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 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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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.