This Day in Dallas Cowboys History-Picking Up Where They Left Off

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Harvey Martin recovers a first quarter Minnesota fumble in Vikings’ territory to set up Dallas’ first score in the Cowboys’ 23-6 NFC Championship Game victory on January 1, 1978.

The Dallas Cowboys were the NFL’s most dominant team during the 1977 regular season.  Dallas started out winning its first eight games, many by substantial margins.  After a two week slump in which they lost to St. Louis at home and the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the Cowboys rattled off four straight victories to end the season to finish at 12-2.  A first round playoff rout of the Chicago Bears sent Dallas into the NFC title game, where they’d face a Minnesota Vikings team Dallas had beaten 16-10 at Minnesota in the first week of the season.

The first day of 1978 was  cold one in Dallas, with wind chill readings below the freezing mark. However the cold weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd of almost 62,000 at Texas Stadium, a group that believed its team was on a direct path to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 12.  After 60 minutes of football, it was clear that they were right.

Dallas jumped on the visitors right from the start.   An early first quarter Minnesota fumble was recovered by Harvey Martin at the Vikings 39 yard line to put the Cowboys in scoring position right off the bat.  A first down run by Robert Newhouse netted seven yards, and Dallas cashed in on the next play due to a tremendous play design.  The Cowboys lined up with flanker Drew Pearson wide to the right. Before the snap, Pearson came in motion all the way across the field.  On the snap, quarterback Roger Staubach faked a hand off to rookie sensation Tony Dorsett and then gave the impression that he was throwing a wide receiver screen to Pearson. The Vikings, undoubtedly aware that Pearson was the Cowboys’ number one threat at receiver, bit on the fake and Pearson’s partner Golden Richards escaped behind the Vikings’ defense. Staubach’s pass to Richards was slightly overthrown, but the fourth year receiver cradled it as he fell into the end zone and Dallas was ahead 6-0 after usually reliable kicker Efren Herrera missed the extra point.

The Cowboys struck again in the second quarter, aided by a 14 yard run for a first down on a fake punt by Danny White.  Newhouse’s five yard touchdown run and Herrera’s extra point put Dallas up 13-0.    Minnesota got two Fred Cox field goals in the second quarter to draw within a touchdown at 13-6, but Herrera’s short field goal near the end of the quarter expanded Dallas’ lead to 10 points at the half.

Dallas’ defense, led by Ed Jones who had eight solo tackles, dominated in the second half, and some help from the special teams and the offense sealed the victory for the Cowboys.  Thomas Henderson (who had an interception in the game) was a dominant force at outside linebacker for Dallas in his third NFL season, and he also excelled on special teams. His brutal hit on Minnesota punt returner Manfred Moore in the fourth quarter caused Moore to fumble, with Dallas’ Jay Saldi recovering in Minnesota territory. Dallas then drove for the score that put the game away, with the final points coming on a beautiful Dorsett touchdown scamper around right end on which the Pitt product displayed his trademark acceleration.

On the day, Dallas caused four Minnesota turnovers, sacked Vikings’ quarterback Bob Lee twice and outgained the visitors by 114 yards.  A potent Dallas’ rushing attack  gained 170 yards on the day, with Newhouse posting a game high 81 and Dorsett chipping in with 71 more.

With team that had numerous stars on both offense and defense, a special teams group that could make big plays and a head coach whose innovation and game planning were second to none, the Cowboys made short work of the NFC in 1977.   Two weeks after their championship game win over Minnesota, the Cowboys would prove that they were the NFL’s best with a convincing victory over Denver in Super Bowl 12.

 

 

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This Day in Dallas Cowboys History-Big Plays Made Richards Valuable to Cowboys in Mid-70s

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Receiver Golden Richards’ most famous catch for the Cowboys came in Super Bowl 12 when he snagged a 29 yard scoring pass from fullback Robert Newhouse to seal the Cowboys’ 27-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Great football teams are generally blessed to have great football players.   During their glory years in the 1970s, the Cowboys were fortunate to have many stars. One look at the roster of the NFL Hall of Fame or at the Ring of Honor in Texas Stadium will reveal that fact.

Very successful teams also have players who may not be stars but are able to do their part to keep the machine running successfully.  Former Cowboy wide receiver Golden Richards, who turns 66 today, was one of those players.

