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.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

SUPER BOWL VI RUNNER UP 1971 MIAMI DOLPHINS

Super Bowl VI in New Orleans pitted Dallas v. Miami.  The first serious season in the sun for Miami came to an inglorious end with a 24-3 loss yet served to be the springboard for the undefeated 1972 season that were to come.  However the trip through the AFC playoffs was an exercise in self discovery with the 2OT win over the Chiefs and the 21-0 AFC Championship over Shula’s former team and defending Super Bowl champion Colts.

superbowlvi2My feeling is this team had to have been emotionally drained by the time Super Bowl VI was kicked off.  If you look at the divisional playoff game, which was the longest game ever played at 82:40, that’s almost a game and a half that went deep into the 6th quarter!  Ed Podolak was a beast in that game for Kansas City with 350 all purpose yards.

It was a draining game being played away from home on Christmas of all things.  Miami outlasted the Chiefs (Super Bowl IV winner) 27-24 and staggered off to the AFC Championship game.

super-bowl-logo-1971If you read my post on the Super Bowl watch the Colts received for losing Super Bowl III, you remember me speaking on the corporate pressures that hastened Don Shula’s departure and Carroll Rosenbloom (then Colts owner) switching ownership with the Rams.

Well Rosenbloom was still the Colts owner when they won Super Bowl V and were headed down to Miami to play the AFC Championship game to make it to Super Bowl VI.  You knew that Shula and Rosenbloom both wanted that game against one another.  You know Shula was pushing the Dolphins hard that week and answering questions about playing his former team.  The Dolphins prevailed 21-0 and were off to the Super Bowl.

This team must have been exhausted going into that game coupled with the excitement of being in their first Super Bowl too.  They had to be drained…

Yet this is the ring for conquering the rest of the AFC, and we know of course the Dolphins went on to back to back wins in Super Bowl VII and VIII.

SUPER BOWL VI CHAMPION 1971 DALLAS COWBOYS

By the way…”America’s Team” used to be called “Next Year’s Champions” ’til they won this ring in Super Bowl VI, 24-3 over the Miami Dolphins in New Orleans.

superbowlviThis ended an odyssey of multiple championship and playoff losses between the years of 1966-1970. The Green Bay Packers escaped Dallas twice in the NFL Championship games in ’66 and ’67. Losses to the Cleveland Browns in 68 & 69 kept the Cowboys from further glory. The worst was still to come…

Thanks to the merger in 1970, Dallas’ playoff nemesis Cleveland moved over to the AFC where they struggled. Dallas had played the Vikings in the 1968 Playoff Bowl in Miami and knew they could handle them, yet they were struggling too. One of the new pieces Dallas added to the puzzle was Duane Thomas, a slashing, elusive runner who provided a missing element to the Cowboys arsenal. However the Cowboys were intact with a veteran laden team and seemed destined to ascend to their first world championship. So what happened?

Well they made it to Super Bowl V in Miami where they faced the Baltimore Colts, another team that had moved over to the 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? Nothing demoralizes a team 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 Duane 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.

super-bowl-logo-1971The defense, which had a series of let downs in previous championship games played brilliantly. Doomsday 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. Chuck Howley (Super Bowl V MVP & only time losing player received the award) and the Cowboys defense forced 7 turnovers yet the offense could only eek out 13 points to lose on a last second field goal 16-13.

superbowl-trophyNow comes the day, Super Bowl VI, football’s version of the Brooklyn Dodgers (many times the bridesmaid) finally has their day in the sun. This time they had an ace up their sleeve. Just like young ace pitcher Johnny Podres of those Dodger teams, the Cowboys had Roger Staubach who was unburdened by those losses since it was Craig Morton (Super Bowl V) and Don Meredith quarterbacking those other 60’s playoff defeats.

It was Johnny Podres that finally pitched the Brooklyn Dodgers past the Yankees for the ’55 World Series after 8 years of championship disappointment. In winning Super Bowl VI for Dallas, Staubach ended a 6 year odyssey for the Cowboys.

The Cowboy’s defense that day held the Dolphins (who would go on to win the next two Super Bowls including an undefeated season) to just 3 points and Duane Thomas didn’t fumble at the 1, he scored from the 3. Couple touchdown passes from Staubach to Mike Ditka and Lance Alworth and the Cowboys finally clutched the prize.

I never heard it expressed but I would suspect that the chase to get that championship made obtaining this one sweeter than a team winning it without those near misses. I do remember Bob Lilly describing in “America’s Game” that the day after Super Bowl VI he felt empty. That the chase was over and the greatest day of his life as a football player was over. Aside from losing the ’72 NFC Championship game to the Redskins the week after the famous playoff comeback vs. the 49ers, it seems that could be said for the Dallas roster that had been fighting to win it all since the mid 60s.

Did they get old? maybe…They exhausted their tank in that win over the Miami Dolphins and shedding that label…”Next Year’s Champion’s” Looking at Dave Edwards pic wearing his ring…you can seriously see the pride in the accomplishment.

Dedicated to Dave Edwards & Tom Landry..