November 28, 2010

1974: Clint Longley Rallies Cowboys Past Redskins

The Dallas Cowboys were in the midst of a transition season as they hosted the arch-rival Washington Redskins in a Thanksgiving Day game on November 28, 1974 at Texas Stadium. Having started off at 1-4, they won four straight games prior to losing at Washington eleven days earlier. While they beat the Oilers the previous Sunday, Dallas was 6-5 and languishing behind both the Redskins and Cardinals in the NFC East. Head Coach Tom Landry’s club had a great deal of youth on offense, and young defensive ends Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin were still transitioning into the reforming defense.

Head Coach George Allen’s Redskins had won four straight contests and were 8-3 as they sought to keep pace with St. Louis. Whether 40-year-old Sonny Jurgensen or Billy Kilmer, 35 years old and in his 12th season, were at quarterback, Washington scored points. The veteran team was also sound on defense, Allen’s specialty.

The first half was low-scoring. Efren Herrera kicked a 24-yard field goal in the first quarter to put the first points on the board, concluding a drive kept alive by a fake punt in which punter Duane Carrell passed to DB Benny Barnes for a 37-yard gain. But the Redskins had replied with three Mark Moseley field goals, of 45, 34, and 39 yards, to hold a 9-3 lead at halftime.

It seemed as though the Redskins had taken control of the game in the third quarter. Following a fumble on the opening play of the second half by RB Walt Garrison, former Cowboys RB Duane Thomas caught a swing pass from Kilmer and went nine yards for a touchdown. The score was now 16-3, and when Dallas QB Roger Staubach was hit hard by LB Dave Robinson and forced from the game with just under ten minutes remaining in the period, it seemed as though all hope was lost for the Cowboys.

Replacing Staubach at quarterback was Clint Longley (pictured at top), a rookie out of Abilene Christian who had never appeared in a regular season game as a pro. He had actually been chosen by Cincinnati in the 1974 supplemental draft, but was dealt to the Cowboys just prior to the start of training camp. Longley earned the nickname “The Mad Bomber” when he threw an errant pass that hit Coach Landry’s tower during a workout.

Prior to the contest, Washington DT Diron Talbert had told reporters that he hoped Staubach would try running with the ball against the Redskins because if they could knock him out of the game, they would be facing the untested rookie at quarterback. Those words would come back to haunt him.

Longley promptly moved the offense downfield, and capped the drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to TE Billy Joe Dupree that narrowed Washington’s lead to 16-10. On the next possession, the Cowboys again drove deep into Redskins territory. When Garrison plowed over for a touchdown from a yard out and Herrera booted the extra point, Dallas was in the lead at 17-16. The previously-subdued Texas Stadium crowd had come alive.

However, Washington was far from finished. Early in the fourth quarter the Redskins regained the lead, again thanks to Thomas, who ran 19 yards for a touchdown and 23-17 tally. It looked as though they would further pad their margin after DE Ron McDole recovered a fumble by Dallas RB Charley Young. Washington moved into field goal range with five minutes remaining on the clock, but “Too Tall” Jones blocked Moseley’s 24-yard attempt.

It seemed as though the break was for nothing when RB Preston Pearson fumbled the ball back to the Redskins. However, Washington’s offense, playing conservatively, ran three plays and punted. Now with 1:45 remaining and no timeouts, Longley and the Cowboys had one more shot.

Washington’s defense seemed on the verge of squelching the threat, but on a fourth-and-six play, Longley passed to WR Bob Hayes for exactly six yards and a first down at the 50 yard line. After tossing an incompletion, Longley then sent WR Drew Pearson long, hit him in stride at the four yard line, and the wide receiver continued on into the end zone. Herrera was successful on the PAT, and the Cowboys had a one-point lead with 28 seconds to play.

There would be no last-second heroics for the Redskins, however, as Dallas recovered a Kilmer fumble on the first play to preserve the 24-23 win.

The Cowboys ended up outgaining Washington, 373 yards to 207, and led in first downs by 23 to 11. But they were nearly undone by giving up five turnovers, as opposed to one by the Redskins.

The flu-ridden Roger Staubach had completed only three of 11 passes for 32 yards with an interception before being forced out of the game – he had even been outpassed by the punter Carrell, with his one completion for 37 yards. But Clint Longley was good on 11 of 20 passes for 203 yards with the two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Drew Pearson (pictured at bottom), who caught the winning TD, had a big day with 5 catches for 108 yards. Billy Joe Dupree added three receptions for 65 yards and a TD. With top runner Calvin Hill out due to injury, RB Robert Newhouse led the Cowboys with 66 yards on 16 attempts.

For Washington, Billy Kilmer went to the air 17 times, completing 8 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Duane Thomas (pictured at left) had 18 rushing attempts for 55 yards and a TD and had the most pass receptions for the club with three, for 24 yards and a score. RB Moses Denson was right behind in the rushing column with 50 yards on 15 carries. WR Roy Jefferson had the most receiving yards, with 49 on his two catches.

“Football is an incredible game,” said Tom Landry afterward. “This is what makes it so unbelievable. Anything can happen in football.”

“I don't have very much to say,” said a disappointed George Allen. “It was probably the toughest loss we ever had.”

The win didn’t salvage the season for the Cowboys – they ended up outside the postseason for the first time since 1965 with an 8-6 record that put them in third place in the NFC East. Washington ended up tied with the Cardinals with a 10-4 mark, but due to St. Louis having swept the season series, the Cards won the division title and the Redskins entered the playoffs as a wild card. They lost to the Rams in the Divisional playoff game.

The astonishing performance off the bench didn’t portend better things for Longley, either. Staubach was back in action the next week and beyond and the young backup was sparsely used through the 1975 season. Following the demise of the World Football League, QB Danny White was acquired and, with his WFL experience and ability to double as the team’s punter, Longley’s roster spot was insecure for ’76. Bad blood had developed between he and Staubach, and when Longley sucker-punched the star quarterback in the locker room during training camp, his career in Dallas swiftly ended. He was dealt to San Diego, where he backed up Dan Fouts and threw a total of 24 passes in his last NFL season.