The date was January 16, 1972.
I was about two months shy of turning 10 years old. My brother and I had a favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys. That day the Cowboys were playing the Miami Dolphins in Superbowl VI. The game was played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The temperature was 39 degrees, which is still the coldest Superbowl ever.
The Cowboys had just won nine games in a row, including a 20-12 win over the powerful Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs and a 14-3 win over the SF 49ers in the NFC Championship game. We knew Dallas was a very good football team and they were favored to defeat the Dolphins.
We were still pretty nervous, though. Would 1972 finally be the year the Cowboys would win the Superbowl?
This was the sixth year in a row that the Cowboys were playing in the postseason. In 1966 they lost a heartbreaker to the GB Packers, 34-27, in the NFL Championship game. One year later, they lost yet another heartbreaker to the Packers, 21-17, in what would become known as the “Ice Bowl.”
In 1968 and 1969, Dallas would lose in the playoffs to the Cleveland Browns. Then, in 1970, they finally made it to the Superbowl–only to lose to the Baltimore Colts on a last-second field goal. They became known as the team that couldn’t win the big game.
After a not so good punt, the Dolphins took over at their 42-yard line. A crushing block by guard Larry Little on cornerback Herb Adderly sprung fullback Larry Csonka for a 12-yard gain and Miami became the first team to cross the 50-yard line. But on the very next play, Csonka fumbled and Dallas recovered the ball.
The Cowboys seemed intent on establishing their passing game early. They were not having much success due in large part to a strong Miami pass rush. The Cowboys did manage to get a first down, though, which was followed by two big runs by Walt Garrison that gained 18.
But again they went to the air and Roger Staubach was sacked for a 12-yard loss. On second-and-22, Staubach connected with Bob Hayes for an 18-yard gain. On third-and-4, Staubach connected with Duane Thomas for a gain of 16 yards. A three-yard run by Thomas made it 2nd-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
(There seems to be lost footage of the next two plays, so I can only assume the Dolphins “No Name” defense held the Cowboys offense in check. The score was 3-0 and the Cowboys were kicking off when the game footage resumed.)
The first quarter did not end well for the Dolphins. On second-and-ten, Bob Griese dropped back to pass and was chased down by Larry Cole and Bob Lilly and was dropped for a 29-yard loss. Miami ended the first quarter with 0 yds. passing.
The Dolphins punted from their end zone to begin the second quarter. A good punt gave the Cowboys possession at their own 45. Two good runs by Walt Garrison and Duane Thomas gave Dallas a first down at the Miami 45. But, surprisingly, they didn’t stick with their running game even though they were having great success. Three passes in a row netted only four yards and the Cowboys were forced to punt.
Miami took over at its 20. Jim Kiick ran for 9 yards and Larry Csonka got a first down on second-and-one. From there, Griese connected with Howard Twilley for 20 yards. It looked like Miami might finally be putting together a good drive. But the next three plays didn’t produce a first down. They attempted a long field goal, which was missed.
Dallas took over at its 20. After a 10-yard run by Duane Thomas, it was Garrison’s turn. Aided by a big block by guard Blaine Nye (on MLB Nick Buoiticantti), Walt gained 17 yards. But the drive fizzled when tight end Mike Ditka dropped a pass on 3rd-and-9. Dallas punted, but then the Dolphins quickly went three and out.
From their own 23-yard line, the Cowboys put running back Duane Thomas to work. First, he ran for 4 yards, then he caught a screen pass and gained enough yardage for a first down. Two more runs by Thomas gained enough for another first down. The next two plays gained just 1 yard. But on 3rd-and-9, Staubach hit receiver Lance Alworth for a 27-yard gain.
Calvin Hill, who was not expected to play due to a knee injury, ran for 13 yards. He followed that run with a 6-yard run and then a 4-yard run.
At that point, Staubach connected with Lance Alworth for a touchdown!
Miami had one more possession before halftime. Griese connected with Paul Warfield for a big gainer that put the Dolphins in field goal range. Garo Yepremian’s kick was good and the half ended with Dallas ahead 10-3.
The first half had been completely dominated by the Cowboys, but they only led by a touchdown. If the Dolphins hoped to make a comeback, they would have to find a way to shut down the Cowboys running game. Something they hadn’t been able to do up to this point.
Dallas received the second half kickoff and quickly went to work. Two runs and a pass to Calvin Hill gave them a first down at the 47-yard line. Duane Thomas ran for eight and then for 20 yards. (Thomas now had 76 yards on just 11 carries.)
A reverse to receiver Bob Hayes gained another 16 yards and, two plays later, Thomas scored the Cowboys second touchdown. That made the score 17-3.
My brother and I finally relaxed.
A good kickoff return by the speedy Eugene “Mercury” Morris gave the Dolphins good field possession at the 37-yard line, but the “Doomsday Defense,” led by 11-year veteran Bob Lilly, shut the Dolphins down again. They were forced to punt.
The Cowboys took over at their 26-yard line. Two runs and a pass to Walt Garrison gave them a first down, but Thomas lost 5 yards on the next play. That play was followed by a delay-of-game penalty, which made it 2nd-and-20. A 3-yard scramble by Staubach was followed by an incomplete pass. Dallas was forced to punt.
Miami again had good field possession at its own 42. (At that point, the footage went missing again, so I can only assume the Dolphins were forced to punt. I say that because the Cowboys had possession when footage resumed. Dallas then went three-and-out and Miami took over at their own 27. Two runs gained 8 yards as the 3rd quarter ended.)
By the end of the Third Quarter, the Cowboys had outgained the Dolphins in total yardage 277-117 and in first downs 18-5. But Miami was still only down by two touchdowns with possession of the ball and a full quarter to play.
The quarter began with a pass to Warfield, giving Miami a first down and (more importantly) some hope. But that hope would be quickly dashed. On 3rd-and-4, linebacker Chuck Howley intercepted a Bob Griese pass at midfield. Howley ran it to the Miami 10-yard-line before losing his balance and stumbling to the ground.
It mattered little that he didn’t score because–three plays later–Staubach found tight end Mike Ditka all alone in the end zone. The score made it 24-3 and the game was all but over.
Miami took possession at their 22. A screen pass to Larry Csonka gained 16. Then a pass to tight end Marv Fleming gained 27, Csonka ran for 6 yards, and that was followed by a deflected pass. On 3rd-and-4 Griese again connected with Marv Fleming to the 16-yard line.
It was clear now that time was running out on the Dolphins’ season, but they at least hoped to score a touchdown to make the final score respectable. But, once again, hopes were dashed. Miami fumbled the ball on the very next play.
Two runs by Duane Thomas gained 5 yards. On third-and-five, Staubach connected with Mike Ditka, which put the ball near midfield. At that point, Thomas ran for 7, Garrison ran for 18, and Staubach scrambled for 5. The next two runs gained only 4 yards, which gave Dallas a 4th-and-1.
The field goal unit then came out, but it was a fake. Holder Dan Reeves ran for 7 yards and a first down. Calvin Hill lost 4 on the next play, but a reverse to Mike Ditka on the very next play brought the ball down to the one-yard line.
If not for a Calvin Hill fumble on the next play the final would have been 31-3.
But it didn’t matter! There were only two minutes to play. Miami ran four plays and Superbowl VI was over.
It wasn’t a very exciting game for the average football fan, But for Cowboys fans like my brother and me, it was our long-awaited victory.
We celebrated all night long. And unlike most Monday mornings, going to school wasn’t so hard. Why?
We couldn’t wait to brag about our Cowboys!
Epilogue: My brother and I didn’t know it at the time, but this Superbowl would have more future Hall of Fame players than any other Superbowl, before or since. One former player on the field that day had already been enshrined in Canton. Ernie Stautner was the Cowboys’ defensive line coach. He was inducted in 1969 for his great NFL career as a defensive tackle. (For reference, Cowboys’ head coach, Tom Landry, would be inducted in 1990 and President Tex Schramm was enshrined the following year. Dolphins head coach Don Shula would be inducted in 1997.)
As for the players, here’s the list of enshrined players with the year they entered the HOF:
Receiver Lance Alworth, 1978.
Cornerback Herb Adderly and defensive tackle Bob Lilly, 1980.
Receiver Paul Warfield, 1983
QB Roger Staubach, 1985.
Fullback Larry Csonka and center Jim Langer (also a backup player in this game), 1987.
QB Bob Griese, 1990.
Guard Larry Little, 1993.
Defensive back Mel Renfro, 1996.
MLB Nick Buoniconti, 2001.
Offensive tackle Rayfield Wright, 2006.
Receiver, Bob Hayes, 2009.