January 17, 2011

1971: Colts Beat Cowboys in Super Bowl V with FG in Last Seconds

It has been referred to as the “Blooper Bowl” for the sloppiness of much of the play, yet Super Bowl V was also a closely-fought contest that came down to the final seconds. It was the first to be played in the newly-restructured NFL and, unlike its four predecessors, was no longer a contest between champions of rival leagues – it now served as the NFL Championship game.

The American Football Conference (AFC) was the remnant of the American Football League that had merged into the NFL for the 1970 season, although its Super Bowl representative was one of three existing franchises from the older league that was moved into the AFC in order to provide two balanced 13-team conferences. The Baltimore Colts had gone 11-2-1 in 1970 to win the AFC East, and had beaten the Bengals in the Divisional round and Raiders for the conference title.

The Colts were an aging club with a new head coach in Don McCafferty, who had replaced Don Shula when he departed for Miami. 37-year-old QB Johnny Unitas still guided the offense, with occasional relief from 36-year-old backup Earl Morrall. The running game was mediocre due to injuries, while wide receivers Eddie Hinton and Roy Jefferson were primary targets for the passing game. The defense was solid, however, featuring DE Bubba Smith, MLB Mike Curtis, OLB Ted Hendricks, and safeties Rick Volk and Jerry Logan.

Representing the National Football Conference (NFC), the old NFL minus the three transferred clubs, were the Dallas Cowboys. Under Head Coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys were in the postseason for the fifth consecutive year and topped the NFC East at 10-4 before beating the Lions and 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time. QB Craig Morton (pictured at right) fended off a challenge from second-year backup Roger Staubach and the running game didn’t suffer when RB Calvin Hill was injured and replaced by rookie FB Duane Thomas. Like the Colts, defense was the key to the team’s success and included such stalwarts as DT Bob Lilly, DE George Andrie, MLB Lee Roy Jordan, OLB Chuck Howley, CB Mel Renfro, and safeties Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters.

The game was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 17, 1971 with 80,055 fans in attendance on a pleasant day under clear skies. Dallas got the initial break of the game in the first quarter when Howley intercepted a Unitas pass. The Cowboys weren’t able to move the ball and had to punt, but got it back when Baltimore DB Ron Gardin fumbled the kick and Harris recovered at the Colts’ nine yard line. Dallas couldn’t score a touchdown, with Morton overthrowing WR Reggie Rucker in the end zone on third down, but Mike Clark kicked a 14-yard field goal to put the Cowboys ahead at 3-0.

Late in the opening period, the Cowboys commenced a drive that covered 57 yards in eight plays, featuring a 41-yard pass play from Morton to WR Bob Hayes, and, just into the second quarter, culminated in another Clark field goal, from 30 yards. The Colts responded quickly as, on the third play of the ensuing possession, Unitas fired a pass intended for Hinton that the wide receiver tipped and, after Renfro of the Cowboys also got a hand on it, TE John Mackey (pictured at left), who had been trailing the play, grabbed the ball at the Dallas 45 and ran unmolested the rest of the way for a 75-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked by DB Mark Washington, leaving the score tied at 6-6.

The Cowboys got another break halfway through the period when Unitas, forced to run out of the pocket, was hit hard by Jordan and fumbled; DT Jethro Pugh recovered for Dallas at the Baltimore 28. Three plays later, Morton connected with Thomas on a swing pass for a seven-yard touchdown.

Unitas left the game due to a rib injury and Morrall took over at quarterback for the Colts. Morrall started off well, completing two passes as Baltimore’s offense drove quickly down to the Dallas two yard line. However, three straight runs gained just a yard and on fourth-and-goal at the one, Coach McCafferty chose to go for the touchdown rather than attempt an easy field goal. Morrall’s pass intended for TE Tom Mitchell was incomplete and the Colts came away empty. The Cowboys led by 13-6 at halftime.

It looked as though Dallas might take decisive control of the game when the Colts fumbled away the second half kickoff at their own 21 yard line and the Cowboys proceeded to drive down to the one. But Thomas fumbled when hit by Baltimore’s Logan and CB Jim Duncan recovered for the Colts. Baltimore drove to the Dallas 44 in 11 plays, but Jim O’Brien was short on a 52-yard field goal attempt.

Baltimore failed to capitalize on a couple more opportunities as the second half progressed. Still in the third quarter, Morrall threw a pass to FB Tom Nowatzke that covered 45 yards to the Dallas 15 before the slow-footed back was pulled down from behind by CB Herb Adderley (pictured below). Following two running plays, Morrall threw into the end zone on third-and-six and was intercepted by Howley.

