What Would Have Happened If…”The Catch” Was Never Caught?


Welcome again to “What Would Have Happen If…”, the five-part series that explores moments in Cowboys history and their more favorable effects would have impacted our current understanding of the Cowboys franchise. It was originally supposed to be a six-part series, but Dez Bryant and his mother had other plans. The series’ intention was to keep Cowboys fans from doing desperate things in between the weeks of mini-camp and training camp, like dehydrating and collecting their own expectoration or examining the phases of the moon and how that played into the Cowboys’ big plays in 2011.

“The Catch” is the singular moment that all Cowboys fans despise whether you were alive to see it or not. Even if you were born post 1981 as I was, as NFL Films inculcates the history of the game, you admire “The Catch” for Dwight Clark’s fingertip grab that catapulted the 49ers dynasty; just ask Pat Summerall.

As a kid, you start to notice the similarity between the defenders’ uniforms and the 1970’s Cowboys uniforms. Then, you notice that’s the freakin’ Dallas Cowboys this happened on! At that point, you hate “The Catch” and start to enjoy moments in Joe Montana’s history like when Jim Burt knocked the urinary excretion out of Montana in the ’86 NFC Divisional playoffs. Screw San Franpsycho.

“The Catch” would have never happened had Danny White hit rookie Doug Donley on third down just outside of Rafael Septien’s field goal range. Furthermore, “The Catch” would have never had its significance had the Cowboys gone down the field afterward and kicked a game-winning field goal. With a little under a minute remaining after “The Catch,” Danny White hit Drew Pearson on an inside route for a big gain that took the Cowboys to mid-field. The next play, Lawrence Pillers strip-sacked Danny White and sealed the game for the 49ers. Of course, that was because Danny White held the ball too long looking for Tony Hill’s route to develop as opposed to hitting Drew Pearson on the outside on the other side, just as Drew told Danny he’d do in the huddle before the play began. Instead, Danny White held on too long and Lawrence Pillers saved the day for the 49ers.

See, that’s another reason why I hate “The Catch.” To me, the real hero of the 1981 NFC Championship game is Lawrence Pillers and the 49ers defense for making that critical stop and forcing a turnover. Instead, they act like a dimple-chinned Barry Manilow clone with a Bike-brand helmet is God’s gift to football for throwing a duck off his back foot that his receiver barley grabbed in the back of the end zone. “The Catch” is the mediots’ way of glorifying one of the biggest DB positions in the game without at all giving due credit to where it belongs. That’s why I have begrudging respect for Leonard Marshall and what he eventually did to the Barry Manilow dead ringer.

As Cowboys fans, how would our understanding of things have been different had “The Catch” never happened?


1. Tom Landry is a three-time Super Bowl champion coach — There’s no doubt in my mind we beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI in the Pontiac Silverdome the two weeks afterward. They weren’t as experienced as the Cowboys were. You still had guys on that team who had played in three Super Bowls and had won one already having faced a Broncos team that was in a situation similar to the one the Bengals would have faced. With Martin, Jones, White, and Dutton harassing Ken Anderson, it’s doubtful he could have found the avian Cris Collinsworth, instead finding Thurman’s Thieves, which featured an undrafted rookie who led the league in interceptions with 11. Super Bowl XVI would have been Doomsday in the Dome II, and Tom Landry would have been second only to Chuck Noll in Super Bowl wins and the leader in Super Bowl appearances. Oh, and we would have had six Super Bowls by 1996 while the 49ers might have only had four.

2. The Cowboys don’t take Phil Pozderac — This lackluster right tackle was taken in the 25th pick in the fifth round. If the Cowboys win the Super Bowl, they might not have been in position to take him. Had that happened, he wouldn’t have been playing right tackle in 1986 and allowed Danny White to get hit and break his wrist in Week 9 of the 1986 season in a battle for first place at Giants Stadium. While the state of the franchise was tenuous at best by then, at least Danny White’s career wouldn’t have been injury ridden and his playing painful. Even the 1986 would have ended better probably with a playoff berth.

