The Dallas Cowboys were billed as “Next Year’s Champions” the “Bridesmaids of the NFL” due to their dramatic losses to the Green Bay Packers in the 1966 and 1967 NFL Title games. And the pressure to win it all only intensified when the Cowboys were embarrassed by the Browns away and at home in the 1968 and 1969 NFL playoffs, respectively. So when Super Bowl V arrived, and the Cowboys having won respectably en route to their championship berth, it was reasonable to presume the Cowboys would win despite the Colts being 2.5 favorites.
Super Bowl V remains as part of that heart-rendering time for older Cowboys fans. They would have liked to have seen longtime players like Pettis Norman, who were there when the Cowboys reeked in the early ’60s, taste the sweet championship nectar. Instead, Super Bowl V served them a bitter goblet of disappointment. And the thing that stings the most about Super Bowl V is it seemed like no one really wanted to win that day. At least in Super Bowls X and XIII, the Steelers were out to win on those fateful January days. In Super Bowl V, it’s like the Colts and the Cowboys had an aversion to the Lombardi Trophy similar to when a homeschool basketballer sees a booger on the basketball.
There were three critical plays in Super Bowl V that went against the Cowboys. Even if one of these plays goes in favor of the Cowboys, they go on to win the game. The first one was John Mackey’s fluke touchdown. Down 6-0 to the Cowboys, legendary Colts quarterback John Unitas throws a third down pass to Eddie Hinton that was uncatchable, as all Hinton could do was tip the ball. The ball was then tipped by Cowboys defensive back Mel Renfro and flew into the arms of John Mackey for a 75-yard touchdown. There is controversy over whether Renfro actually touched the ball. If he didn’t, then, according to the old passing rules at that time, the play would have been ineligible because two players from the offense couldn’t touch the pass in the same play. So that would have wiped away the play away. Or even if Renfro batted the ball down, that would have nullified the play. In either event, forcing a fourth down off of that play would have taken six points off the board, the Cowboys would have maintained a 6-0 lead, and they would have gotten the ball back. If Super Bowl V plays out even the same way, the Cowboys win 13-10.
The next momentous play was rookie runningback Duane Thomas’ fumble at the Colts 1 yard line. The Cowboys were ahead 13-6 at the time. To me, and for Cowboys fans with any first hand experience of this game or third person experience through highlight films and stories passed down like oral history, the issue has never been Duane Thomas’ fumble, which was unto itself dubious since offensive lineman John Niland remembers a referee shouting that Thomas had cleared the goal line before having the ball punched out. It was the fact Cowboys center Dave Manders came out from under the pile with the ball and referee Jack Fette awarded possession to the Colts based on Colts linebacker Billy Ray Smith shouting it was their ball.
That, more than any paternity test, tells me who Walt Coleman’s daddy is.
Although the Colts did nothing on the ensuing possession, the Cowboys were a yard away from either seven points or three. Three points would have made Jim O’Brien’s field goal at the end nothing more than a chance to tie the game at 16-all. A touchdown would have given the Cowboys a 20-13 lead that the Colts could have only hoped to tie in the game’s final minute. Both scenarios would have been good enough to win Super Bowl V for Dallas.
The third and final play that put us on the history course we’re on now was Craig Morton’s interception on 2nd down and 35 with less than two minutes in the game. He threw a pass to runningback Dan Reeves that was bobbled — much like Eddie George’s bobbled catch in the 2000 AFC Divisional playoffs — and picked off by Colts linebacker Mike Curtis. The Colts set up shop at the Cowboys 28 yard line. After running down the clock, Colts kicker Jim O’Brien, who was so nervous he missed an extra point off of the John Mackey touchdown earlier in the game, nailed the field goal coolly to give the Colts a 16-13 lead with five seconds remaining. If the Cowboys offense would have protected the ball, even with their unfortunate penalties, the game goes into overtime and maybe the Cowboys find a more humane way to stave off the breaking of so many hearts across America.
As I said, if you take any one of those three plays and turn them into a positive for the Cowboys, they go on to win Super Bowl V.
HOW THINGS WOULD BE DIFFERENT
1. No Roger Staubach — While the 1971 season was when Staubach beat out Morton to take his place at the offensive helm, the aftermath of Super Bowl V was when Craig Morton’s fate was sealed. Teammates saw Morton laughing and unfazed while their hearts were asunder. Coach Landry saw it too, which is why he met with Roger Staubach and his wife in the back of the team plane and told Staubach he would get his chance to start for the Cowboys. Staubach was already 29 years old and had ridden enough pine. In the ’71 season, the season he was promised to start at quarterback, he asked to be traded. Had the Cowboys traded Staubach, he would have gone on to have a storied career elsewhere, more than likely the Falcons as they were the ones showing interest at that time. While winning Super Bowl V for us, Morton was not anywhere near the leader Roger Staubach was.
2. Our 1971 Draft Position Alters — Rather than being stuck in the second to last spot with their original picks, the Cowboys would have been in better position to draft Pro Bowl defensive linemen like Julius Adams, Lyle Alzado, and Dwight White. Heck, they might have decided to trade out of the first round altogether and been in better position to take Jack Ham or Dan Dierdorf in the second round. Not to mention, had we traded Staubach either before the ’71 draft or afterwards, we would have netted some quality picks to retool the Cowboys.
3. No Randy White — Randy White was a direct result of our trade with the Giants before the 1974 season. Guess who we traded: the same quarterback who would have won Super Bowl V for us. There’s no way we trade Morton had we won Super Bowl V, and there’s no way we get Randy White and enjoy his Hall of Fame career with a Star on the side of his helmet.
HOW IT WOULD HAVE STAYED THE SAME
1. Tom Landry and the “System” — Landry achieved twenty consecutive winning seasons using four different starting quarterbacks. The Cowboys might not have won another Super Bowl in the ’70s (or maybe they would have somehow won more), but they would have been in the playoffs every year. And that’s the what the Landry Cowboys have taught me more than anything: just get into the dance, because anything can happen. This would not have changed.
2. Duane Thomas Still Goes Off His Nut — Duane Thomas was to mercurial what Chris Canty is to being a toady. Part of the reason Duane Thomas went crazy was due to his money troubles. His agent, whom West Texas State teammate Mercury Morris had recommended to him, was embezzling from Duane Thomas and sending the young runningback into early money troubles. If Tex Schramm wouldn’t even give All Pro players like Bob Lilly a break, there was no way Schramm would give Duane Thomas a break. Additionally, Duane Thomas got involved with drugs and became insouciant towards the game. The Cowboys even tried to trade him during the ’71 season to the New England Patriots, but the coaches up there were so disgusted with his attitude that they annulled the trade, sending Thomas back to Dallas for the 1971 season. In ’72, Thomas was gone. By ’75, he was out of football entirely.
3. Bob Lilly Still Throws His Helmet — This time, it wouldn’t be because of the utter anguish in defeat, but because of the jubilation in victory. The Cowboys wouldn’t have been seen as Next Year’s Champions anymore. And because of their winning a Super Bowl, even if they never went on to win another that decade, their competitiveness would have been treated with more respect; they would have been seen as more formidable, much in the same vein people viewed the ’70s Raiders.
Come back next week and we’ll explore What Would Have Happened If…Jimmy Johnson Stayed in Dallas.