Bob Lilly (#74) and the Doomsday Defense forced five Minnesota turnovers to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 20-12 victory over the Vikings in a first round playoff game in Bloomington, Minnesota on December 25, 1971.
In most cases, it is truly better to give than receive. On a Christmas Day 45 years ago, the Minnesota Vikings played the role of generous hosts as their five turnovers gift-wrapped a playoff victory for the visiting Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas’ Doomsday Defense had something to do with the turnovers, as its active front line anchored by Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, tackle mate Jethro Pugh and pass rushing force George Andrie forced Vikings’ quarterbacks into four interceptions that derailed the Minnesotans hopes of getting back to the Super Bowl two years after their loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV.
Savvy linebackers Lee Roy Jordan and Chuck Howley had interceptions for Dallas, as did Hall of Fame veteran cornerback Herb Adderly and should be Canton bound hard hitting safety Cliff Harris to help Dallas to a victory on a day when its offense could only muster 183 yards against Minnesota’s tough defense.
Dallas’ defensive effort was typical of the Cowboys’ performance down the stretch of their first Super Bowl winning season. Dallas’ regular season December games saw the Cowboys defeat the Jets at home 52-10, rout the Giants 42-14 at Yankee Stadium and toy with St. Louis 31-12 at Texas Stadium in the season finale.
The offense did just enough to win, scoring two third quarter touchdowns that expanded Dallas’ 6-3 halftime edge into an insurmountable 20-3 lead. First, second year back Duane Thomas scored on a 13 yard run to give Dallas a 13-3 advantage. Later in the quarter, quarterback Roger Staubach kept a play alive long enough to find speedy Bob Hayes streaking across the back of the end zone for a nine yard touchdown throw that all but sealed the victory for Dallas.
The Vikings scored the final nine points on this cold and gloomy Christmas Day in the far north, but Dallas held on for a 20-12 victory that put the Cowboys two wins away from their first Super Bowl title. Thanks to its defense that would give up a total of only six points in the NFC Championship and in Super Bowl VI, a world’s championship was the late Christmas present Dallas would deliver to its fans three weeks after it ruined the holiday for the Vikings and their followers.