Still a classic four decades later
Here I go again. I promise to post every day, then I get lazy. Now I’m really getting lazy. This is why I almost never make resolutions when the calendar changes, even something as innocuous as promising to post to this blog every day.
Today is the 40th anniversary of one of the best Super Bowls played. Super Bowl X matched the Dallas Cowboys, winners of Super Bowl VI and losers of Super Bowl V, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defending world champions.
The Cowboys entered the 1975 season in a situation they had not found themselves in since 1966-entering a new season after failing to qualify for the playoffs the previous year. The 1974 Cowboys were plagued by injuries and started 1-4, falling far behind the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins in the NFC East race.
Dallas did have a memorable game in 1974. Clint Longley came off the bench early in the third quarter of the Thanksgiving Day game vs. the Redskins to take over at quarterback for Roger Staubach, who suffered a concussion on a hit by Diron Talbert. Longley brought the Cowboys back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to win 24-23 on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the final minute. The comeback was not enough to get the Cowboys into the playoffs, as they finished 8-6, losing their regular season finale at Oakland.
Not much was expected of the 1975 Cowboys. Bob Lilly, Mr. Cowboy himself and the game’s best defensive tackle, retired after 14 seasons. Fullback Walt Garrison was gone. So was free safety Cornell Green. Calvin Hill had defected to the World Football League. Many of the veteran core of Super Bowls V and VI who remained–Mel Renfro, Lee Roy Jordan, Ralph Neely–had grown old. Roger Staubach was only in his seventh season in the league, but he was already 32.
What the experts forgot when picking the Cowboys to finish far behind the Cardinals and Redskins in the NFC East was the mind of Tom Landry.
Landry resurrected the shotgun formation for 1975, giving Staubach a clear look at the opposing defense, as well as more time to find receivers coming open late. He could also use his mobility farther back in the pocket and open up other opportunities on the edges.
The 1975 Cowboys opened with victories over two playoff teams of 1974, the Rams and Cardinals, beating the latter 37-31 in overtime. Dallas went on to a 10-4 record and the NFC wild card, joining the Cardinals, Vikings and Rams in the postseason.
The Cowboys were decided underdogs in the NFC semifinals at Minnesota, but Dallas prevailed 17-14 on Roger Staubach’s long touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the game’s final minute. The pass became known as the Hail Mary when Staubach described the play as such in postgame interviews.
No such dramatics were needed in the NFC championship game. The Cowboys went to Los Angeles and crushed the Rams 37-7.
The Steelers had no hangover from their 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX, going 12-2 during the 1975 regular season. Pittsburgh easily squashed the resurgent Baltimore Colts in its first playoff game, then outlasted the hated Oakland Raiders 16-10 in the AFC championship game. Oakland reached the Steelers’ 23-yard line in the waning seconds, but time ran out before Cliff Branch could get out of bounds, sending Pittsburgh to Miami.
The headlines off the field were much more intriguing than those on the field heading into Super Bowl X.
There was a massive ticket scam, and hundreds of people spent hundreds of dollars only to be forced to watch the game in a hotel instead of the Orange Bowl.
For those who had tickets, it wasn’t much more pleasant. South Florida was hit with an unusual cold spell, closing hotel pools and leaving many unprepared tourists shivering in shorts and no coats when temperatures plunged into the low 50s. It was 57 degrees at kickoff, 13 degrees cooler than the last Super Bowl played in Miami (Super Bowl V), but still 11 degrees warmer than it was at kickoff for Super Bowl IX in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium.
Figuring they had nothing to lose and needed to pull out all the stops to beat the Steelers, the Cowboys wasted no time in fooling the Steelers.
Preston Pearson, who played for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX before being waived in training camp in July 1975, just in front of his own goal line. At the 9, he handed the ball to rookie linebacker Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson, who came speeding around left end and brought the pigskin all the way to the Steeler 44. Although Dallas didn’t score on its opening possession, it soon would have the ball deeper in Pittsburgh territory when a poor snap to punter Bobby Walden forced him to eat the ball at his own 29.