Richards came to the Cowboys in the 1973 NFL Draft, the same draft that saw Billy Joe DuPree and Harvey Martin selected by Dallas.  The Hawaii and BYU product’s game featured breakaway speed, and he was groomed to eventually take Bob Hayes’ spot as the Cowboys’ big play receiver.  Richards caught only six balls in his rookie season, one of them a 53 yard scoring pass from Craig Morton in a Cowboys’ rout of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Richards joined 1973 free agent pickup Drew Pearson as receivers in the Cowboys’ starting lineup in the 1974 season.  He caught three passes for 84 yards, including a 52 yard touchdown, in Dallas’ opening day 24-0 win at Atlanta.  Later in the year, Richards caught a pair of long touchdown passes (from 41 and 35 yards) and gained a career high 92 yards on his three receptions in Dallas’ 41-17 victory over Cleveland.

The 1975 Cowboys’ team shocked the NFL by winning the NFC Championship, and Richards played his part in the team’s success.  Richards averaged 21.5 yards per catch and had four scoring catches, including a 57 yard catch and run for a score in Dallas’ 31-10 smashing of the Redskins in week 13 that clinched a playoff spot for the Cowboys.  He also returned a punt for a score on the year.   In the post-season, Richards caught a four yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach in Dallas’ 37-7 thrashing of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game.

The speedy receiver posted a career best 21.8 yards per catch mark in 1976.  His best game of the year came in a week three thriller in which he scored two touchdowns (one on a 31 yard pass from Staubach and another on a 39 yard toss from fellow receiver Pearson) in Dallas’ 30-27 win.

Richards shared the split end spot in Dallas’ lineup with second year man Butch Johnson in the Cowboys’ Super Bowl Championship year of 1977, but was able to make some big plays to help the Cowboys to a title.  His acrobatic 17 yard fourth quarter touchdown catch from Staubach provided the winning points in Dallas’ 30-24 win in week four at St. Louis, and he scored on a 50 yard bomb from Staubach in the following game as Dallas drubbed Washington 34-16.   He also came up big in the post-season, catching touchdown passes in both the NFC Championship win over Minnesota and in Super Bowl 12 against Denver.

The emergence of Johnson and the selection of Tony Hill in the 1977 draft made Richards expendable, and he was traded to the Chicago Bears.  Richards caught one touchdown pass in his two seasons in Chicago, and fittingly it was from long range on a 57 yard strike from Vince Evans in the Bears 24-20 loss to the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in week three of the 1979 season.

Richards 18.3 yards per catch mark is fifth in Cowboys’ history for receivers with at least 100 catches. He is the only Cowboy to score a touchdown on a punt return in the post-season in team history, going all the way on a 63 yard return in Dallas’ 27-10 loss to Minnesota in the 1973 NFC Championship game.

The blonde haired wideout brought style and flash to the Cowboys in his time with the team, and made enough big plays to have earned a solid spot in Cowboys’ lore.

 

 

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Multi-Talented Renfro Anchored Cowboys Secondary for Over a Decade

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Perennial Pro Bowl defensive back Mel Renfro, who was born on December 30, 1941, was one of the NFL’s best during his 13 year career. He has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor.

Cowboy great Mel Renfro achieved All Pro status at both the free safety and cornerback positions during his career in the NFL, and he probably could have succeeded as well at running back and as a kick returner as well.  Dallas’ former shut down defensive back turns 75 years old today.

Coming to Dallas from the University of Oregon in the 1964 draft (the same draft that brought fellow Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes to Dallas),  Renfro brought speed and all around athletic ability to the Cowboys’ defensive backfield.

Renfro had 52 interceptions in his career, including a league high 10 in 1969 while playing safety.   He was switched to cornerback in 1970, and became one of the NFL’s top performers at that position.  Renfro had four interceptions in the regular season in 1970, and added three more in the post-season. His last minute pick of Detroit’s Greg Landry sealed an emotional 5-0 victory for the Cowboys in Dallas’ first round playoff game, and Renfro also had interceptions in Dallas’ 17-10 win over the 49ers in the NFC title game and in Super Bowl V against the Colts.

In 1971, Renfro and his teammates saw years of frustration fade away as the Cowboys finally won a NFL title.  Renfro’s play in Super Bowl 6, a game in which he shadowed talented Miami receiver Paul Warfield for a great deal of the game, helped the Cowboys win 24-3.

