IRVING, Texas -Forty years ago this Monday, Jan. 16, 1972, the Dallas Cowboys became the Dallas Cowboys, as they have become to be known worldwide ever since.
Yes, the 1960 expansion franchise's Great Depression was over, done, kaput. The Cowboys had finally won a championship, cold-cocking the Miami Dolphins, 24-3, in Super Bowl VI that day in New Orleans to claim their first of what would eventually turn into five total Lombardi Trophies over the next 24 seasons.
Because prior to that, other than being known as that expansion team from down in Dallas, where in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Cowboys were considered utter failures their first six seasons under Tom Landry, never finishing any higher than the 7-7 of 1965, an abyss that also included that winless 1960 inaugural season (0-11-1).
Then they became known as a bunch of teases, you know the team that could not win the big one after reeling off five consecutive winning seasons, but ...
- Losing the 1966 NFL Championship Game to the Green Bay Packers, 34-27, and the chance to play in Super Bowl I when Don Meredith's last-second attempt tie the game was picked off in the end zone.
- Losing the 1967 NFL Championship game to the Green Bay Packers, better known as the Ice Bowl, 21-17, and the chance to play in Super Bowl II when Packers quarterback Bart Starr snuck in from the 1-yard line on what became known as the Frozen Tundra forever more in the finals seconds.
- Going 12-2 and 11-2-1 the next two seasons, but losing what then became known as the Eastern Conference Championship games to the Cleveland Browns, and they weren't even close.
- Finally winning the NFC Championship game in 1970, beating San Francisco, 17-10, to reach the really big one only to lose Super Bowl V, the franchise's very first Super Bowl appearance, 16-13, to the Baltimore Colts.
Close, but nothing to show for their efforts.
You bet this had been a depressed fan base, those five consecutive years they cried wait till next year, thus the ugly stigma of Next Year's Champions being placed on their Cowboys and weighing heavily on their souls.
Eleven long seasons.
"I think the biggest thing was it was a huge load off our backs," remembers Tom Landry Jr., Tom's son. "We had some well-documented troubles with Green Bay and Cleveland in the years before."
So you can just imagine the pressure on this 1971 team making its way to the Big Easy for a second straight Super Bowl appearance, and for many of the players, not only still seething over those close calls against the Green Bay Packers before the 1970 merger with the AFL, but also the loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, when to a man they felt they were the better team.
Pressure not just to win a game, but to exorcize those past demons that kept them from winning the NFL's ultimate game, be that the NFL Championship or what then became the Super Bowl.
Roger Staubach, who really had not become Captain Comeback just yet, starting 10 of the 14 regular season games in 1971, the most of his now three-year NFL career, really felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Well, I was a nervous wreck," Staubach recalls of heading down to New Orleans to play the Dolphins at Tulane Stadium. "We were a team that could not win the big one and I got a chance to play a lot that year. Toward the end of the year we were really playing well but it still wouldn't have counted unless we won that Super Bowl.
"I remember being in New Orleans and Coach Landry would have me over in his room every night, watching film, and Alicia (Landry, Tom's wife) one night said, 'Let the guy alone, let him get out.' So I went out one night and saw the movie with Clint Eastwood, you know, 'make my day,' so that was my only night out, and I was probably as nervous as can be."
To add to the visibility of the game, that week the Cowboys graced the cover of Life, in the Jan. 14, 1972 issue, a huge honor back in those days for a sports team to be featured on the cover of this prestigious magazine, this particular issue for some reason sitting in a box of magazines from way back when that my mother had saved. The shot, under the heading, Super Bowl - Scouting Report, was a profile angle of Landry standing next to Staubach.
So yes, that was the backdrop for these Cowboys when they took the field against the Dolphins. As it turned out, maybe being on edge was the key, since this one for the Cowboys was no contest, their defense absolutely smothering Miami, giving up only 184 yards, grabbing two fumbles and an interception, and yielding just a Garo Yepremian 31-yard field goal.
They had become the first team in the Super Bowl's short history to hold an opponent without a touchdown.
Offensively, Duane Thomas and Walt Garrison ran all over the Dolphins, combining for 169 yards rushing, and Staubach threw touchdown passes to Lance Alworth and Mike Ditka. And when Thomas scored on a 3-yard run midway through the third quarter to give the Cowboys a 17-3 lead, this one was essentially over.
At long last, the Cowboys did it.
"I think the way we approached the game was one of determination to try to do what we know we could do," Landry Jr. said, "and I know everybody remembers the smile on my father's face as he got carried off the field that day, so it was a big relief, a big win."
For Staubach, "It meant a lot in Cowboys history to win that first Super Bowl."
Brother he's right. Because you can't win five of them unless you finally win that first one, and what a struggle it had been for these Cowboys, not only to reach a Super Bowl, but to finally win one on their second attempt.
"It was simply unbelievable because we were known as the team that couldn't win the big game," said left tackle Rayfield Wright, a seventh-round pick moved from tight end to defensive line and then to offensive tackle in 1970. "And I was more happy for Coach Landry than even myself or anyone else because of the work he had put in, the dedication, the commitment that he had put in, and also the other coaches, Jim Myers. It was overwhelming. And to be one of the players to pick Coach Landry up and put him on my shoulders was an awesome feeling."
A celebration for sure, but as you can tell, for this bunch also a huge sigh of relief, disbanding Next Year's Champions forever and putting the Dallas Cowboys on the path to becoming America's Team. Of course, under Landry the Cowboys would qualify for three more Super Bowls in the '70s, losing twice to Pittsburgh but beating Denver in Super Bowl XII following the 1977 season.
All creating a legacy that would set the highest of standards for this organization, but one hard to consistently uphold over the next 40 years.
"The whole decade of the '70s was an awesome decade," Wright said, "because we did go to five Super Bowls, we won two and you just cannot imagine the excitement within the team itself for winning and playing in that game."
Many of these memories certain to be stirred come Monday, 40 years later to the day.