Reliving The 1974 Dallas Cowboys’ Season

After appearing in the NFC Championship game four years in a row, from 1970 to 1973, winning the NFC title in 1970, and winning the Super Bowl in 1971, the Cowboys had no reason to think the 1974 season would be any less successful.
Although the team had fourteen players in their thirties, they also had many talented young players. Defensive backs Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters were only 26.

Wide receivers Drew Pearson and Golden Richards were 23 and 24, respectively. Fullback Robert Newhouse, defensive end Harvey Martin, defensive back Benny Barnes, and tight ends Jean Fugett and Billy Joe Dupree were all under 25. They also had a promising young rookie in Ed “Too Tall” Jones at defensive end.

Dallas Cowboys' players Cliff Harris (Safety) and Charlie Waters (Cornerback) football cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Dallas Cowboys' players Cliff Harris (Safety) and Charlie Waters (Cornerback) football cards

The 1974 Dallas Cowboys

The 74 season got off to a great start with a 24–0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons had finished the 1973 season with a 9–5 record and almost made the playoffs, so the victory was no small matter. Dallas outgained Atlanta 411 to 108 in total yardage.

Week 2 was a Monday Night Showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium. Dallas completely dominated, allowing the Eagles just five first downs and outgaining them 385 yards to 165. Despite the domination, the Cowboys lost the game 13–10. The most telling play of the game was a 96-yard defensive fumble return by Eagles defensive back Joe Lavender.

The loss to the Eagles may have affected the team psychologically because they looked flat in a week-three game against the Giants. The Cowboys committed five turnovers in a 14–6 loss.

The Cowboys hosted the Vikings in week four, and although Minnesota outgained Dallas 376 yards to 273, the Cowboys led 21–20 before a last-second field goal gave the Vikings a 23–21 victory. The Cowboys committed four turnovers. It was the third week in a row that turnovers did them in.

The Cowboys got off to a great start in a week five game against the Cardinals when rookie Dennis Moran returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. But by the third quarter, Dallas was behind 28–14. They came back to tie the score 28–28, but the Cardinals kicked a field goal in the last minute to clinch the victory 31–28.

With a 1–4 record going into week six, it looked like the Cowboys would surely miss the playoffs. With Calvin Hill leading the way, Dallas gained 246 yards rushing while allowing only 50. Their 31–24 victory over the Eagles gave them a small glimmer of hope.

Dallas Cowboys' players Blaine Nye (Guard) and Calvin Hill (Running Back) football cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Dallas Cowboys' players Blaine Nye (Guard) and Calvin Hill (Running Back) football cards

The following week, the Cowboys had a relatively easy time beating the Giants 21–7 at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut to up their record to 3–4.

Week five was a rematch with the Cardinals, whom they had lost to three weeks earlier on a last-minute field goal. This time, it was the Cowboys who won a last-second field goal. The 17–14 win was their third victory in a row.

In a week nine win over the 49ers, Dallas gained 221 yards rushing, led by Calvin Hill, who gained 153 yards. The win upped their record to 5–4. Maybe there was still hope for post-season play after all.

Those hopes were dashed in a week ten loss to the Redskins. The Redskins took a 28–0 halftime lead, and although the Cowboys came storming back with three touchdowns in the second half, it was too little, too late. With three minutes left in the game, Dallas had a chance to tie the game, but Drew Pearson misjudged a sure touchdown pass in the end zone.

The following week, the Cowboys completely dominated the Oilers, holding them to 81 total yards. Dallas played a ball-control game, gaining 214 yards on the ground, and walked away with an easy 10–0 win.

Harvey Martin and Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Dallas Cowboys defensive ends) football cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Harvey Martin and Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Dallas Cowboys defensive ends) football cards

On a Thanksgiving Day rematch with the Redskins, the Cowboys fell behind 16–3. To make matters worse, their quarterback, Roger Staubach, suffered a concussion and was replaced by rookie Clint Longley. To everyone’s surprise, Longley led the Cowboys back to take a 17–16 lead. Former Cowboy Duane Thomas scored on a 19-yard run to put Washington back in the lead 23–17.

Washington had a chance to increase their lead to 26–17, but rookie Ed “Too Tall” Jones blocked a Mark Mosley field goal attempt. As we fast forward to the game’s final minute, the Cowboys are faced with fourth and six at their 44-yard line. Longley connected with Bob Hayes for six yards, putting the ball at midfield.

On second down, with 35 seconds left in the game, Longley let it fly and hit Drew Pearson for a touchdown to win the game. The Cowboys outgained Washington 373 yards to 207 and had 23 first downs compared to the Redskins 11, but they turned the ball over five times. Turnovers had plagued them all season, but they got away with it this time, winning 24–23. Forty-nine years later, this game is still discussed and known as “The Clint Longley Game.”

Clint Longley (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) football card
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Clint Longley (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) football card
Drew Pearson (Dallas Cowboys wide receiver) football card
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Drew Pearson (Dallas Cowboys wide receiver) football card

The Cowboys had an easy time with the Cleveland Browns in the next to last game of the season, winning 41–17. It was their seventh win in the last eight weeks. The really good news is that the division-leading Cardinals lost, leaving the Cowboys just one game behind the Cardinals and Redskins. They could still make the playoffs if either of them lost in week fourteen and Dallas won.

In the final game of the regular season, the Redskins beat the Bears 42–0, and the Cardinals defeated the Giants 26–14. With nothing left to play for except pride, the Cowboys gave it their all in a Monday Night game against the Raiders. They outgained the Raiders 400 yards to 267 but came up short, losing 27–23.

As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I was very proud of this team. While some may have seen it as an unsuccessful and disappointing season, I saw it as a season in which a team refused to give up and a season to remember.

Guard Blaine Nye, tackle Rayfield Wright, middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan, free safety Cliff Harris, and wide receiver Drew Pearson made the Pro Bowl. Pearson also made All-Pro.

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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network

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