January 16, 2010

1972: Cowboys Finally Win Title, Defeat Miami in Super Bowl VI

The Dallas Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 and, under Head Coach Tom Landry, steadily developed into a contending team. By 1966, they were in the postseason and battled the Green Bay Packers fiercely in two losing NFL Championship games. They continued to reach the playoffs, falling farther short before making it to their first Super Bowl appearance after the 1970 season and losing a close contest to the Colts. The Cowboys had outstanding personnel and were well coached, but had yet to win it all.

In 1971, Dallas went 11-3 in winning the NFC East. They had started slowly and were 4-3 at midseason, when Landry finally stopped alternating his two quarterbacks, Craig Morton and Roger Staubach, and handed the job exclusively to Staubach (pictured above). The Cowboys responded by winning their remaining seven games and vaulting past Minnesota and San Francisco to win the conference title. The running game was strong, especially when RB Duane Thomas ended his holdout. The defense was solid and included DT Bob Lilly, linebackers Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan, CB Mel Renfro, and SS Cornell Green.

The team the Cowboys faced in Super Bowl VI was the Miami Dolphins, under Head Coach Don Shula. The Dolphins were in the postseason for the second consecutive year, had won a thrilling Divisional playoff in overtime at Kansas City (see Dec. 25), and then shut out the Colts for the AFC Championship. Bob Griese was developing into an elite quarterback and had an outstanding target to stretch defenses in WR Paul Warfield. FB Larry Csonka and HB Jim Kiick were solid runners, with HB Mercury Morris providing outside speed.

It was a cool, sunny day, and there were 80,591 fans at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans for the game on January 16, 1972. The Dolphins made the first mistake in the opening quarter when Csonka muffed a handoff and fumbled for the first time all season. Howley recovered for the Cowboys near midfield. Dallas proceeded with an 11-play drive that ended with a Mike Clark field goal from 9 yards out and a 3-0 lead.

On the next series, the Cowboys defense made a huge play when Griese, on third-and-nine at his own 38 yard line, couldn’t find an open receiver and began to scramble ever further back, finally being sacked by Lilly for a 29-yard loss. The Cowboys scored their first touchdown after a long second quarter drive of 76 yards in 10 plays, with Staubach passing to WR Lance Alworth for a seven-yard TD.

Miami was able to drive quickly down the field on their next possession and score on a 31-yard Garo Yepremian field goal with four seconds left in the half. The Dallas lead at the intermission was 10-3, but they had clearly dominated play.

The Cowboys essentially put the game away in their first drive of the second half, going 71 yards capped by Thomas running in for a TD from three yards out. It was a clear demonstation of Dallas’ ability to run the football effectively – all but one of the eight plays in the possession were runs, with one of them a 16-yard reverse by WR Bob Hayes.

The Miami offense was stymied in the third quarter, running 10 plays and gaining 13 yards. Early in the fourth quarter, Griese threw a pass at midfield intended for Kiick that was picked off by Howley and returned 41 yards to the Dolphins 9 yard line. TE Mike Ditka (pictured at right) scored on a seven-yard pass from Staubach three plays later.

Miami was able to enter Dallas territory on the following drive, for the only time in the second half, making it to the 16 yard line before Cowboys DE Larry Cole recovered a fumble by Griese to end the threat. Dallas came close to scoring again, controlling the ball for the next 6:40 and driving to the Miami four before RB Calvin Hill fumbled and DT Manny Fernandez recovered for the Dolphins.

Miami went nowhere in the remaining time and the final score stood at a convincing 24-3 win for the Cowboys.

Reflecting the score, the statistics showed conclusively that Dallas had controlled the game. The Cowboys outgained the Dolphins, 352 total yards to 185, with 23 first downs to 10 for Miami. 252 of those yards came on the ground, with Duane Thomas (pictured at bottom) leading the team with 95 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown. FB Walt Garrison also had solid numbers, with 14 rushes for 74 yards. Roger Staubach, the game’s MVP, completed 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards with two TDs and none picked off. Thomas was the leading receiver for the Cowboys, with three catches (for 17 yards) while Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth tied for most receiving yards with 28, each on two catches including a score.

Miami’s strong running game was held to 80 yards; Jim Kiick and Larry Csonka ran for 40 yards apiece. Bob Griese passed 23 times with 12 completions for 134 yards and an interception. Paul Warfield was the leading receiver with 4 catches for 39 yards, but was kept from burning the Cowboys deep throughout the game.

Said Don Shula afterward, “My biggest disappointment was that we never challenged. They completely dominated.”

The Cowboys finally had a championship, but while remaining contenders, lost the next two NFC Championship games. Miami was still on the rise and won the following two Super Bowls, with a particularly memorable season in 1972 (see Jan. 14).