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 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.