Today we have Super Bowl VI, between the NFC champion Dallas Cowboys and the AFC champion Miami Dolphins. It was held on January 16, 1972, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, the second Super Bowl of the past three to be held at that site.
As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is: which NFL team is the only team to not be in possession of all its Lombardi Trophies? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.
Prelude to Super Bowl VI
The Cowboys were the class of the NFC in 1971. They finished with an 11-3 record, tied for the best record in the league. After a slow 4-3 start, the Cowboys won their final seven games in a row to win the NFC East title. The Cowboys had a quarterback controversy between Roger Staubach and Craig Morton, but Staubach won out, as he had much better numbers than Morton. While Morton completed only seven touchdown passes to eight interceptions, Staubach threw for fifteen touchdowns and only four picks. He would lead the way as the Cowboys marched to their second straight Super Bowl.
The NFL’s playoff system of the early seventies was nothing short of a joke. The Cowboys had a tie for the best record in the league, yet they had to go on the road in the first round to play the team who tied them for first in the conference, the Minnesota Vikings. You see, in the early seventies, the playoff matchups and sites were all determined prior to the season by a rotating schedule.
As it happened, the NFC East champion was scheduled to play at the NFC Central champion in 1971. There was no such thing as home-field advantage. But the Cowboys fought through, defeating the Vikings 20-12 in Minnesota to advance to the NFC Championship Game. This one they did get to play at home, and they defeated the San Francisco 49ers 14-3 to move on to Super Bowl VI.
The Cowboys threw for over 3,000 yards as a team in 1971, but Staubach had the lion’s share of that with over 1,800 yards. Running back Duane Thomas carried the ball 175 yards for nearly 800 yards and eleven scores. Walt Garrison was a dual-threat for the Cowboys offense, rushing 127 times for 429 yards, but also leading the team in receiving with forty catches for 396 yards.
The Dolphins finished with a tie for the best record in the AFC at 10-3-1. Like the Cowboys, they too had to go on the road in the first round to play the team who tied them for the best record, the Chiefs. The NFL would soon have to change their playoff format due to this ridiculous scheduling, but for now, the Dolphins would be just fine. They went into Kansas City and defeated the Chiefs 27-24 in double overtime in the longest game in NFL history. They’d then shut out the wild card Baltimore Colts at the Orange Bowl 21-0 to clinch their spot in their first Super Bowl.
Quarterback Bob Griese threw for nineteen touchdowns as opposed to just nine interceptions while passing for over 2,000 yards. The Dolphins’ backfield was a two-headed monster; Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick alternated carries. Csonka rushed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, while Kiick had over 700 yards and three more scores. Receiver Paul Warfield had a spectacular season by catching 43 balls for 996 yards and eleven scores.
Super Bowl VI: First Quarter
The Dolphins won the coin toss and elected to receive. They quickly went three-and-out and punted it away. The Cowboys got one first down on a Thomas run, before a sack by Miami defensive tackle Manny Fernandez set them back and caused them to have to kick it back. The Dolphins took the ball back at their own 42, and Csonka ran off the right side for a first down to start the drive. However, on the next play, he fumbled, and Super Bowl V MVP linebacker Chuck Howley recovered for the Cowboys.
Staubach scrambled on the first two plays of the new drive, and he got a first down at the Miami 41. Garrison then blasted ahead twice to get a first down past the 25. Staubach threw to receiver Bob Hayes for eighteen yards, then to Thomas for another sixteen. The Cowboys ended up settling for a nine-yard field goal by kicker Mike Clark to go up 3-0.
The most famous play from this game came on the next drive. On third down, Griese was under immense pressure, and he tried scrambling away. He kept running backward farther and farther until Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly sacked him for a 29-yard loss, which remains to this day the biggest loss on a single play in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl VI: Second Quarter
As the second quarter began, the Cowboys got the ball at their own 45 after a punt. Garrison ran ahead for six yards, then Thomas got the first down. Garrison caught a screen for four more, but the Cowboys ended up having to punt. Miami responded with Kiick rushing for nine yards, and Griese throwing a pass to receiver Howard Twilley for twenty more. That got the Dolphins far enough to try a field goal, but kicker Garo Yepremian missed his 49-yard attempt short, and it went into the books as a touchback.
The next two drives ended in punts, but Dallas got two first downs on their drive on Thomas and Garrison runs, while the Dolphins just went three-and-out. Interestingly, Dolphins head coach Don Shula tried a play that President Richard Nixon suggested; it ended with an incompletion. The Cowboys took the ball back at their own 24.
Thomas touched the ball on Dallas’s first four plays of this drive, and he got them as far as the 46. Staubach then found receiver Lance Alworth on third down for a 27-yard pickup. Running back Calvin Hill ran for another two first downs to get down inside the 10. Staubach then found Alworth in the near left corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown, and Dallas went up 10-0 with less than two minutes to go in the half.
