where the team has had multiple receivers with 100 or more yards receiving.

 

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Creating Chaos and Winning Championships Marked Haley’s Cowboys’ Career

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Hall of Famer Charles Haley was one of the best pass rushers in Cowboys’ history and is the only player to have been on five Super Bowl Champion teams.

In their 57 years in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys have been blessed with some tremendous pass rushing defensive ends.   Marquette produce George Andrie’s pressure on quarterbacks from the defensive end spot helped the Doomsday Defense come to life in mid 60s to early 70s.  During the Cowboys’ America’s Team years, there were few better pass rushers in the NFL than Harvey Martin.  Ed “Too Tall” Jones was a talented all-around presence at defensive left end, and often terrorized opposing quarterbacks during his 15 years as a Cowboy.  2005 first round choice Demarcus Ware will almost certainly end up in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor and the NFL Hall of Fame.

Any discussion concerning pass rushing talent for the Cowboys must, however, include the only player in NFL history to have played on five Super Bowl Championship teams. Charles Haley, who celebrates his 53rd birthday on January 6th, only played for the Cowboys from 1992 through 1997 but he achieved much during that relatively brief time period.

Acquired from arch-rival San Francisco prior to the 1992 season, Haley made his presence felt in Dallas in week one of that season as Dallas defeated reigning Super Bowl Champion Washington 23-10.  Haley had a sack and seemed to be in the Redskins’ backfield all evening as the Cowboys showed a sellout crowd at Texas Stadium and scores more watching on Monday Night Football that Dallas was a serious contender for the title.

The acquisition of Haley gave Dallas something it had lacked since Jones and Martin left the team; a dominant pass rusher on the outside.  With Haley allowing the defense to reach new heights and with the Cowboys’ star-studded offense hitting full stride, Dallas surged to 13-3 regular season record and stormed through the post-season with wins over Philadelphia, Haley’s former team San Francisco and the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl 27.

Haley’s sack numbers were down in 1993, but he still helped the Cowboys dominate the NFL again as Dallas won Super Bowl 28.  He registered double digit sack totals in both 1994 and 1995, even with his 1995 season disrupted by a spinal injury.  One of Haley’s best games came in Super Bowl 30, where he had a sack, five tackles and three quarterback pressures in Dallas 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During his career, Haley was known for his relentlessness as well as his knowledge of the game.  Countless stories tell of how Haley could diagnose opponents’ plays before they happened.  The combination of superior athletic talent, a tremendous will to win and exceptional intelligence made Haley one of the NFL’s best players.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Running to Win and Winning Big

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Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett rushed for a career high 1,646 yards during the 1981 regular season, and he added 86 more in Dallas’ first round playoff game 38-0 trouncing of Tampa Bay on January 2, 1982.

A staple of the Tom Landry-led Dallas Cowboys teams was a commitment to the running game.  With a history of great runners like Don Perkins, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Robert Newhouse and Tony Dorsett plus deep and talented offensive line units, the Cowboys generally moved the ball effectively on the ground.

The 1981 Cowboys certainly fit that mold. Dallas rushed for 2,711 yards during the regular season, the second highest total in the NFL, with star back Tony Dorsett gaining a career high 1,646 to finish second in rushing in the league behind New Orleans’ George Rogers.

In large part due to its sterling running game, Dallas was among the NFL’s elite in 1981. The Cowboys started fast, going 4-0 to start the year. After a pair of losses, Dallas ran off another four game winning streak with three of the four wins coming against teams that would win 10 or more games on the year.  An upset loss at Detroit made Dallas 8-3 on the year, but the Cowboys ripped off another four game winning streak and clinched the NFC East title in Week 15 with a 21-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys’ opponent at Texas Stadium in the first round of the NFC playoffs was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by quarterback Doug Williams and a ball-hawking defensive backfield that finished second in the NFL with 32 interceptions.   After 60 minutes of dominant play by the Cowboys, it was clear that the Bucs were not in the same class as a Dallas team that would be heading to its 11th NFC Championship game.

Dallas ran for 212 yards in the game, the sixth highest total in Cowboys’ playoff history.  Dorsett led the way for Dallas with 86 yards, with Ron Springs (70), James Jones (32) and Newhouse (23) contributing to the impressive effort.  Dallas also became only the second team in Pro Football since 1960 to have four players score rushing touchdowns in a post-season game as Dorsett, Springs, Jones and second year man Timmy Newsome all reached the end zone on running plays (the other team was the AFL’s San Diego Chargers, who got rushing scores from Paul Lowe, Keith Lincoln, Tobin Rote and John Hadl in a 51-10 playoff victory over the Boston Patriots in the 1964 post-season).

The Cowboys’ success on the ground was due not only to its talented stable of backs, but also to a top-notch effort by its offensive line. The middle of the line, anchored by center Tom Rafferty and guards Herbert Scott and Kurt Petersen, carved out several ridiculously large holes on goal line plays that made the Cowboys’ backs’ task much easier.  Tackles Jim Cooper and Pat Donovan, along with tight ends Billy Joe DuPree and Doug Cosbie, also did their part to allow Dallas’ running game to control the contest.

The Cowboys’ defense was also outstanding on the day, featuring a relentless pass rush that led to four sacks and four interceptions.   Dallas’ dynamic duo of Harvey Martin and Randy White both had a sack on the day.  Left end Ed Jones did not pick up a sack, but he hurried Williams numerous times and had a rare interception.  Next to Charlie Waters no Dallas defensive back had more interceptions in the post-season than cagey Dennis Thurman, and the Southern Cal product had two off of Williams.  Rookie Michael Downs also got in on the fun with an interception of his own.

Dallas shutout was one of only 20 shutouts registered in post-season play since the NFL merger in 1970.  No team in the NFL has more than Dallas’ three during that period (the Cowboys also shut out Detroit in the 1970 playoffs and the Los Angeles Rams in the 1978 NFC Championship Game).

The Cowboys’ 1981 season would have a bitter ending eight days later.  At Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Joe Montana led the 49ers to a 28-27 comeback victory over Dallas to send the Niners to the Super Bowl and the Cowboys back to Dallas to wonder what might have been.