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 December 2, 1979 when the Cowboys took on divisional rival New York in a crucial late season contest at Texas Stadium.
The Cowboys entered week 14 of the 1979 season in a tailspin. After starting the year with a 7-1 record, the two time defending NFC Champions appeared to have their tickets punched for a trip to Pasadena in January to represent the conference in yet another Super Bowl. But a 1-4 record over the five games leading up to the early December battle Dallas thinking not of lofty goals like a Super Bowl appearance, but of merely surviving in the playoff chase.
The Giants entered the game having won six of their last eight games, with one of the losses coming on a last-minute Cowboys 16-14 victory at Giants Stadium that was engineered in large measure by big plays from Dallas’ Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett. That trio would play a large role in a Cowboys’ victory that would get Dallas on the right track in pursuit of its fourth straight NFC East title.
A Dynamic Duo
Few quarterback/receiver combinations were as iconic as the Staubach-Pearson duo that helped the Cowboys to many a big win in their seven years together. Pearson caught 27 regular season touchdowns from Staubach, with three of them coming in this game.
Pearson’s first score came in the second quarter on a beautifully executed seven yard slant pass that erased a 7-0 Giants’ lead. Pearson got a great inside release against New York’s Terry Jackson, and Staubach hit him perfectly in stride with a laser of a throw to get the Cowboys on the scoreboard.
In the third quarter Pearson ran a great corner route, again against Jackson, to score from eight yards out. Later in the period, even after being hobbled during an overzealous celebration following his second score, Pearson beat Ray Rhodes on a 44 yard post-pattern for a score with Staubach putting the ball right on the mark to expand Dallas’ lead to 21-7.
The three touchdown game was the first of Pearson’s career, a mark he would equal in 1980 in a 59-14 rout of the San Francisco 49ers. The Staubach-Pearson scoring plays were the final ones they’d engineer together
Young Giants’ quarterback Phil Simms got outfoxed by Cowboys’ All-Pro safety Cliff Harris in the third quarter, when Harris intercepted a throw down the middle in the third period. Harris hung back but made a great break on the ball to record his 29th and final regular season interception for the Cowboys (he would retire following the 1979 season).
Harris’ first two interceptions as a Cowboy came on September 28, 1970, also against the Giants. His seven career picks v.s. the New Yorkers was the most against any opponent.
Versatility is a Plus
A “glue” guy for the Cowboys of the 1970s and early 1980s was defensive back Benny Barnes, a player who played many roles in his NFL career. Barnes’ versatility was on display in this contest.
First in the second quarter, Barnes separated New York punt returner Steve Odom from the ball resulting in a Ron Springs recovery deep in Giants’ territory. Later in the same period, Barnes kept pace with speedy Giants’ wideout Earnest Gray to bat away a deep pass that had trouble for the home team written all over it.
“Martinized” on Both Sides of the Field
A Cowboys’ fan’s list of New York Giants’ defenders who’ve caused Dallas problems over the years certainly features Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor at the top of the list, but this game was played two years before LT joined the Big Blue.
In 1979, one of the main men (along with talented middle linebacker Harry Carson) of the Giants’ defense was talented defensive end George Martin, and the University of Oregon product was a dominant force in the contest. Martin registered a sack and a blocked pass in the second quarter, and was someone the Cowboys had to account for in pass protection throughout the game.
An equally dominant force on the other sideline was a player who shared a surname with his New York rival. Dallas’ Harvey Martin made many big plays in the contest, picking up a sack and disrupting the Giants all game long. Martin’s quick moves on several stunts allowed fellow linemen Dave Stalls, Bruce Thornton and Larry Bethea pick up sacks in a game where the Cowboys dropped Simms five times.
A Virtual Lock
Staubach’s win over the Giants was his 16th in 17 career starts against the Giants. His only loss came in an early season 1974 contest when a disjointed Dallas team was in the midst of a four game losing streak.
The Heisman Trophy winner was great against other divisional foes during his Cowboys’ career as well, posting a 14-3 mark against the Eagles, a 13-5 record v.s. St. Louis and nine wins in 15 games against Washington.
Many of Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett’s memorable runs came on plays where the speedy tailback broke into the secondary and ran for long distances without being touched. In this contest, Dorsett gained 108 yards in 29 tough carries, with his longest run being only for 12 yards. During the contest, Dorsett surpassed the 1,000 rushing yard mark on the year, becoming only the second player at that point in NFL history to have 1,000 or more yards in his first three years as a pro.
Going for a Long Drive
Early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys’ defense put up a great goal-line stand that prevented the Giants from cutting into Dallas’ 21-7 lead. Taking over the ball at its own eight following the visitor’s failed scoring effort, Dallas went 92 yards in 17 plays over a whopping 9:57 with Dorsett scoring on a two yard touchdown to salt away the win.
The drive featured heavy doses of runs by Dorsett (42 yards) and backfield mate Robert Newhouse (25 yards), with passes from Staubach to Tony Hill and Jay Saldi sprinkled in as the Cowboys’ textbook perfect drive ended the competitive part of the contest.
The Cowboys’ win kept Dallas’ hopes of a divisional title alive and setup a week 15 contest at Philadelphia against the upstart Eagles. Dallas would win that game 24-17 and take out the Redskins at home in week 16 by a 35-34 score to win the NFC East with an 11-5 record.