The 10 time Pro Bowl selection was also a Cowboy when the team won its second Super Bowl title.  The team’s elder statesman was a backup cornerback at that point of his career, but he did have two interceptions in the regular season including a game clinching take away in the final seconds of the Cowboys’ 14-7 victory over arch-rival Washington on November 27, 1977.

In his early years in Dallas, Renfro was an accomplished return man. He returned a punt 69 yards for a score in his rookie season of 1964 in Dallas’ 45-21 loss to Green Bay, and kickoff returns for six points in both 1965 and 1966.

Renfro’s 52 career regular season interceptions is the high mark in Cowboys’ history, ahead of Everson Walls’ 44 and Charlie Waters’ 41.   Renfro’s 10 Pro Bowl appearances trails only Bob Lilly among Cowboys.

Always humble, Renfro was once quoted as saying that he felt Bart Starr, John Unitas and Jim Brown were the real stars of the NFL.  In his 13 year career, Renfro played at a level that put him in the same class as those greats.

 

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Eight Year Drought Broken as Cowboys Beat Bears

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Backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein played well for the Cowboys down the stretch of the 1991 season. The veteran lead the team to wins in each of the four regular season games he started in place of the injured Troy Aikman and guided Dallas to its first playoff win in eight seasons on December 29th at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears.

From 1967 through 1982, post-season victories were a common occurrence for the Dallas Cowboys.  Dallas won an NFL high 20 playoff games during that span, including two Super Bowl games and five NFC Championship contests.

By 1991 however, the Cowboys’ drought for winning in the post-season had reached eight seasons.  Tom Landry’s Cowboys had lost their last two playoff contests, one in 1983 and the other in 1985.  Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas team improved from 1-15 in 1989 to 7-9 in 1990, and then made a big leap to an 11-5 mark in 1991 that secured Dallas a wildcard playoff spot.

In the way of Dallas on a 34 day in the Windy City were the Mike Dikta-led Chicago Bears, who looked to show the upstart Cowboys that their time in the post-season had not yet come. Thanks to Emmitt Smith’s running, a strong defense effort and steady play at quarterback by backup Steve Beuerlein, the Cowboys would show the Bears and the football world that they were coming of age earlier than expected.

Smith ran for 105 yards and scored a touchdown in the first of seven 100 yard plus games he would have in his magnificent career. His one yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave Dallas a 10-0 lead, and it was clear the Bears were in for a fight against the young and hungry Cowboys.

The story of the day for the Bears were lost opportunities and turnovers.  Larry Brown and Bill Bates had interceptions for Dallas, and Bates also caused a fumble on Chicago’s first drive when the Bears appeared to be heading for a score. Dallas also stopped Chicago on a crucial drive in the red zone in the first half when star back Neal Anderson couldn’t penetrate the rugged Cowboys’ defense.

Russell Maryland, Jimmie Jones and veteran Jim Jeffcoat, who had endured the post-season losses in 1983 and 1985, each had a sack of Bears’ quarterback Jim Harbaugh to help keep Dallas on top despite being outgained by the home team by 372 to 288 yards.

Beuerlein was 9 for 18 on the day, throwing a three yard touchdown pass to Jay Novacek in the third quarter and connecting with rookie Alvin Harper three times for 88 yards.  Harper’s running mate at receiver, future Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, had four catches for 83 yards.

The final significant play of the game was Bates’ interception of Harbaugh with a little more than a minute to play that sealed the Cowboys’ 21st post-season victory.  Dallas’ run in the post-season would end convincingly in Detroit on the next weekend, but the success of the 1991 team was harbinger of things to come in Dallas.  In 1992 and 1993, the final two seasons of Johnson’s tenure as Cowboys’ coach, the team would win back to back Super Bowl titles.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Cowboys Advance on a Wing and a Prayer

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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.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys History- Smith Sets a Record

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On Sunday night December 27, 1998, almost 64,000 fans at Texas Stadium and countless more watching on national television saw Emmitt Smith cross the goal line twice against Washington to become the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.

The 2016 Dallas Cowboys had nothing to play for last evening in terms of playoff positioning, but the Cowboys still put their best foot forward with a dominant second half that led to the team’s 13th win of the year in a 42-21 dismantling of the Detroit Lions.

Back in 1998, the situation was somewhat similar for the Cowboys. A week 15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles had won the NFC East for Dallas, and the Cowboys week 16 contest against Washington was basically a tune up for Dallas’ upcoming first round playoff game.

