The 1971 Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl VI Champions
The Dallas Cowboys franchise got off to a miserable start in their first season in 1960 with an 0-11-1 record. They had losing seasons for the first five years from 1960-1964. In 1965, things were getting better as they broke even with a 7-7 record. In 1966, the Cowboys posted their first winning record in franchise history and went on to lose to the Green Bay Packers for the right to go to Super Bowl I. In 1967, they lost again to the Packers in the now famous “Ice Bowl”.
Next Years Champions
The Cowboys were earning a reputation for not being able to win in big games. They were called “next years champions”. Following the 1970 season, they made it to the Super Bowl for the first time. The pressure the Cowboys were under for not winning a championship was evident. The Cowboys committed five turnovers in the game. They also had a lot of bad luck. One journalist said the game was “a series of freak plays that all went against the Cowboys”. The Cowboys lost the game on a last second field goal 16-13.
Off Season Changes
During the off season following the Super Bowl loss, Tex Schramm (the Cowboys General Manager) and head coach Tom Landry made some personnel changes to bring in some great players that were at the end of their careers to try to give the Cowboys the edge in the upcoming season. Among the players brought in were future hall of famers Mike Ditka, Lance Allworth, Forrest Gregg, and Herb Adderley.
The 1971 Cowboys had one of the most impressive rosters in NFL history. 11 of the 22 starters are either in the Hall of Fame or the Cowboys Ring of Honor. They had nine players, two coaches, and one executive make the Hall of Fame, for a total of 12 people from this team enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Three players, Mike Ditka, Dan Reeves, and Forrest Gregg all went on to have successful NFL head coaching careers.
On Offense, the Cowboys had six Hall of Fame players: quarterback Roger Staubach, wide receivers Lance Allworth and Bob Hayes, tight end Mike Ditka, offensive linemen Rayfield Wright and Forrest Gregg. On defense the Cowboys had three Hall of Fame players: Defensive Tackle Bob Lilly, cornerbacks Herb Adderley and Mel Renfro.
The 1971 training camp quickly turned into a soap opera. Duane Thomas, the Cowboys starting running back, asked the Cowboys for a new contract after being named NFL Rookie of the Year in 1970. The Cowboys refused, so Thomas staged a holdout. Thomas also talked to the media about how unfairly the Cowboys were treating him in his eyes. The Cowboys quietly traded Thomas to the New England Patriots. After five days, the Patriots asked NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to rescind the trade and send Thomas back to the Cowboys because of his refusal to follow coaches instructions and his bad attitude. Rozelle granted the Patriots request and returned Thomas to the Cowboys. Thomas refused to speak to any of his teammates or coaches for the entire season.
The Quarterback Shuttle
There was also a quarterback controversy that Landry created by not choosing a starting quarterback. Landry said the Cowboys had two starting quarterbacks. He alternated Craig Morton and Roger Staubach throughout games. This divided the team because they did not have a single leader on the field. In Week 7 against the Chicago Bears, Landry alternated his quarterbacks on every other play. It was called the quarterback shuttle by the media. The Cowboys lost the game, falling to 4-3. One writer at Sports Illustrated described the quarterback shuttle this way: “The operation was a success, but the patient died”.
The Turning Point
With their season on the brink, the Cowboys held a players only meeting. In this meeting, the players came together and committed to each other to do what was best for the team, putting aside their egos. They also decided that they needed a single leader on the field. They elected middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan to speak to Landry about choosing a single quarterback. Landry agreed, and chose Roger Staubach as the starting quarterback.
The Cowboys played at the St. Louis Cardinals in Week 8. This was a tough divisional game that the Cowboys always had trouble with. The game came down to a last minute field goal attempt by the Cowboys. The Cowboys rookie kicker was Tony Fritsch, a soccer player from Austria who did not speak any English. As the Cowboys lined up to attempt the field goal to win the game, the Cardinals players were yelling at Fritsch that he was going to miss and other insults. The Cowboy players started laughing at them and said, “don't waste your breath, he doesn't understand what you are saying”. Fritsch made the field goal, helping the Cowboys to a 16-13 win.
Mid Season Turmoil
The Cowboys returned home in Week 9 to face the New England Patriots. But home was a new home. The Cowboys had played at the Cotton Bowl for all of their previous 11 years in existence. Texas Stadium construction was completed late, so the Cowboys decided to move into the new stadium in mid season once construction was complete. This was unpopular with both the players and fans. The Cowboys had a home field advantage at the Cotton Bowl that they would never regain at Texas Stadium. The Cotton Bowl was an outdoor stadium that had a raucous atmosphere. Texas Stadium was designed to be the Taj Mahal of NFL stadiums and it had a much more sophisticated and reserved atmosphere.
Adding to the turmoil of changing stadiums in mid season, Ralph Neely, the Cowboys All-Pro Left Tackle, broke his leg while riding his motor cycle off road. Neely would miss the remainder of the season.
Steam Rolling to the Post Season
Despite some mid season turmoil, the Cowboys were embarking on the Franchise’s longest winning streak. After starting 4-3, the Cowboys would win the next 10 games in a row. After the close win at St. Louis in Week 8, the Cowboys would win the final six games of the regular season by an average of 20 points per game. The last 3 games of the season were Cowboy blowouts.
Week 9 Dallas 20 Philadelphia 7
Week 10 Dallas 13 Washington 0
Week 11 Dallas 28 LA Rams 21
Week 12 Dallas 52 NY Jets 10
Week 13 Dallas 42 NY Giants 14
Week 14 Dallas 31 St. Louis 12
The Cowboys began their playoff run in Minnesota. The Cowboys led this game 20-3 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter the Cowboys gave up a safety when Staubach was sacked for the only time in the game. Minnesota scored a touchdown in the last minute of the game to close the gap to 20-12. This would be the only touchdown the Cowboys would give up in the entire post season.
The Cowboys came home to face San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. This was a rematch of the previous year's NFC Championship game that the Cowboys won in San Francisco 14-13. This game was a defensive struggle that the Cowboys won 14-3.
Super Bowl VI
Head Coach Tom Landry wanted his team fully prepared for this game. He was concerned because Don Shula's Dolphins were a great team. Shula's team would go undefeated the next season and win the next two Super Bowls. Landry was particularly concerned about the Dolphin's young linebacker Nick Buoniconti because of his speed and aggressive style of play.
Landry decided to use Buoniconti's strengths against him. He resigned many of the Cowboy's running plays to be misdirection plays. The Cowboys lineman would pull in one direction and the running back would run to the other side of the field. This misdirection confused the Dolphins defense because they had never seen anything like it before. At the time, all teams used either a straight forward power running game or they used a finesse style of outside running game where the offensive linemen would pull in the direction of the play. Landry also instructed his running backs to change direction or use cutbacks whenever they saw Buoniconti closing in. Landry knew that the Dolphins linebacker would over run the play.
Landry's meticulous attention to detail paid off. The Cowboys rushed for 252 yards using cutbacks and misdirection plays. The running game ate up a lot of time, giving the Dolphins fewer possessions than they expected. The Cowboys ball control style of play shortened the game, forcing the Dolphins into throwing the ball more than they wanted, which resulted in Bob Griese throwing 3 interceptions. Bob Lilly also sacked Griese for a Super Bowl record 29 yard loss.
The final score of the game was Dallas 24 Miami 3. The 1971 Cowboys are the only team to hold a team without a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Dolphin's coach Don Shula said of the Cowboys that day, “that was as close to a perfect game as you will ever see.” The Cowboy fans at the game counted down the last seconds of the game like a New Years eve countdown. After the game clock ran down to zero, the Cowboys were no longer next year's champions.