For all the talk of the Gritz Blitz and the Orange Crush Defense in 1977, it was the year of The Doomsday Defense II. They faced off with the Denver Broncos down in New Orleans in Super Bowl XII and the better defense won. They carried their season statistical domination into that game and forced a then Super Bowl record 8 turnovers. This was the last NFL champion to finish #1 on defense and #1 on offense. In giving up just 229.5 yards per game, most don’t realize that was better than the 1978 champion Pittsburgh Steelers (260.5) or even the great ’76 version (237.5).
Unofficially that year was the little known fact that DE Harvey Martin recorded 26 sacks. The league didn’t start keeping that statistic until 1981 or that would still be a record. It was arguably his best season as he was named All Pro and made the Pro Bowl. Surprisingly he was only joined by SS Charlie Waters, OLB Hollywood Henderson, FS Cliff Harris, and DT Randy White.
Yet this group does have some knocks against it. They only faced 3 top ten offenses that year and gave up 212 points for the season. The highest of our top ten. However they were 2-1 in those games and were the first Super Bowl champion to face their eventual Super Bowl opponent during the season. Winning the finale 14-6.
So why are they in the top ten??
The number one reason this group is here is this was the height of The Flex Defense. Their dominance was felt in a season long display. They held 7 of their 14 opponents to 10 points or less then became the first team since the merger to hold their 3 postseason opponents to 10 points or less. One of those was the #3 ranked offense of the Chicago Bears and NFL rushing champion Walter Payton. He was held to 60 yards on 19 carries in a 37-7 win in the divisional round.
The havoc they raised in Super Bowl XII with 4 sacks, countless hurries that led to 4 interceptions on the biggest stage didn’t hurt. When half your line, DT Randy White and DE the late Harvey Martin, become the first defensive linemen to win Super Bowl MVP, that puts on an exclamation point on the season.
Other talents such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson who made his 1st Pro Bowl, made names for themselves as well. They would defend their championship in the following Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers where they ranked #2 in defense to the Steelers ranked third. That’s another story for a different time.
Epilogue: This was the crowning jewel in the late Tom Landry’s coaching career. Where he engineered a majority of the tactics to bring the 4-3 to be the modern staple of defense in the NFL. It was his ability to innovate that defense and come up with the Flex Defense to read and react as well as keep the Middle Linebacker (Bob Breunig) free of potential blockers.
Dedicated in the memory of both Tom Landry and Harvey Martin.
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My man Hollywood’s parting shot: