In June 2011, Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine decided to count down the best of the best, the top 25 plays in franchise history. Obviously, this wasn’t the easiest of tasks, but some 30,000-plus words later, we feel pretty good about the results. Now here in a 25-part summer series, we share our list for one and all. Without further ado, we continue with No. 5 and a snippet from the Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine story:
5) Simply Spectacular, Jan. 15, 1978:
The Cowboys led the Denver Broncos, 13-3, midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl XII. After dominating early, forcing three fumbles and four interceptions in the first half alone, Dallas should’ve been in command, but momentum was starting to change. The Cowboys were facing a third-and-10 at Denver’s 45-yard line.
There is nothing like the national, heck, worldwide stage of the Super Bowl. Make a spectacular catch in Week 3 at Cincinnati, and sure, it’s going to be replayed that night, maybe make a few Plays of the Week reels, but the highlight is quickly lost in the passage of time. Not so on the final Sunday of the football season. Just ask Lynn Swann, John Taylor … or more recently Santonio Holmes.
And then there’s Michael “Butch” McColly Johnson, the Cowboys longtime return specialist and third wide receiver who hauled in a Roger Staubach pass in such aerobatic brilliance that it’s impossible to watch any collection of outstanding Super Bowl plays without its appearance. Just recently, in an ESPN poll, the catch was rated among the most memorable plays – that’s plays, not just catches – in the 45-year history of the Big Game.
The call came in from head coach Tom Landry, “Spread orange left, ray 15,” but quarterback Roger Staubach slightly altered the play in the huddle, later explaining, “(Broncos free safety) Bernard Jackson had been hanging in the middle. He wasn’t dropping into a deep zone as he should have been doing. Our receivers had mentioned it to me and I remembered it in the huddle. Butch wasn’t supposed to figure in the play, but I told him ‘Run a good post pattern.’
“When I faded, I saw that Jackson hadn’t dropped quickly enough. (Cornerback) Steve Foley did a good job, but Jackson should have stopped the play. When I threw, I thought the pass was too long. I couldn’t believe it when Butch made a sensational catch.”
For what it’s worth, the catch never would’ve counted today, especially with the recent addition to the rulebook of completing the reception. Johnson left his feet just inside the 5-yard line with outstretched arms and fingertips and somehow, someway, hauled the ball in around the 1-yard line, his left shoulder landing on the ground as he completed the 360-spin while crossing the goal line. Before he was standing upright, though, the ball was on the ground in the end zone.
In the locker room after the game, according to Sports Illustrated, a reporter said, “It looked spectacular,” to which Johnson simply replied, “It was.”
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