3. Chris Berman’s career takes a different path — I don’t know why, but the dude acts like “The Catch” helped propel his career. I’ve never understood that. The guy wasn’t even working for CBS, who was broadcasting the game live. Berman was with BSPN, as it always has been. All he did was cover the game after it happened — big deal. I mean, how’s that any different than what every other sports journalist has done since the first Olympic games in ancient Greece? Sports come to the sports journalist, and BSPN was the only sports outlet at the time. But all right: Chris Berman’s career was impacted by “The Catch.” I guess if it didn’t happen, the neurons in his brain wouldn’t have hardened to the point he could realize he would need to update his catchphrases after 1991 and at least update them for 2001 and he could yell “G.D. it” at the audio technicians for using cheap bump music from 1986 for their highlight music in the year 2012. He might actually be a better sports journalist instead of a caricature had “The Catch” not happened.


1. Bad drafting kills the Cowboys — Go to Wikipedia sometime and look at the 1981-1984 NFL Drafts sometime. You’ll notice the only two players the Cowboys picked that were worth a dang were Jim Jeffcoat and Eugene Lockhart. Of course, I’m sure that’s “the powers that be” once again altering history and editing Wikipedia articles to make Tom Landry and Tex Schramm look bad — you know, those “powers that be.” Anyway, it’s that type of draft inaccuracy that kills franchises. Gil Brandt and company were getting out-scouted and out-drafted by the rest of the league. Suddenly, the trend-setters couldn’t keep up. When you’re replacing legends with guys who can’t even qualify for their own Wikipedia pages, your team is headed for collapse. The early ’80s were the Cowboys’ best chance for a championship because the talent hadn’t aged yet and were still in their prime. The mid to late ’80s with the mediocre talent and aged legends was too late.

2. Clint Murchison was batcrap insane; Bum Bright still buys the ‘Boys — I love how the lite beer-swilling schlemiels with Cowboys T-shirts that barely cover their corpulent guts belch that Jerry Jones is deranged due to the past sixteen seasons, as though expressing such an opinion is as unique and original as The Ninety-Five Theses and they’ll subsequently win a MacArthur Award for it. It just shows how average they are in their history and understanding of this franchise, even though they invoke their experiences with the ’70s Cowboys as being some consecration to historical infallibility. Clint Murchison was a nut; very few old timers know that. Here’s a guy who once owned over 100 companies worth $1.25 billion with his brother John Murchison (a silent owner in the Cowboys, by the way) in the mid-1970’s who died in 1987 $500 million in the hole. Clint Murchison spent his fortune on cocaine, women, and psychotic business ventures, one of which included building a ski resort in Iran. He also lost $10 million in a business venture trying to turn cow crap into natural gas. Along with Murchison’s waywardness with finances, he was stricken with a disease similar to Lou Gehrig’s in 1983. This, along with his expanding debt, forced him to sell the Cowboys to Bum Bright, a friend who was trying to help out Murchison. Even if Landry, Schramm, and Brandt were still ten steps ahead of the league, Murchison was six feet under by 1987. The Cowboys were going up for sale no matter what.

3. Jerry Jones buys the Dallas Cowboys — Get over it. Only a personality change in Clint Murchison back in the early 1970’s could have prevented this trajectory of events. Once Bum Bright got a hold of the Cowboys, it all would have gone down the same way. He would have clashed with Landry, looked to sell the team, and tried to find an owner who would fire Landry as being part of the sale of the team. Did you catch that? Bum Bright was not going to sell the team unless the new owner would can Coach Landry. Bum Bright had to sell the Cowboys due to the economic state o f the 1980’s that no amount of Cowboys victories could change. The Cowboys were a side interest to Bright anyway. So if his main ventures were tanking, he wasn’t about to keep a plaything like the Cowboys around. Jerry Jones still buys the Cowboys, fires Tom Landry, and hires Jimmy Johnson. Fade to black; roll credits.

I hope you all have enjoyed this “What Would Have Happened If…” series. Now, with training camp upon us, we don’t have to wonder what if; instead, we can see history play out before our eyes as the 2012 Cowboys pick up the pen and write a little bit more in the annals of franchise history, hopefully erasing the wrongs of 2011 and penning a much happier ending with a few extra chapters due out in January 2013.