On their next possession, and now into the fourth quarter, the Colts tried a flea-flicker play, with Morrall pitching out to HB Sam Havrilak. However, due to Bob Lilly’s presence in the backfield near the quarterback, Havrilak didn’t toss it back and threw downfield. Eddie Hinton had broken into the clear and hauled in the pass at the Dallas 20 and appeared to be on his way to a score when he was hit hard by safety Cornell Green at the five and fumbled. The loose ball bounced through the end zone for a touchback despite the pursuit of several players.

Finally, three plays later it was Baltimore’s turn to benefit from a turnover. A pass from Morton intended for FB Walt Garrison was intercepted by Volk, who returned it 30 yards to the Dallas three. Two plays later, Nowatzke scored from two yards out, and with the successful PAT the score was tied at 13-13 with 7:35 remaining on the clock.

The teams traded punts, and with just inside of two minutes remaining, the Cowboys gained possession at the Baltimore 48. Thomas lost a yard on the first play and Morton was sacked by DT Fred Miller for a nine-yard loss on the second. To make matters worse, a holding penalty on the Cowboys took the ball all the way back to the Dallas 27 with the time down to 1:09. Morton threw a pass intended for HB Dan Reeves, but the ball bounced off the halfback’s hands as he was being hit by Logan and was intercepted by Curtis, who ran it back 13 yards to the Dallas 28.

The Colts ran two plays to the Dallas 25, running 50 seconds off the clock and setting up the field goal attempt. O’Brien, who had missed an extra point and a long field goal earlier, was successful from 32 yards (pictured at top) and the Colts came away as champions by a score of 16-13.

Baltimore outgained the Cowboys (329 yards to 217) and led in first downs (14 to 9). However, the numbers that drew the most attention were the 11 turnovers (7 by the Colts on four fumbles and three interceptions, 4 by Dallas on a fumble and three interceptions) and 14 penalties (10 called on the Cowboys, 4 on Baltimore).

Johnny Unitas completed just three of nine passes for 88 yards, with the TD on the deflected pass and two interceptions. Earl Morrall (pictured below), who gained some measure of vindication after having a poor performance in the Super Bowl III upset loss to the Jets, was successful on 7 of 15 throws for 147 yards with one picked off. Neither team was able to move the ball well on the ground, and of the 69 rushing yards for the Colts, Tom Nowatzke accounted for 33 on 10 carries with a TD while rookie RB Norm Bulaich, who had run well in the prior playoff games, carried 18 times for just 28 yards. Roy Jefferson caught three passes for 52 yards while John Mackey, with the long TD, gained a club-leading 80 yards on two receptions.

For the Cowboys, Craig Morton went to the air 26 times and completed 12 for 127 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Walt Garrison ran for 65 yards on 12 attempts while Duane Thomas was held to 35 yards on 18 carries. Dan Reeves led the team with 5 pass receptions for 46 yards out of the backfield - only one completion wasn’t to a running back, and that was the 41-yard reception by Hayes in the first half.

Among the contest’s oddities, Chuck Howley (pictured below) became the first member of a losing team to be named MVP of the game. “It’s nice, but I wish we had won the game,” he said.

“The big play was in the third period,” said Tom Landry. “That was when Duane Thomas fumbled on the Colt goal line. If he had scored, we would have had a 20-6 lead and the Colts would have had to do a lot of catching up. After that, it was nothing but errors for us.”

While John Mackey commented afterward, “We were lucky and I’d rather be lucky than good”, veteran OT Bob Vogel said, “So what if we were lucky? I’ve had luck decide against us so many times that I’m sick of it…The way I look at it, we’re getting the Super Bowl ring because we won the games that counted. We deserve it.”

For the Colts as a team, as well as Morrall personally, the win laid to rest the ghost of the Super Bowl upset two years before. It was also a last hurrah for many of the older players who had made the club an annual contender for several seasons, including Unitas, Morrall, Vogel, Mackey, Logan, and DT Billy Ray Smith. While Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship game in ’71, most of those veterans were gone soon thereafter and the next time the franchise played in a Super Bowl, it was representing Indianapolis following the 2006 season.

The defeat added to the perception of the Cowboys as a team that came up short in big games, which was not eradicated until the next year when they dominated the Dolphins to win their first championship in Super Bowl VI.