The Philadelphia Eagles faced an uphill battle as they took on the Dallas Cowboys in a Monday night game on November 12, 1979. Head Coach Dick Vermeil’s team had gotten off to a 6-1 start but, following three straight losses, was at 6-4 and in danger of falling out of contention in the NFC East. QB Ron Jaworski provided gritty leadership, HB Wilbert Montgomery was highly productive both running and receiving, and WR Harold Carmichael (pictured at right) had set a new NFL record by catching a pass in his 106th consecutive game the previous week. The defense lost its leader, MLB Bill Bergey, to a knee injury in the third week but was proving to be formidable and the kicking game, which had been a sore spot the previous year, was also much improved with the arrival of the barefoot-kicking rookie Tony Franklin.
The Cowboys were the defending NFC Champions and atop the division with an 8-2 record. In their twentieth season under Head Coach Tom Landry, they remained strong on offense with QB Roger Staubach throwing the ball and HB Tony Dorsett carrying, while the defense had weathered some key losses to retirement and injury to keep the club on track. Moreover, they had not lost to the Eagles at home since 1965 and were nine-point favorites.
There were 62,417 fans in attendance at Texas Stadium as well as a national television audience. The Cowboys had the first possession and, after Tony Dorsett ran for 24 yards on a sweep and FB Scott Laidlaw gained another eight, they came through with a big play when Roger Staubach went long to WR Tony Hill for a 48-yard touchdown. Rafael Septien added the extra point for the early 7-0 advantage.
Following a short series by the Eagles that resulted in a punt, Dallas was again on the move thanks to the running of Dorsett as well as Staubach but, after catching a second down pass, Dorsett was stripped of the ball by LB Jerry Robinson at the Philadelphia 41. It looked as though the reprieve would be a short one, but helped by a defensive holding call that nullified a third down sack, the Eagles maintained possession and Ron Jaworski passed to Harold Carmichael for 16 yards. A few plays later the drive stalled and, facing fourth-and-six, Tony Franklin was short on a 53-yard field goal attempt, but once again a Dallas penalty intervened and moved the visitors up five yards. Now facing fourth-and-one, the offense returned to the field and took the Cowboys by surprise as Jaworski passed to Carmichael for a 32-yard TD. Franklin added the game-tying point after.
Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles were back in scoring position after DB John Sciarra returned a Dallas punt 32 yards. Jaworski threw to Wilbert Montgomery for 15 yards but the series ultimately came up empty when Franklin was wide to the left on a 45-yard field goal try. With Staubach out due to a thigh injury, QB Danny White entered the game and the Cowboys were forced to punt following a short possession.
The Eagles lost their quarterback as well when Jaworski also had to leave the game due to a wrist injury suffered when he was hit by DE Harvey Martin and they turned to their backup, John Walton. The series ended with a punt but WR Steve Wilson of the Cowboys muffed the kick and LB Frank LeMaster recovered at the Dallas 29 with a minute remaining in the first half. The visitors immediately capitalized when Walton threw to WR Charlie Smith for a 29-yard touchdown and, with Franklin’s conversion, Philadelphia was ahead by 14-7.
However, the Eagles weren’t done as SS Randy Logan intercepted a White pass on the ensuing series at the Dallas 42 that set up a club-record 59-yard field goal by Franklin, giving the Eagles not only a 17-7 halftime lead but a psychological lift.
Both starting quarterbacks were back in the game in the third quarter. In a drive that featured the running of Montgomery and FB Leroy Harris, the Eagles advanced into Dallas territory and scored on a Jaworski pass to Carmichael in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Franklin added the extra point to make it a 24-7 contest.
The Cowboys, now in a deeper hole, responded with a five-play possession that started with Staubach passing to Hill for 36 yards to the Philadelphia 31, but they came up empty when Septien’s field goal attempt from 47 yards was short. Later in the period, the Eagles failed to extend their lead when Franklin missed from 52 yards.
With six minutes left to play, Dallas finally got on the board again in electrifying fashion when Staubach threw long again to Hill (pictured at left) for a 75-yard touchdown. Getting the ball back with 2:48 remaining on the clock, the Cowboys advanced 72 yards in nine plays that concluded with another Staubach scoring pass, this time to TE Billy Joe DuPree from five yards out. Septien successfully converted after each TD and the margin was thus narrowed further to 24-21 with 1:19 to play. But any hopes of a stunning comeback were dashed when, on the following series and facing a crucial third down, the Eagles sealed the win as Montgomery broke away for a 37-yard TD. Franklin’s point after capped the 31-21 victory.
The Cowboys had the edge in total yards (408 to 328) while the teams were even with 17 first downs apiece. However, Dallas turned the ball over five times, to none by the Eagles, and Philadelphia recorded five sacks, to three by the home team.
Ron Jaworski completed just 12 of 29 passes for 145 yards, but two were for touchdowns and there were no interceptions. John Walton was two-of-six for 41 yards and a TD in his relief appearance. Wilbert Montgomery rushed for 127 yards on 25 carries that included a touchdown. Harold Carmichael had four catches for 69 yards and two TDs and Charlie Smith contributed four receptions for 54 yards and a score. John Sciarra had an outstanding night averaging 13.8 yards on six punt returns. Tony Franklin made good on only one of his four field goal attempts, but it was a big one.
For the Cowboys, Roger Staubach was successful on 17 of 28 throws for 308 yards and three TDs with none intercepted. Tony Hill (pictured at left) had a big night in defeat, catching 7 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Tony Dorsett gained 53 yards on 13 rushing attempts and had 7 catches for 64 more yards.
The Eagles climbed to a game behind Dallas with the win. It was the first of four straight and five in the last six games, but Philadelphia lost the rematch with the Cowboys and, while both clubs finished at 11-5, it was Dallas winning the division and the Eagles placing second, although reaching the postseason as a Wild Card. They defeated the Bears in the first round but lost to Tampa Bay at the Divisional level. Dallas also fell in the Divisional round, losing to the Rams.
Both Harold Carmichael and Wilbert Montgomery had Pro Bowl seasons, with Carmichael catching 52 passes for 872 yards (16.8 avg.) and 11 touchdowns and Montgomery gaining 2006 yards from scrimmage (1512 on 338 rushing attempts, 494 on 41 pass receptions) and compiling 14 TDs.
Tony Franklin (pictured at right) ended up kicking 23 field goals out of 31 attempts, with three of them coming from over 50 yards. Prone to inconsistency, his 74.2 percentage was the best of his five years in Philadelphia, although he would go on to better years in New England. The 59-yard field goal against the Cowboys remained his career high by far.
Tony Hill ended up with 60 catches for 1062 yards (17.7 avg.) and 10 touchdowns, and received Pro Bowl honors for the second year. His 213-yard pass receiving total against the Eagles remained his career best.