I was about two months shy of my ninth birthday and a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys. I thought they had the sharpest looking uniforms in the league and they had “The Fastest Man in the World, “Bullet” Bob Hayes on offense, and arguably the best lineman in the league, “Mr. Cowboy” Bob Lilly, on defense.
They had compiled an impressive 42-12-2 regular season record from 1966-1969, but they were the team that couldn’t win the big game. They had lost a heart breaker to the Packers in the 1966 NFL title game and another heart breaker to the Packers the following year in the famous “Ice Bowl” game. Then they lost to the Cleveland Browns in the 1968 playoffs and lost to them, yet again, the following year.
That’s four years in a row with a chance to go to the Super Bowl and four missed opportunities.
They started the 1970 season with a very average 5-4 record. One of those losses was a humiliating 54-13 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. Another loss was a 38-0 embarrassment to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday Night Football.
It looked like the Cowboys wouldn’t even make the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. But, suddenly, the Cowboys got hot, winning seven games in a row, including a victory over the Detroit Lions in the playoffs and a win over the 49ers in the NFC title game.
Finally the Cowboys had made it to the Super Bowl! This was finally going to be their year. I just knew it!
But it wasn’t to be. The Cowboys lost Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts 16-13. I would have to wait another year before my Cowboys would finally win the Super Bowl.
Forty six years later and I’m still not over it! I can still see Jim O’Brien, the Colts’ kicker, trotting onto the field with his unbuckled chinstrap, kicking the game-winning 32-yard field goal. That image is burnt into my memory.
There were so many blown opportunities, so many chances to win the game.
I think the result would have been different had Coach Tom Landry started Roger Staubach at QB instead of the struggling Craig Morton. Morton had an injured shoulder and elbow, and those injuries showed in the two previous games.
He had played poorly in the 5-0 playoff win against the Lions, completing just 4 of 18 passes for a meager 38 yards. His stats weren’t much better the following week in the 17-10 victory over the 49ers. He completed only 7 of 22 passes that day for 101 yards.
To his credit, Morton didn’t use injuries as an excuse, but it was obvious he couldn’t get any zip on his passes, either. Many were underthrown and off-target. So why didn’t Coach Landry make the switch?
Well, Staubach was a second-year player and Landry was always reluctant to start an inexperienced player. He chose Eddie LeBaron over Don Meredith when Meredith first came into the league. He didn’t even start Heisman Trophy winner, Tony Dorsett, until midway through his rookie season. So he wasn’t about to start a second-year, scrambling quarterback in the most important game of the season — unless it was absolutely necessary.
Regardless of how poorly Morton had been playing lately, the Cowboys had just won 7 games in a row with him at QB. On top of that, the Cowboys had the best running attack in the league. They had rushed for a league high 2,300 yards in the (then) 14-game regular season.
The running game only got better in the playoffs, gaining 209 yards against the Lions and 229 yards against the 49’ers. Rookie sensation, Duane Thomas, who took over for the injured Calvin Hill in Week Six, had gained well over 100 yards in both games.
The defense, which had struggled the first half of the season, was now playing as the best defense in the league. In the last six games the Dallas D had allowed a mere 25 points. That’s roughly four points a game! That included just two TDs in six games.
So, while it’s easy to say Landry should have made the switch at QB, it’s also easy to see why he didn’t. Landry expected (and with good reason) that his running attack and defense would overcome the QB issue in the Super Bowl, just as it had in the prior seven games.
As it turned out, the Cowboys defense played superbly, allowing the Colts just 69 yards rushing. They did allow 260 yards passing, but 75 yards came on a fluke play as two players tipped the ball before it landed in the hands of tight end, John Mackey who ran it in for a TD.
The problem was the Cowboys’ running game. Dallas did not live up to expectations–gaining just 102 yards on 31 carries. Duane Thomas was held to 35 yards on 18 carries. The Colts had shut down the vaunted running game of the Dallas Cowboys, just as predicted by Super Bowl lll MVP, Joe Namath, on the pre-game show.
So, now, let us take a look at the game.
On its first possession, the Cowboys tried to surprise the Colts by throwing deep, but both passes were badly underthrown. The Colts tried running on their first possession, but were shut down and went three-and-out.
On its second possession, the Cowboys tried to get the powerful running game going, but again went three-and-out. The Colts went to the air on its second possession and were sorry they did. Chuck Howley intercepted on the first play, but the Cowboys again went three-and-out.
But the Colts’ Ron Gardine fumbled the punt and the Cowboys had the ball at the Colts 9-yard line. They gained 4 yards on a run and lost 2 yards on the next run. Morton overthrew on 3rd down and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal.
The Colts went three-and-out on their next possession. They made another Special Teams error when they were unable to down the punt on the 1-yard line. The Cowboys took over at the 20 and got the first 1st Down of the game. They followed that up with a couple of good runs, a screen pass, and another first down.
Then Morton connected with Bob Hayes on a long pass. A roughing-the-passer penalty put the ball at the Colts 6- yard line. The Colts were on the ropes now. The Cowboys called a pass, but Morton hesitated. Instead of hitting a wide open Duane Thomas in the end zone, the pass was blocked. A second down running play gained nothing. On the next play, Morton was called for intentional grounding. So Dallas settled for another field goal.
What could have been a 14-0 lead was just 6-0.
The Colts got the ball on the kickoff. Baltimore had not made a 1st Down yet and they hadn’t been in Cowboys’ territory either. That’s when the controversial tipped pass came. Johnny Unitas threw high to Eddie Hinton. Hinton tipped the ball, John Mackey caught it, and ran for a touchdown.
The rule at that time was that the ball could not be touched by two receivers on the same team–unless it was touched in between by a player on the other team. The referee determined that the Cowboys’ Mel Renfro had touched it. The Cowboys insisted he hadn’t.
We’ll never really know if he did or didn’t because they didn’t have close-up camera equipment, instant replay, or a hundred different camera angles back then. It looked like Renfro may have touched it, but it’s hard to say for sure. The TD held, but the Colts missed the extra point. The score was now 6-6.
Dallas got the ball and went three-and-out again. Baltimore got the ball and continued to try to run, but without success. Three and out!
Dallas couldn’t run either. Neither QB was playing well, and the defenses weren’t giving an inch. Three-and-out for the Cowboys.
On the Colts next possession, Unitas was forced to run and took a shot to the ribs by linebackers Lee Roy Jordon and Chuck Howley. He fumbled and Howley recovered at the Colts 30-yard line. A few plays later the Cowboys had a touchdown and a 13-6 lead.
He fumbled and Howley recovered at the Colts 30-yard line. A few plays later the Cowboys had a touchdown and a 13-6 lead.
After a good kickoff return and a pass interference call, it looked like the Colts might finally have something going. But Cowboys’ defensive end, George Andrie, put a strong rush on Unitas forcing him to rush the pass, which was intercepted by Mel Renfro. Untas took another shot to the ribs on that play and limped off the field in obvious pain.
The Cowboys had complete control of the game now, poised to move in for the kill. But Dallas was still having trouble moving the ball. The Colts dug in and again forced the Cowboys to punt.
Earl Morrall came in for the injured Johnny Unitas and finally got the Colts moving. With a 1st Down at the Cowboys 2-yard line, Bob Lilly and the doomsday defense dug in. After three runs produced no gain the Colts decided to go for it on 4th Down, but the pass was incomplete.
The Cowboys took possession. Oddly, the referees moved the ball from the 2-yard line to the 20. I’ve been told the NFL had a silly rule back then; incomplete passes into the endzone on 4th down resulted in a touchback. I believe the line of scrimmage had to be within the 20 yard line, however. Apparently that was the rule back then and I’m not sure why. Dallas ran out the clock and it was half time.
The Colts continued to turn the ball over by fumbling the second half kickoff. Dallas took over at the 31. Two good runs got Dallas to the 15. It appeared the Cowboys finally had their running game on track, as three more runs brought the ball to the 2-yard line.
On the next play, Duane Thomas fumbled. Dave Manders, the Cowboys center, came out of the pile holding the ball in his hands, but the referee signaled Colts ball.
That was the biggest play of the game in my opinion. Had the Cowboys scored a touchdown it would have been extremely difficult for the Colts to come back from a 20-6 deficit, especially the way the Cowboys defense was playing.
The Colts managed to move the ball enough to attempt a 52-yard field goal, The kick was short. Mel Renfro was expecting the ball to roll into the end zone for a touchback, but the ball suddenly stopped and the Colts downed it at the 1-yard line.
Dallas went three and out again and the Colts took over at the Cowboys’ 46, but a clipping penalty put them back to their own 39. A long pass got the Colts to the Cowboys 15, but another Chuck Howley interception ended hopes of a Baltimore score.
The Cowboys Walt Garrison had a big run, but the Colts defense once again stiffened and the Cowboys were forced to punt. A pass interference call gave the Colts the ball at their 31 and, on the next play, they gained another 23 yards on a pass play. Then a holding penalty against Dallas put the ball at the 39. But another fumble–this time out of the end zone–turned over the ball.
Dallas took over at the 20, but now it was the Cowboys turn to give the ball away. An interception by Rick Volk gave the Colts the ball at the Cowboys 2-yard line. This time Baltimore was able to punch it in and the game was tied 13-13.
Dallas took over and got to the 50 before the drive stalled. A good punt pinned the Colts at its 5-yard line. Three runs produced little gain and they punted. Dallas got the ball at its 48 with 1:52 left in the game. There was enough time to get into field goal range and end the game with a hard fought (yet sloppy) 16-13 victory.
But a holding penalty (15 yards back then) put Dallas back to the 33. It was 1st and 25. Surely the normally conservative Cowboys would run out the clock and play for overtime.
They elected to pass instead.
The ball was thrown too high, tipped by Dan Reeves, and intercepted by Mike Curtis. The Colts now had the ball on the Cowboys’ 29. Two running plays got it to the 24 with 9 seconds left. Then Jim O’Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
I was bitterly disappointed! I thought, for sure, Dallas would win and erase the tag of “the team that couldn’t win the big game.” I was young, heartbroken, and cried myself to sleep that night.
Even though the Cowboys would finally win the Super Bowl the following year–a dominating 24-3 win over the Miami Dolphins–I never really got over the loss in Super Bowl V.
I’m not sure I ever will.