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 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.