Oh, I was full of myself back then when the mighty Cowboys traveled to soggy Municipal Stadium to play the Cleveland Browns in the Eastern Conference Playoff Game. A victory was a forgone conclusion as this was against the same Browns team they annihilated in their first franchise playoff win a year before, 52-14; and the same Browns which were heartlessly battered earlier in this season, 28-7. Yes the game was on the road, but this team won every road game in 1968. So omnipotent was this sovereign, the entire league was their sphere; no matter where they played, they were home. There was only one unanswered question remaining. Would it be the Vikings or the Colts (squaring off in the Western Conference Game) who would be pillaged in the NFL Championship Game?
A team did get ransacked on that cold, wet December day in archaic Municipal Stadium in the Eastern Conference Championship Game. But it was the pillagers who were plundered. The Dallas Cowboys were outsmarted, out coached and out hustled for nearly the entire 60 minutes of that football game. The Browns defense battered Don Meredith rendering him completely ineffective forcing Landry to bench him after his third interception of the first half in favor of young backup Craig Morton. Morton faired [sic] no better as the Browns were the hungrier, meaner and better team on that day. Final score: Browns 31 Cowboys 20…and the score was much closer than the actual beating the Cowboys took on the field.
The losses to the Packers the previous two years were palatable because this young franchise exceeded all expectation and nearly toppled a giant. They played like champions, never giving in to their mighty foe…but ultimately only to the relentlessness of time and destiny.
The loss to the Browns was simply abysmal and began a media onslaught against this franchise that would haunt them for two more seasons and even beyond. “Next Years Champions”, I despised that name. But sorrowfully, the title was earned.
The Cowboys did play one more game that year. They beat the Vikings in the humiliating Playoff Bowl. This was a game played by the losers of the Conference Championship games and carried less importance than a pillow fight between my brother and me on a day off from school. To further place it in a proper context, it far surpassed today’s Pro Bowl in its overwhelming magnitude of insignificance if you can believe that. I am convinced the NFL only scheduled this game to further punish the losers, as if having an entire season of blood and sweat being derailed was not enough.
This can’t miss king to be, unambiguous inheritor of the throne only a week and a day before…was now the court jester, relegated to the under card to play out a comedy with the other foolish clown in front of an audience of knaves and peasants. Oh, how swiftly the cruel winds of fate can waft the unprepared off the pedestal of impending sovereignty. The question entering the 1969 season was: can this franchise recover from that devastating rout and realize that elusive status they seemed destined to achieve in 1968?