The iconic Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson “Hail Mary” touchdown pass to beat Minnesota in the NFC playoffs was probably the highlight moment of the entertaining and unexpectedly successful 1975 season for the Dallas Cowboys.
Loyal fans of all NFL teams can recall plays or games that make their blood boil or cause them to be overcome with nausea. As a Cowboys fan, I still cannot watch a replay of “The Catch” without muttering about how lucky the 49ers were to be advancing to the Super Bowl that should have rightfully involved Tom Landry and his 1981 Cowboys’ team. When one is around Redskins’ fans, particularly in late November, it is advisable not to mention the name “Clint Longley”. For fans of the Oakland Raiders, the term “tuck rule” usually is uttered with the use of a preceding adjective that sounds somewhat like “tuck”.
41 years ago today, events unfolded at old Bloomington Stadium in Minnesota that haunt fans of the purple and gold to this day. With a playoff victory over NFC rival Dallas all but locked up, the Viking and their fans saw Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson take the victory away from them in the most unlikely of circumstances.
The 1975 season was a memorable one in Cowboys’ history. Coming off of a 8-6 mark in 1974 that left Dallas out of the playoffs for the first time since 1965, the Cowboys shocked the NFL world by rebounding to make the playoffs with a 10-4 record. In Dallas’ way for the first round of the playoffs was an experienced and talented Vikings’ squad that was eager to make it back to the Super Bowl to avenge defeats in three previous appearances in the NFL’s ultimate game.
The Cowboys-Vikings game was a rough affair, with defenses dominating for most of the day. A Chuck Foreman touchdown run in the second quarter gave the home team a 7-0 lead at the half, but the Dallas offense drove to a score of its own (coming on a four yard scoring run by Doug Dennison) to even the score at 7-7 heading into the final period.
The upstart Cowboys scored next, as Toni Fritsch’s short field goal gave the visitors a 10-7 lead. Fran Tarkenton and the Vikes were not done however, and Minnesota reclaimed the lead on a one yard run by Brent McClanahan that put the Vikes on top 14-10.
The game’s crucial drive started with a little more than two minutes to go and the Cowboys deep in their own territory. To that point, Dallas’ star receiver Drew Pearson had not caught a pass on the game and Dallas’ chances of success against Minnesota’s imposing defense appeared bleak. Shortly, however, bleak would be the word used to describe the Vikings’ situation as Staubach and Pearson went to work.
The first big connection between the longtime teammates came on a fourth and 16 play from the Cowboys’ 25 yard line. Staubach found Pearson on a deep out on the right side of the field for 25 yards to keep Dallas’ hopes alive with less than a minute left to play.
After Preston Pearson fortuitously could not catch a short pass from Staubach, Dallas faced a second and ten from midfield. Operating out of the shotgun formation, Staubach faked to his left to draw cagey Minnesota free safety Paul Krause’s attention away from Pearson, and threw a deep pass down the right side of the field toward trusty #88. The pass was under thrown somewhat, a fact that worked to Dallas’ advantage when Pearson was able to adjust to the ball and Minnesota’s Nate Wright was not. Pearson caught the ball against his hip and stepped into the end zone with the game winning score. The touchdown sent the Vikings home for the winter and propelled Dallas to its fifth NFC Championship game appearance in six years. After the game, Staubach famously indicated that he said a Hail Mary as he threw the pass.
The controversy over the play continues to this day. Loyal Minnesota fans insist that Pearson pushed off on Wright to get an advantage that he exploited to make the grab. Cowboy fans disagree, saying that the play was just another example of how the resourceful Staubach-Pearson combination came through in the clutch.
After the game Landry told reporters, “This has to rank as our second-best win ever. Our Super Bowl victory, of course, is still the all-time most rewarding, but this will be another we’ll never forget”. The Hall of Fame coach was right, the game will never be forgotten by Cowboys fans…..or by those from Minnesota.