It was a memorable season for this 9-year-old Cowboys fan.
After losing the Super Bowl eight months earlier on a last-second field goal, the Cowboys started the 1971 season with a not-so-impressive win. The Cowboys’ pass defense struggled in a 49–37 victory over the Buffalo Bills, allowing 353 yards in passing yardage. The game’s big play for Dallas was a Craig Morton to Bob Hayes 76 yd touchdown pass.
Doomsday Defense Done?
The defense rebounded in Week 2, allowing the Eagles just 170 yards in total offense and forcing eight turnovers en route to a 42–7 win. Herb Adderly had three interceptions, and Bob Lilly returned a fumble recovery for a TD.
But in a Week 3 20–16 loss to Washington, the Cowboys’ run defense struggled, giving up 200 yards on the ground. In a Week 4 Monday Night 20–13 win over the Giants, Craig Morton connected with Bob Hayes for a 48yd touchdown, and the Cowboys ran for 222 yards. But there was still cause for concern on the defensive side of the ball as they allowed 294 yards passing.
Roger Staubach Leads the Cowboys
Roger Staubach connected with Gloster Richardson on a 41-yard touchdown strike in Week 5. The Cowboys outgained the Saints 300 to 157 yards but still managed to lose the game 24–14 as they turned the ball over six times. Dallas bounced back the next week with a 44–21 win over the Patriots in their new Texas Stadium. Duane Thomas had a 56 yd touchdown run, and Bob Hayes had two touchdowns while gaining 83 yards.
Things reached a boiling point in a Week 7 loss to the Bears. The Doomsday Defense held the Bears to just seven first downs and 194 total yards. The Cowboys’ offense gained 481 yards and had 26 first downs, but seven turnovers did them in as the Bears took the win 23–19.
A big part of the Cowboys’ struggles was the indecisiveness of Coach Tom Landry in choosing a starting quarterback. He finally settled on Roger Staubach, who completed 20 of 31 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown in a 16–13 win over the Cardinals. Duane Thomas ran for 101 yards while Lance Alworth caught eight passes for 89 yards.
Heading Towards the Super Bowl
A lackluster 20–7 win over the Eagles was followed by a 13–0 win over Washington. The Redskins, who had gained 200 yards rushing in their Week 3 win over Dallas, were held to just 65 yards this time. The Cowboys D, which had struggled earlier in the season, was now clicking on all cylinders. Then, in a 28–21 victory over the Rams on Thanksgiving Day, Ike Thomas returned a kickoff 89 yards for a TD, and Staubach connected with Bob Hayes on a 51-yard touchdown.
In a 52–10 shellacking of the Jets, Ike Thomas returned a kickoff for a TD for the second week in a row, this time for 101 yards. The Cowboys’ offense gained 439 yards as Duane Thomas ran for 112 yards and scored a touchdown. Calvin Hill also had a big day gaining 62 yards on the ground and 80 yards receiving while scoring two touchdowns. The Doomsday Defense held the Jets to 149 total yards and forced six turnovers.
Dallas kept their winning streak alive with an easy 42–14 win over the Giants in Week 13. Bob Hayes had a big game catching four passes for 154 yards, including two touchdown receptions of 46 and 85 yards, respectively. The Cowboys D had five sacks, forced five turnovers, and held the Giants to just 64 yards rushing. In the final game of the regular season, Duane Thomas scored four touchdowns, one for 34 yards and another for 53 yards, as the Cowboys cruised to a 31–12 win over the Cardinals.
Dallas would now travel to Minnesota for the divisional playoff game. The 11–3 Vikings had the best defense in the NFL and held the Cowboys to just 183 total yards, but the Dallas D forced five turnovers and won the game 20–12. Then, for the second year in a row, the Cowboys would face the 49ers for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Victory Is So Close
The 49ers had perhaps the most potent passing game in the NFL, but Doomsday held them to 184 yards through the air and intercepted three passes. The Cowboys gained 172 yards rushing while holding the 49ers to just 61 yards on the ground. Dallas won 14–3, and now it was on to the Super Bowl to face the Miami Dolphins.
Although a very young team, the Dolphins were no slouch. Miami came into the game with a 12–3–1 record and had defeated the 1969 Super Bowl Champion KC Chiefs and the 1970 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Colts in the playoffs. But Super Bowl Vl was never close.
On the final play of the first quarter, Bob Lilly and Larry Cole chased down quarterback Bob Griese for a 29-yard sack. The Cowboys running game churned out 252 yards while the Dolphins’ RBs gained only 80 yards. Dallas coasted to an easy 24–3 victory. It took six years of post-season play, but the Dallas Cowboys were finally the World Champions!
On a personal note, it was a memorable season for this 9-year-old Cowboys fan. After watching my team struggle in the first half of the season, the Cowboys reeled off ten wins in a row, capping it off with a Vince Lombardi trophy. In my opinion, the 1971 team may have been the Cowboys’ best team ever.
Even with that statement, it’s possible the 1975 Cowboys draft class was the best in NFL history.
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.