There was a buzz in the crowd on the night however, as Cowboys’ star Emmitt Smith was primed to pass Marcus Allen for the most rushing touchdowns in NFL history. Smith entered the game tied with Allen with 123 career running TDs, and he, his teammates and Cowboys’ fans would like nothing more than for Smith to break the record against arch-rival Washington.

Dallas and Smith would get rolling in the second quarter.  A Washington touchdown on the final play from scrimmage in the first quarter put the visitors up 7-3.  Dallas started its next possession on the Washington 35, and took little time getting Smith in position to pass Allen.  A 51 yard connection from Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin got the ball to the Washington 14 and from there Smith took over.  The Florida native ran for nine yards and then four more, before beating Allen’s mark with a one yard touchdown run that put Dallas ahead 10-7.

The next time Dallas had the ball, Smith put some icing on the cake.  Two Aikman to Billy Davis passes and a pass interference penalty on Washington got the ball to the Redskins’ 31 yard line.  Smith ran for five yards on his first carry of the drive, and then finished the possession off with a marvelous 26 yard run for a score that featured some of the moves, vision and acceleration that made him the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

Dallas would win the game 23-7 and finish the season with a perfect 8-0 record in divisional games.  Unfortunately the team’s success against divisional foes would not translate into the post-season, as fellow NFC East dweller Arizona would come to Texas Stadium and shock the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs.

Smith’s remarkable career in Dallas would feature 153 rushing touchdowns, with #22 leading the NFL in that category in 1992 with 18, 1994 with 21 and 1995 with a then NFL record 25.   Smith added 11 rushing scores to his resume in his two years as an Arizona Cardinal, leaving him with an NFL best 164.

This Day in Dallas Cowboys’ History- Waters Washes Chicago Away

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On December 26, 1977, Cowboys’ safety Charlie Waters set an NFL record for most interceptions in a post-season game with three as Dallas routed Chicago 37-7 in a first round NFC playoff contest.

On a cold mid-December early evening at Texas Stadium in 1976, veteran safety Charlie Waters had done everything he could to help the Dallas Cowboys try to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the teams’ first round NFC playoff game. Waters had blocked two punts, including one that gave Dallas a chance deep in Rams’ territory in the final minutes, and had intercepted a pass but his sterling efforts could not stop the Rams from posting a 14-12 upset win that ended the season for the reigning NFC Champion Cowboys.

53 weeks later on the day after Christmas in 1977, Waters and a fortified group of teammates looked to erase the memory of that loss when they took on the Chicago Bears in the first round of the post-season. Dallas had dominated in the regular season, going 12-2 and showing star power in all aspects of the game.  Unlike at the end of 1976, quarterback Roger Staubach was fully healthy and was passing with his usual superb ability.  Rookie Tony Dorsett had added an element that the 1976 Cowboys’ backfield lacked, breakaway speed.   And on defense, Waters and his teammates (particularly the dynamic defensive line that featured pass rushing force Harvey Martin and all-around star defensive tackle Randy White) had made Doomsday II a force to be reckoned with.  This playoff game would be vastly different than the one that saw the Rams shock the football world one year earlier.

Waters set an NFL record with three interceptions and the Cowboys’ defense forced seven turnovers as Dallas cruised pass the Bears 37-7.   The Cowboys forced seven Bears turnovers on the day, with linebacker D.D. Lewis joining Waters in the interception column  on the stat sheet.  Dallas’ pass rush contributed to Chicago quarterback Bob Avellini’s bad day, sacking the former University of Maryland signal caller three times and knocking him to the turf numerous other times.

On offense, the Cowboys’ ground attack kept the Bears defense reeling.  Dallas rushed for 233 yards, the fourth highest rushing yards total in the post-season in franchise history, with rookie Dorsett gaining 85 yards on 17 carries and scoring two touchdowns.  Dorsett’s effort included a beautiful 23 yard touchdown run in the third quarter that expanded Dallas’ lead to 24-0, and left several Bear defenders grasping for air when he cut through the hole and accelerated into the end zone.

Staubach threw for one touchdown (a 28 toss to Billy Joe DuPree) and ran for 25 yards of his own as Dallas scored the first 37 points of the game to take all of the drama out of the Bears’ first post-season game in 14 years.

Waters had nine interceptions in the post-season in his Cowboys’ career, a mark that is Dallas’ all-time high (Thurman is next with seven and Waters’ running partner in the Cowboys’ defensive backfield in the 1970s Cliff Harris is third with six).