On November 14, 1965 the struggling Dallas Cowboys hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had beaten them two weeks previously. In their sixth season under Head Coach Tom Landry, the Cowboys had started the season with two big wins before dropping five consecutive games, finally breaking the streak with a win over the 49ers the previous week to be at 3-5. At the center of the storm was QB Don Meredith (pictured above), who had a bad elbow and delivered uneven performances, and was challenged by backups Jerry Rhome and Craig Morton. The running game lacked outside speed but rookie split end Bob Hayes provided plenty of that for the passing game and was one of several promising young players on the roster.
Pittsburgh’s season had gotten off to a bad start two weeks before it started when Head Coach Buddy Parker abruptly quit. Mike Nixon took his place and the team lost its first five games. Veteran FB John Henry Johnson went down with a knee injury, 37-year-old QB Ed Brown was ineffectual, and his young replacement, QB Bill Nelsen, was hampered by a bad knee. While the Steelers won two straight games, they were coming off of a loss the previous week and had a 2-6 record coming into Dallas.
A big crowd of 57,923 was in attendance at the Cotton Bowl on a warm afternoon. The fans booed Don Meredith during pregame introductions and he was a target of disaffection for much of the contest. The Steelers got the first break when safety Willie Daniel intercepted a Meredith pass and returned it nine yards to the Dallas 44. In a drive that took seven plays, HB Dick Hoak carried for the last three, gaining eight and five yards before scoring on a three-yard touchdown. Mike Clark added the extra point.
Bob Hayes returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to the Dallas 43 and the Cowboys took eight plays to advance the remaining distance. Meredith rolled out and threw to split end Frank Clarke in the left corner of the end zone for a one-yard TD and Danny Villanueva’s kick tied the game at 7-7.
In the second quarter, a promising Dallas series ended with an interception by DB Bob Sherman. The Steelers had to punt, with Frank Lambert’s kick sailing into the end zone for a touchback, and this time the Cowboys didn’t turn the ball over. Meredith completed passes to Hayes, FB Don Perkins, and rookie HB Dan Reeves to reach the Pittsburgh 13, but the advance stalled there and the home team settled for a 33-yard field goal by Villanueva to move ahead by 10-7.
The teams settled into a stalemate until late in the period. Bill Nelsen threw deep to split end Roy Jefferson for a gain of 45 yards and he nearly went farther before being tripped up by safety Obert Logan at the Dallas 21. Nelsen followed up with another completion, this time to flanker Gary Ballman at the two. Rolling to his left on the next play, the quarterback overthrew FB Mike Lind, who was open in the end zone, but the Cowboys were called for an offside penalty and the ball was placed at the one. Nelsen twice tried to sneak across the goal line but was stopped, and on fourth down Hoak was held to no gain.
Dallas was forced to punt on the ensuing series and safety Clendon Thomas, calling for a fair catch, muffed the kick and DB Don Bishop recovered for the Cowboys at the Pittsburgh 41. But the score remained unchanged at halftime when Villanueva’s 46-yard field goal attempt sailed to the right.
Pittsburgh had the first possession in the third quarter and drove to a 32-yard field goal by Clark that tied the score at 10-10. Late in the period, the Steelers’ punt return unit made a big play when Hayes fumbled a kick by Lambert and TE Lee Folkins, an ex-Cowboy, grabbed the bouncing ball and ran 18 yards for a touchdown. Clark added the PAT and the Steelers were ahead by 17-10.
In the fourth quarter, a Nelsen pass was picked off by CB Cornell Green at the Dallas 49. The Cowboys advanced 51 yards in five plays, the biggest a Meredith pass to Reeves that gained 47 yards. Reeves ran the last two yards for a TD and Villanueva knotted the score once again at 17-17.
Another interception of a Nelsen pass, this time by safety Mel Renfro, gave the Cowboys the ball once more near midfield, but Meredith fumbled when hit from behind and Pittsburgh LB John Campbell picked up the loose ball and ran to the Dallas 28. Helped by a penalty on the defense, the Steelers moved to the 17 with Ed Brown now in the game at quarterback. But Brown, throwing toward Jefferson near the goal line, gave up an interception to Logan instead.
The Steelers got another shot with less than three minutes remaining to play, and the result was yet another interception, this time by LB Dave Edwards. After HB Perry Lee Dunn ran for four yards to the Pittsburgh 28 just prior to the two-minute warning, Meredith connected with Hayes, who caught the ball at the 12 and broke away from CB Brady Keys for a 28-yard touchdown. Villanueva converted and the Cowboys won by a final score of 24-17.
Dallas had the lead in total yards (341 to 197) and first downs (15 to 12). The Steelers, who gained just 50 yards on the ground, hurt themselves with six turnovers, five of which were interceptions, although the Cowboys turned the ball over five times. Both teams recorded four sacks apiece.
Don Meredith completed 14 of 31 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns while being intercepted twice. Bob Hayes (pictured below) accounted for 5 catches for 95 yards and the game-winning TD. Perry Lee Dunn led the club with 47 rushing yards on 13 carries and added another 26 on two pass receptions. Dan Reeves ran for just 10 yards on 6 carries but gained 73 yards on three catches.
For the Steelers, Bill Nelsen was successful on 11 of 25 throws for 172 yards with no TDs and two were picked off. Ed Brown had no completions in four attempts, three of which were intercepted. Roy Jefferson had a big performance by catching four passes for 108 yards. Mike Lind led the rushers with 26 yards on 9 attempts and had four pass receptions for 25 yards.
The win put the Cowboys in a tie for third in the Eastern Conference at 4-5 and, while they lost their next two games, they finished strong with three victories to tie for second with the Giants in the Eastern Conference at 7-7, their first non-losing record. It set the stage for a first place showing in ’66. As for the Steelers, they failed to win again the rest of the way, typically being blown out as they ended up in the conference’s basement after compiling a 2-12 tally.
Don Meredith completed only 46.2 percent of his passes due to his slow start, but ended up throwing for 2415 yards and 22 touchdowns as adjustments to the offense allowed him to utilize his mobility to better effect. Bob Hayes had 46 catches for 1003 yards (21.8 avg.) and scored 12 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl.