Legendary Days: Clint Longley Saves Dallas On Thanksgiving

Within every team there are players harboring Walter Mitty fantasies about answering the call and stepping off the bench and having a great game in the absence of a star player. Yet rarely does it happen and even less so in an important game. Enter Clint Longley…

Clint Longley lets one rip.

In 1974 the Dallas Cowboys were a team in transition. This was the twilight as the stars faded from the team known as “Next Year’s Champions” and developing shooting stars which would see the Cowboys be anointed “America’s Team.” Running backs Calvin Hill & Walt Garrison, Hall of Fame DT and 1st draft pick in team history Bob Lilly, SS Cornell Green were all in their final season in Dallas. Even former starting QB Craig Morton who had been embattled in competing for the starting job for years with Roger Staubach had been dealt away in week 6.

The football gods would have Morton and Dallas meet again in an upcoming Super Bowl …*ahem* but that is another story for another time.

Yet this aging team staggered into their annual Turkey Day Bowl where they would face NFC East nemesis Washington. George Allen’s “Over The Hill Gang” was 4-3 with Tom Landry’s group dating back the last 3 years. One of which Dallas was Super Bowl VI champions and they split with the Redskins then. Where was the 1 win lead by Washington gained?? Knocking off the defending champion Cowboys in the 1972 NFC Championship Game 26-3.

So this team had Dallas number and they knew each other inside and out. In fact the Redskins had beaten Staubach and company 2 weeks before this fateful match-up.

When you look back this could have been the most important game in Cowboys history. Having leaned on a rookie that was one of Gil Brandt and the Cowboys’ brass “finds”, did it lend to a more relaxed attitude toward younger players?? Remember it was the next season in 1975 where they threw caution to the wind and they went into the season with 12 rookies on the roster. “The Dirty Dozen” and they made it all the way to Super Bowl X. This was when names like “Too Tall” Jones, Henderson, Randy White and Harvey Martin stepped to the fore leading to 3 Super Bowls in a 4  year period where they became known as “America’s Team.”

Another reason this game was so important in Cowboys history, the very next year Dallas found themselves in a hopeless situation in the ’75 playoffs in Minnesota. After converting a 4th and 17 to the 50 yard line with :44 left. Staubach hit Drew Pearson with “The Hail Mary” to win that game 17-14. Why are we mentioning this here?? Well Staubach asked Pearson to adjust the “16 route” to the same “in and up” referring to this famous touchdown the year before between Longley and Pearson. With this 2nd miraculous playoff finish (1st the comeback in 72 against San Fran) Staubach was now known for them and ascending to legendary status.

Upon further review, another of Gil Brandt’s finds came across this where you can see Longley must have been a special player at Abilene Christian. He was on the AP Little All America 2nd team right next to Walter Payton

Notice all the future Cowboys that came off this All America team from small schools.

Yet for one brief moment when America was watching, Clint Longley had one of the most improbable rags to riches individual Cinderella games in NFL history.

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SUPER BOWL XVII CHAMPION 1982 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Hail to the Redskins:  Really?  David Woodley can’t complete ANY passes in the second half of Super Bowl XVII for Miami?? None??  Ok he completed two in the second half, 1 to his team and an interception to Redskins S (present Green Bay Packers President & CEO) Mark Murphy and wasted a decent effort by the “Killer B’s” defense.  However the Super Bowl win by Washington was a throwback to old fashioned grind it out football with Riggins for 4, Riggins for 3, Riggins for 5, and wearing down the defense.  However, when I see this ring it takes me back to two weeks prior.

xviiI can remember being fired up for the NFC Championship between Washington and Dallas and knew it was going to be a thing of beauty.  It actually started when the Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21-7 win over the Vikings to set up the NFC Conference final when the chant “We want Dallas!!  We want Dallas!!” resonated from the jam packed crowd at RFK.

Just moments before John Riggins, who had rushed for 185 yard was in the midst of a curtain, turned and gave a bow to the crowd sending them into a frenzy.  Those sights and sounds reverberated throughout the stadium and CBS chose instead of showing the final plays of the game, panoramic views of the raucous fans. It became a part of the story.

Then it really got started…

sbxvii4Beginning with Dexter Manley professing that he “hated Dallas” on Monday of championship week that got the ball rolling. It was all over ESPN…  Then came the back and forth in the newspaper from Danny White of the Cowboys, to Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke, everyone was stoking the fire.  How bad did it get?  There was even a heated argument about the game within the House of Representatives the Friday before the game between Texas and Washington delegates where the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neill adjourned session an hour early.  It was on!!

Over a football game? Yes over a football game. The hating of Dallas really grew wings in the George Allen era in the early 70’s.  He preached it, lived it, and hated the treatment America’s Team received as a media darling. It kept breeding hatred within their division rivals.

Old time Redskin fans still talk with high regard of the fact that they beat Dallas in the ’72 NFC Championship when the Cowboys were defending champions.  So here we were some 10 years later and all that animosity was a thing of the past right?  After all new owner, new coach, new quarterback and cast of characters comprised the Redskins roster.  Right?

I still get chills thinking about that because kickoff was 30 minutes away and the crowd at RFK began another “We want Dallas!” chant. It wasn’t as boisterous as the one from a week prior but it stoked the fire. How must that have felt for the Cowboys to come out to shaking stands and all that noise during warm-ups let alone what would they hear on 3rd downs??  The Redskins weren’t a taunting team but they talked big before that game during the week and on the field pregame.  Near fights broke out….couldn’t have been better set up.

super-bowl-logo-1982So what happened? Remember Dexter Manley?  Well he knocked Danny White out of the game with a concussion very early and forced Gary Hogeboom to finish a championship game he was ill prepared for.  Then clinging to a 24-17 4th qtr lead and the Cowboys having seized momentum, Manley struck again.  On a screen pass the hard charging Manley blew by the Cowboy tackle and as Hogeboom tried to float a screen to Dorsett, Manley tipped the pass that DT Darryl Grant took back 20 yards for the final TD to seal Dallas’ fate 31-17.  The entire team was in the endzone celebrating that touchdown…hadn’t seen that before.

So Joe Gibbs, Theismann, Riggo, The Hogs, & The Fun Bunch played a spirited game and here is a video recount of it.

They were off to play Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena against Miami.  Of course it was a day for Hall of Famer John Riggins who rushed for a record 166 yards and his famous “70 Chip” touchdown run that gave the Redskins a 20-17 lead in the 4th quarter on their way to a 27-17 triumph.  Of course it was the brass ring that they won but even in remembering their actions (expressed joy) the win over the Cowboys for the NFC Championship, meant more.  Want further evidence?  When Charlie Brown scored the decisive touchdown that put the Super Bowl away the entire team wasn’t in the endzone celebrating it the way they had against Dallas.  That’s how we know…

You couldn’t tell me otherwise…

This article is dedicated in the memory of former Washington Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke and the late George Allen.

For a more visceral look

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SUPER BOWL VII RUNNER UP 1972 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

“The Over the Hill Gang” reclamation project of the late George Allen, was built on the heels of the turnaround ushered by the late Vince Lombardi in 1969. The Redskins had been losers for nearly 20 years. Allen was named his successor after Lombardi’s death in June of 1970. He had a disdain for rookies and young players which drove Allen into bringing in old vets. Many of which he brought over from the LA Rams where he served as Head Coach in the mid to late 60s.

 

superbowlvii2He brought in Billy Kilmer to be his quarterback and the subsequent QB battle between he and Sonny Jurgenson tore at the Redskins fan base yet they won in spite of all that. A defense with Jack Pardee and feisty cornerback Pat Fischer, who should be in the Hall of Fame, held most teams down with conservative mistake proof defense.

super-bowl-logo-1972Meanwhile a transplanted Baltimore Colt WR Roy Jefferson teamed with Hall of Fame wideout Charlie Taylor, and the late Jerry Smith to form a decent receiving combination.

However the engine that powered this team was RB Larry Brown, the first Redskin in history to rush for 1,000 yards and a man who ran so violently he burned out after a short career. Yet in 1972, he was one of the finest running backs in the NFL and if there was a yard to get he’d give his all to get it. He really reminded me of Walter Payton in that regard.

After a hard fought win from the shutting down of RB John Brockington and the Green Bay Packers 16-3. This team gave the Redskin faithful one of the team’s landmark wins when they beat the defending champion Cowboys to win the NFC Championship 26-3.  Having outscored their NFC playoff opponents 42-6 this apparently was enough for the Redskins to be favored by 3 in Super Bowl VII over the undefeated Miami Dolphins.  Really??

This was the ring for capturing the NFC Championship for 1972.

The Soul Of The Game: Pat Fischer

Pat Fisher played cornerback for 17 NFL seasons.

Pat Fisher played cornerback for 17 NFL seasons.

In the long history of the NFL there have been players who defined their positions because of their physicality. Men like Dick Butkus, Dick “Night Train” Lane, and Lawrence Taylor were freaks at their position. They were bigger than what other teams were geared to deal with normally. Yet there are those that stand out as hitters first although their size would suggest something different. Enter Pat Fischer.

Standing only 5’9, and 170 lbs (that can’t be right) Smith played in an era where the NFL was a running league. Unlike today’s game where he could play out in space chasing an X, Z, or slot receiver, Fischer had to come up and tackle in an era where everyone was emulating Green Bay’s power sweep. He had to take on pulling guards,  some fullbacks along with his coverage responsibilities. Yet he only missed 10 games in his first 16 years.

His physical play belied his diminutive size as he played as a pint sized intimidator. Lionel “Train” James loves to say “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Never was this more true than of Pat Fisher. Even in the Super Bowl VII highlight, NFL Films had John Facenda narrate how much a nemesis he was against the run and the pass. Let’s face it, a cornerback his size now is primarily a special team guy who is platooned only against multiple receiver sets. They rarely tackle players other than small slot receivers. Take a look at how Fisher played…

In the NFL of the 1960’s there was a concentration of talent that stayed with the same teams and systems for many years. Fischer was caught in this vice where Hall of Fame cornerbacks Dick “Night Train” Lane, Herb Adderley, Jimmy Johnson, and Lem Barney were playing. He was an overlooked player for awhile and some of it could have been other players not leaving behind on-field animosity when voting for fellow players.

There has to be some truth to it or Fischer wouldn’t have had one of his 3 Pro Bowl seasons in 1969 when he had just 2 interceptions. Now his first, in 1964, where he picked off 10 returning them for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns couldn’t be ignored. That was 1 TD short of the all time record. Yet other years he was overshadowed by these other players.

mel-gray-05893042

Pat Fischer played well into the 70’s and here he is going against Mel Gray in the mid ’70s.

One could also make the argument Fischer’s 1969 Pro Bowl and All Pro season came because of the higher visibility Vince Lombardi brought to the team in his only year coaching there.

Whatever the reason, Fischer played from 1961-1977 and retired having played in more games at cornerback in NFL history. If you think about that time frame, he came in 9 years before the AFL / NFL merger and played through the 12th Super Bowl. This is before the modern athlete could have arthroscopic surgery between seasons to prolong their careers. Does he belong in the Hall of Fame??

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