The Dolphins put together their only scoring drive of the day in the last two minutes of the half. Griese hit Warfield for seven, then he went to Kiick for a first down at the 48. After an offside penalty on Dallas, Griese found Warfield for a first down inside the 25. That set up a 31-yard Yepremian field goal, and the Dolphins had their first points of the game. They still trailed, though, 10-3 going into the locker room.
Super Bowl VI: Third Quarter
Dallas made a statement on the first drive of the second half. Staubach threw to Hill for a third-down conversion and twelve yards to the 48. Thomas ran for eight, then another first down. Bullet Bob Hayes took an end around off the right side, and he picked up sixteen more. Garrison got it down inside the 5, then Thomas ran off the left side for a three-yard touchdown. Dallas now led 17-3.
The rest of the third quarter was all punts. The Dolphins went three-and-out on their first possession. Dallas got a first down on a pass to Garrison, but they too were forced to kick. Miami did nothing on their next possession, and Dallas followed with a three-and-out. The key play came when the Dolphins reached midfield. They had a chance to score and cut the Dallas lead in half, but Howley picked off a Griese pass and returned it forty yards to the Miami 40.
Super Bowl VI: Fourth Quarter
The Cowboys now had a chance to put this one in the bag. Facing third down and goal from the 7, Staubach found tight end, Mike Ditka, in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. That made it 24-3. The Dolphins needed points fast, so Griese was passing to start the next drive. He completed to Csonka for a first down at the 38, then he found tight end, Marv Fleming, for 27 yards into Dallas territory at the 32.
Griese then went to his other tight end, Jim Mandich, and he hauled it in for a first down at the 16. But on the very next play, Griese fumbled the exchange from center, and defensive end Larry Cole fell on it for Dallas. The Cowboys could now kill the clock. They ran off a ton of time, easily winning by a 24-3 margin.
Super Bowl VI Awards and Aftermath
The MVP of the game was Roger Staubach, but who really deserved MVP? In my mind, it had to be Dallas linebacker, Chuck Howley. I know, he was MVP of the last Super Bowl, but he deserved it even more for this game. He had a fumble recovery and an interception with a long return. Without him, this game might finish something like 10-3. Staubach threw for only 119 yards, although he did have two touchdowns. Howley should have earned his second straight MVP; he definitely turned this game on its head and set up Staubach for success.
The MVP of the losing team, who was it? There really weren’t many Miami players who played well at all. They got completely embarrassed and run off the field in this one. I’d have to go with receiver Paul Warfield for this award, simply because he caught four passes for 39 yards and helped set up his team’s only points of the day.
Who was the best player you’ve never heard of? The trouble with this award is that the Cowboys are so well-known that it’s very difficult to find one whom you’ve never heard about. How about Dallas punter Ron Widby? He set a Super Bowl record in this game for most punts in his career with fourteen. He punted it well in this game, one in which he was needed frequently.
The Least Valuable Player of this game sadly was future Hall of Famer Larry Csonka. Why him? He gained only forty yards in this game while fumbling away a key possession early in the game. One can point to his 4.4 yards per carry and argue that it was a fine game for him, but it really wasn’t. He struggled mightily and didn’t provide that pop that was necessary. However, he’d get his revenge the next two seasons.
What was the biggest play of the game? Obviously, the 29-yard sack by Bob Lilly has to be mentioned here. Lilly’s sack was the longest sack in yardage in Super Bowl history. It was indicative of what a blowout this game was and how far away the Dolphins were from contending.
The biggest play no one remembers? I’m going with Howley’s interception and long return. If he doesn’t pick off that pass, the Dolphins could have gone down and scored a touchdown and cut the Dallas lead in half. Instead, his pick set up an easy Cowboys touchdown to make it 24-3, which put this game on ice.
And that brings us to the answer to today’s pop quiz question is that this game had the coldest temperature of any Super Bowl in NFL history. The temperature at kickoff was 39 degrees Fahrenheit, just a bit above freezing. Since then, the NFL has tried to schedule the Super Bowl in warm locations and in domes. As for Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey, that game actually had a higher temperature than this one, even though it was played outdoors. The cold temperatures may have had something to do with the lack of offense in this game.
Finally, I’m giving you some homework. I recommend books that you should check out related to the game at hand. This one is simple: Breakthrough ‘Boys: The Story of the 1971 Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys by Jaime Aron, written ten years ago for the fortieth anniversary of this team.
This is the obvious choice for Super Bowl VI, and there’s really no other book you need about this game and the winning team. It is thorough, it is well-researched, it is entertaining, and it’s a must-have if you appreciate football in the seventies.
In two weeks, we move on to perfection. The 14-0 Miami Dolphins come into the Super Bowl at 16-0, trying to go 17-0 and end up as the only unbeaten and untied team in NFL history. On the other side? The Washington Redskins, the Over the Hill Gang put together by George Allen, with a bunch of veterans hoping to breakthrough. We will head to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the second and final Super Bowl held there, Super Bowl VII. Until then, this is Tommy A. Phillips. So long!
Host and Author - Tommy Phillips
Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why. Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey. He’s an author of multiple NFL books. You can purchase below.
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