On the Cowboys’ first play of their second possession, Staubach found Drew Pearson streaking right to left across the Steeler secondary. Pearson caught Staubach’s pass in stride and raced to the game’s first touchdown.
Pittsburgh responded with a touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to Randy Grossman out of a three tight-end formation which had Dallas’ defense bunched up to stop Franco Harris. .The Steelers moved into Dallas territory on a spectacular pass from Bradshaw to Lynn Swann down the right sideline. Swann had to make a leaping catch AND get both feet inbounds. It was simply sensational, but Swann was far from done.
Trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, Swann made a diving catch over the Cowboys’ Mark Washington, but the Steelers could not capitalize, and Dallas led 10-7 at halftime.
The Steelers’ Roy Gerela missed two field goals during the scoreless interregnum. Each time, Cowboys safety Clioff Harris taunted Gerela, but after the second miss, Pittsburgh middle linebacker Jack Lambert threw Harris to the ground like a rag doll. Fortunately for both teams, referee Norm Schachter–officiating his third Super Bowl and his final NFL game–and his crew were able to keep calm, and nobody was ejected.
It was still 10-7 early in the fourth quarter when Pittsburgh turned the tide in its favor.
In Super Bowl IX, Walden had a punt blocked in the fourth quarter which resulted in the lone Minnesota touchdown when Terry Brown recovered in the end zone.
This time, the Steelers blocked the punt. Reserve running back Reggie Harrison busted through the Cowboys’ protection and swatted Mitch Hoopes’ punt back over his head and out of the end zone for a safety. Not only was Pittsburgh now within a point, it would get the ball back on the free kick.
The Steelers scored a field goal off the free kick to take the lead for the first time, 12-10, and soon had the ball back when Mike Wagner intercepted Stabuach deep in Dallas territory. Another field goal by Gerela made it 15-10.
On Pittsburgh’s next possession, Bradshaw threw deep downfield to Swann, who torched Mark Washington for a 64-yard touchdown. Gerela missed the extra point, but it was still 21-10, and without the 2-point conversion, the Cowboys needed two touchodwns to win with only 3:02 to go.
Bradshaw did not see what happened downfield. Just after he launched the pass, he was knocked out cold by Cowboys defensive end Larry Cole. Had that hit occurred in today’s NFL, Cole would have been penalized and likely faced a hefty fine, since he drove his helmet into Bradshaw’s. In 1975, nobody cared that Cole used his helmet; the concern was more for Bradshaw, who was out of the game.
Dallas got the first touchdown it needed on a 34-yard strike from Staubach to Percy Howard. It turned out to be the only catch of Howard’s professional career.
Pittsburgh guard Gerry Mullins recovered Toni Fritsch’s onside kick, but the Steelers did not gain a first down on three attempts, leaving it fourth-and-8. Instead of punting, Chuck Noll called for another running play, not worried that he would leave the Cowboys a shorter field. He was worried to death about a bad snap to Walden in punt formation, knowing a fumble would leave Dallas inside the Pittsburgh 30.
Noll’s strategy didn’t bite the Steelers. On the last play of the game, Glen Edwards intercepted Staubach’s attempted Hail Mary in the end zone. Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17.
After years of boring blowouts, Super Bowl X had all the drama the Super Bowl was supposed to embody. The Cowboys may have lost, but nobody would dare call them losers.
Two interesting facts from Super Bowl X:
- Many scenes for the movie Black Sunday were filmed in Miami during the game. The plot revolved around a deranged former pilot hijacking the Goodyear blimp and using it as a weapon of mass destruction.
- This was the first Super Bowl where Pat Summerall called play-by-play. His analyst, Tom Brookshier, left the booth in the fourth quarter in anticipation of the trophy presentation in the winning locker room. Hank Stram, who at the time was not coaching, took Brookshier’s place for the final period. Two days later, Stram would be named coach of the Saints. By 1978, Stram would become a full-time broadcaster.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of…SUPER BOWL NONE. No Super Bowl has ever been contested on January 19, and none will, unless there is a radical change in the NFL calendar.