1975 Dallas Cowboys Draft Class (Was It the Best Ever?)

1975 was supposed to be a season of rebuilding for the Cowboys. Veterans Bob Lilly, Cornell Green, Dave Manders, and Walt Garrison had all retired during the off-season. Bob Hayes was traded to the 49ers, John Niland to the Eagles, Craig Morton to the Giants, and Calvin Hill joined the WFL. That’s a lot of big shoes to fill.

Most of the so-called experts had predicted a long season for the Dallas Cowboys. Most said they would be fortunate to finish with a .500 winning percentage and the playoffs were highly unlikely. But what the experts failed to understand is that the Cowboys don’t rebuild; they reload!

Introducing the 1975 Draft Class

Led by the Cowboys VP Gil Brandt, the scouting team for the Cowboys pulled off one of the best drafts in NFL history. In all, twelve rookies made the team, and among them was offensive tackle Pat Donovan, who went on to a great career–earning pro bowl honors four times.

Middle linebacker Bob Breunig went on to play in three pro bowls, and guard Herb Scott was also a three-time pro bowl selection. Perhaps the best all-around athlete on the team, Thomas Henderson became one of the best outside linebackers in the league until a drug addiction led to his downfall.

One of them, a young man named Randy White, had a Hall of Fame career. They nicknamed him “The Manster” and tagged the 12 rookies as the “Dirty Dozen.”

Preston Pearson was another valuable addition to the team, who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Along with Pearson and the dirty dozen, the Cowboys still had seasoned veterans. Players like Rayfield Wright, Jethro Pugh, Lee Roy Jordan, and Mel Renfro provided valuable leadership.

A Surprising Season

To everyone’s surprise, the Cowboys started the season off with four wins in a row and finished the season at 10–4. They were to meet the defending NFC champion Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.

The Vikings were heavily favored in this game, but going into the 4th quarter, the Cowboys held the lead at 10–7 in a hard-hitting defensive battle. The Vikings had only one good offensive drive the whole game, but it came at the right time.

In the 4th quarter, the Vikings scored the go-ahead touchdown to take a 14–10 lead. Dallas took possession of the ball with under two minutes left in the game, but they couldn’t get anything going and faced a 4th and 16. It looked like their Cinderella season was over.

But Roger Staubach thought otherwise and hit Drew Pearson for a 25-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, from the 50-yard line, Staubach launched a pass to Drew Pearson that was slightly underthrown. Pearson reached back for the ball, caught it against his hip, and ran it in for the winning touchdown. After the game, a reporter asked Staubach about the play, and Staubach said he just threw the ball up and said a Hail Mary prayer. The play would forever be known as the “Hail Mary Pass.”

Dallas traveled to LA to face a powerful Rams team that destroyed an outstanding St. Louis Cardinals team in the other playoff game. The Rams entered the NFC title game with a 13–2 record. One of those losses came against Dallas in week one. Some still refused to give the Cowboys their due, saying they won on a fluke play and ignoring that Dallas had outplayed Minnesota. The Cowboys had outgained the Vikings 356 yards to 215.

The Cowboys played their best game of the entire season against the Rams. It was never even close. Dallas beat LA in every way possible and walked away with a 37–7 victory. Now it was on to Miami for their 3rd Super Bowl appearance.

This team that few predicted to finish with a winning record had proven everyone wrong. The Cinderella Dallas Cowboys would be facing the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Once again, no one gave the Cowboys a chance to win, but here they were, leading by a 10–7 score in the 4th quarter.

The Steelers went on to win, 21–17, in one of the best Super Bowl’s ever played. But it had been a fantastic season for the Cowboys and one that no one could have expected.

One of the reasons the Steelers won was possibly the 1974 draft class, another contender for the greatest NFL draft class.

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
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier

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