Weird stories in Dallas Cowboys history: Staubach v. Longley

Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images) /

In a weird story in Dallas Cowboys’ history, a training camp fight 44 years ago helped to win a Lombardi Trophy

Do you remember former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Clint Longley? Chances are that a backup quarterback for two seasons in the 1970s may not be top of mind for you. Although, his name may ring some bells if you followed the team in the 70s or have played a round of Cowboys trivia in your local bar.

Longley was the backup to future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach from 1974 until training camp 1976. Earlier this week marked the 44th anniversary of one of the weirder, yet more consequential moments in Cowboys history.

One that without, the team may not have won their second Super Bowl. With this season being the 60th anniversary of America’s Team, there is no better time to dig back into the franchise’s history and pull up some of the most interesting and obscure stories than now.

So what happened? Well on August 30, 1976, Longley sucker-punched Staubach in the face. That’s right. You read that correctly. A backup quarterback who had a grand total of one single start under his belt punched arguably the greatest and most iconic player in the history of the Cowboys.

The first time I heard this story was while reading Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters’ book Tales from the Dallas Cowboys: A Collection of the Greatest Stories Ever Told. The way the story goes is that Longley was unhappy with a route from wide receiver Drew Pearson and told him in some choice words that he ran it incorrectly. Staubach then stepped in to defend Pearson. Two days later in the Cowboys locker room, Longley came up and punched Staubach seemingly out of nowhere.

Other accounts of the story are more or less the same. One re-telling in the Dallas Morning News has quarterback Danny White offering up the anecdote that when the fight broke out, he was tasked with distracting assistant coach Dan Reeves from breaking it up. It also makes note that Longley told linebacker D.D. Lewis that he figured that fighting Staubach was his easiest way out of Dallas.

You see, more than anything Longley wanted a trade. He rose to prominence two seasons earlier on Thanksgiving Day 1974. Longley proved more than capable that night. After replacing an injured Staubach, he led the Cowboys out of a 16-3 third-quarter deficit to defeat Washington 24-23. He finished the game 11-20 for 203 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 50-yard touchdown to Pearson.

The problem was that with Staubach firmly entrenched as the Cowboys quarterback of the present and future, Longley had no chance of starting in Dallas anytime soon unless there was an injury. Complicating things further was the arrival of Danny White, who would go on to become the starting quarterback once Staubach retired. The Cowboys signed White from the recently defunct World Football League earlier that offseason to backup Staubach and serve as the team’s punter.

Not long after the fight, the team shipped Longley out of Dallas. They traded him and a first-round pick to the San Diego Chargers for their first and second-round choices in the upcoming 1977 NFL Draft.

He played just three games with the Chargers, winning his only start and throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). After the 1976 season, Longley never played another down in the NFL and has faded into relative obscurity.

The Cowboys? Well, they took both draft picks they acquired from the Chargers, packaged them with two additional second-round picks, and made a trade with the Seattle Seahawks to move up to the number two overall spot. With that pick the team selected a running back out of Pittsburgh, future Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett.

Dorsett went on to become one of the greatest players in Cowboys history. He rushed for over 12,000 yards during his 11 seasons in Dallas. He even earned Rookie of the Year in 1977 when he ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, playing a critical role in powering the Cowboys to their second Lombardi trophy.

In a cruel twist of irony, without Longley, the Cowboys may not have defeated Craig Morton and the Denver Broncos to win that second Super Bowl in 1977. While no one would argue that Super Bowl XII wasn’t Dorsett’s best game (15 carries, 66 yards), he did score the game’s opening touchdown.

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Longley and Staubach were not the first two teammates to have gotten into a training camp fight, and they most definitely weren’t the last (I promise I’ll spare you yet another Earl Thomas connection here). In fact, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively obscure footnote from one of the most important eras in team history.

However, this fight did lead to one of the biggest trades in Dallas Cowboys history and with that, played a surprisingly key role in setting up the next Cowboys championship.