SUPER BOWL XIII RUNNER UP 1978 DALLAS COWBOYS

In the “Battle of Champions”,  XIII on January 21, 1979 the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys took on the Steelers in deciding who was to be the team of the decade. There have only been a few occasions where a Super Bowl champion came back better the following season. The 1978 Dallas Cowboys were one of those teams.

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Of all the teams coached by Tom Landry built by Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt, this was the apex of their work. In 1977 they finished #1 on both offense and defense. Rookies Tony Dorsett (1007 yds) and Tony Hill were just learning the offense and fighting for playing time. 1978 saw them each explode onto the scene as Pro Bowl performers with Dorsett flashing for 1,325 yards and 7 TDs. Hill supplanted Golden Richards, teaming with ’77 Pro Bowler Drew Pearson, gathering in 46 balls for 823 yards and 6 TDs. So they were much more explosive.

Finishing #2 in defense in 1978, nothing really changed from the season before. Pro Bowlers Randy White, Harvey Martin, Charlie Waters, and Cliff Harris were joined by 1st timer “Hollywood” Henderson. Whose athleticism had lethal impact on the Cowboys’ nickle packages. Although the NFL extended the regular season to 16 games in ’78, the Cowboys gave up fewer points (208) than they had as league champion the season before (212).

sbxiiinewDid you know the ’78 Cowboys were .5 yards per game from being #1 on offense and 8 yards per game from being#1 on defense for a second straight year?? So when they vanquished the Los Angeles Rams and their #1 ranked defense, on the road 28-0 for the NFC Championship, their trip to Super Bowl XIII was for more than winning a title. They had a chance to finish as a dynasty and arguably the best in history.

The best Super Bowl of the first 25 had the Steelers scoring 1st then the Cowboys answering on the last play of the 1st quarter.

The Doomsday Defense II forced a fumble by league MVP and Super Bowl MVP Terry Bradshaw as the first quarter wore on. Just when the Steeler offense seemed to get it together, Doomsday struck again near midfield to take a 14-7 lead. Courtesy of Hollywood Henderson who taunted Bradshaw in the week preceding Super Bowl XIII.

The Steelers struck back with 2 scores to take a 21-14 halftime lead. Bradshaw had answered with several scoring drives and finished with 253 yards passing. A Super Bowl record… Dallas wasn’t living up to their defensive billing. After the first initial offensive drives, the Steelers had held Staubach and company in check.

Although the game had gone back and forth, the Steelers had outgained Dallas 271 to 102 yards. The teams had combined for 5 turnovers. However 1 aspect of the game had gone in Dallas’ favor, the Steelers trapping running game had been smothered. That trend continued in the second half as the Cowboy offense found it’s bearings. Down 21-14 late in the 3rd, Staubach drove the Cowboys to the Steelers 11 yard line. Poised to tie the game, the fickle hands of fate  interceded…

Having to settle for a 21-17 deficit, the momentum lost affected the Cowboys until late in the 4th quarter. In actuality neither team could move the ball for the balance of the second half. Only a pass interference that had impact beyond this Super Bowl gave the Steelers momentum.

The Steelers scored a few plays later to make it 28-17 on Franco Harris’ 22 yard trap up the middle. Another fickle bounce of the ball happened when kicker Roy Gerela slipped kicking off. It went right to DT Randy White. With a casted hand tried to handle the ball on a return when he fumbled it. The Steelers scored on the next play and viola…they were up 35-17 with 6:41 to go. The Cowboys were undone on a bad pass interference and two strange bounces of the football.

The Cowboys didn’t go quietly into the night.

Staubach led the Cowboys to back to back touchdown drives to cut the score to 35-31. They couldn’t get a second onside kick and the Steelers ran out the clock. The Steel Curtain finished the game on fumes. Dallas couldn’t be stopped on those last 2 drives. Comparing both defenses:

  • Steelers allowed 330 yards, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 int.
  • Cowboys allowed 357 yards, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumble, 1 int and 1 fumble recovery for a TD

sbxiiinew2Not bad when you compare two great defenses. However writers have gunned down hyperbole in the history books as Steeler strength vs Dallas finesse. When in fact the Cowboys were ranked 2nd and the Steelers 3rd on defense. The 86 yards gained by Pittsburgh in the 2nd half was the fewest by a Super Bowl winner. Well at least until XXX when the Steelers held the Cowboys to 61 in their loss.

super-bowl-logo-1978Even though the Steelers had bested Dallas in SuperBowl X, this  could have made things even at 3 wins a piece.  Anyway…to the victor went too many spoils when it comes to Hall of Fame inductions off these teams.  No Harvey Martin, no Drew Pearson?  really…Pittsburgh was better…but not 10 inductions to 3 better!  No chance.

Who knew this would be Tom Landry 's last Super Bowl team.

Who knew this would be Tom Landry ‘s last Super Bowl team.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #7 1977 Dallas Cowboys

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).

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. Super Bowl XII

After Craig Morton was benched, Hollywood Henderson and Doomsday treated Norris Weese to a rough outing. In Super Bowl XII

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, 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.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

Supe Bowl XII Co-MVPs Randy White and the late Harvey Martin.

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.

landry.2Epilogue: 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:

Hollywood Strikes Back!

Hollywood Strikes Back!