The Soul of The Game: Bob Lilly

When the Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL in 1960 they did so with a splash with their very 1st draft pick. They selected Bob Lilly out of TCU. Not only was he the first pillar in building the Cowboys, he would anchor the Dallas front line for more than a decade and become their first member in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mr Cowboy sacks John Brodie during the 1971 NFC Championship Game.

Over his 14 year career he became known as “Mr Cowboy” who would go on to make 11 Pro Bowls including 10 straight seasons once he was moved to DT. It was there where he, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, then Earl Faison & Buck Buchanan over in the AFL were breaking the mold as tall defensive redwoods at tackle were redefining the game.

Up until then the prototype at Defensive Tackle were the fire hydrant short stout Ernie Stautner (6’1)and Art Donovan (6’2) types. Those who were naturally built low to the ground where they could hit and lift with overwhelming leverage.

However with Lilly and the aforementioned Faison, Grier, Olsen, & Buchanan these men were 6’5 + and their teams in reality fielded 3 Defensive Ends Quarterbacks struggled to throw over. Yet when you catch footage of Lilly you saw him knife into the backfield on running plays with equal aplomb. He relied on his quickness to beat the Guard and Center at the point of attack.

As the Cowboys struggled from expansion to respectability it was Lilly who led the way. The championship chase Tom Landry’s Cowboys embarked became an odyssey that saw heartbreaking defeats and Lilly was front and center for each one:

Of all the DT’s of the past who relied on quickness, Lilly and Alan Page are the two that flash at you on film. He’s one of the few who could have played in any era. You notice his hand placement on all these plays and this is way before you had coaching specialists coaching hand fight techniques. Who was the greatest Defensive Tackle in NFL history??

I’ll let you debate that out. Interestingly enough his sentiment about the empty feeling after a championship echoed in my mind as I headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony a few months back. For all of us who lobbied for Jerry Kramer for “The Hall” we were coming to the end of an odyssey. So who does The Chancellor bump into and introduced Amy Nitschke, Suzanne Jordan, and Toni Thurston too??

With Bob Lilly at the NFL Hotel in Canton after the Gold Jacket Ceremony.

It was good to speak with Bob and talk about that and he was gracious enough to talk about the moment after Super Bowl VI. We talked about “The Ice Bowl” for a bit especially since he played in it against the three ladies deceased fathers.

Great to meet him and share in some old stories.

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SUPER BOWL V RUNNER UP 1970 DALLAS COWBOYS

Well they made it to Super Bowl V in Miami where they faced the Baltimore Colts, a former NFL team that had moved over to the new AFC. These two pre-merger NFL antagonists were embroiled in a defensive struggle where Dallas clearly outplayed the Colts and were poised to take a 20- 6 3rd qtr lead when Duane Thomas fumbled at the 1 yard line. Are you kidding me, the 1 yard line?

sbv4Nothing demoralizes a team more than to drive the length of the field & come away without points. Especially, in a game where they’re hard to come by.
You can’t hurt your team worse than that Duane. The silent treatment that followed in 1971 was something he put everyone through when he didn’t get a raise from Tom Landry / Gil Brandt, who remembered that fumble. How can a player who ….sigh…you get the picture.

The defense, which had a series of let downs in previous championship games played brilliantly. Tom Landry’s defense knocked Johnny Unitas out of the game, in fact the Colts first touchdown was a fluke double tipped pass. They even blocked the extra point and kept the Colt point total to 6 until deep in the 4th quarter.

super-bowl-logo-1970If ever a team left a great defensive effort on the field, this was it. Has there ever been another NFL championship, or Super Bowl, where a team held its opponents two QBs to less than 50% completion rate and lost the game?? The Doomsday Defense forced 7 turnovers. Three of these were interceptions, two by MVP Chuck Howley.

Twice they stopped Colt scores in the red zone. In the 4th quarter!!  One was an end zone interception by Howley at the start of the period. The other when S Cornell Green forced Eddie Hinton to fumble at the same 1 yard line Duane Thomas had in the 3rd. They had finally broken the Colts offense until their anemic offense gave the game away with Morton’s interception. You could feel the angst when Bob Lilly threw his helmet after Jim O’Brien winning field goal.  Had they brought a semblance of an offense they would have won this game.  They would have to wait another year for a chance at the title.