Super Bowl V ~ The Blunder Bowl
The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LV will be upon us. Reflecting what we did last year, in the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
As the NFL is celebrating 100+ seasons I like to remember the pre Super Bowl era too. However for a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.
So, we’ll stick to the Super Bowl era then and travel back 50 years to 1971. For the NFL this matchup was a championship game with 79,204 fans on hand at the Orange Bowl in Miami. There they witnessed the 11-2-1 Baltimore Colts defeat the 10-4 Dallas Cowboys 16-13.
The run up to the game
The 1970 NFL season leading into this game was the first post NFL-AFL merger season. Following merger agreements earlier in the decade the first four Super Bowl games were to be known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game .
However they had been re-named the Super Bowl two years earlier. So Super Bowl V was actually the third game to carry the name whilst the others were retroactively re-branded.
The Colts were in their 18th season. They had been on a successful run since the 1964 season running up to this game. That run had seen them put together a 74-19-5 regular season run, Which had led to an NFL championship game defeat in 1964, and one of the greatest upsets when they lost Super Bowl III in the 1968/9 season.
This was only the Cowboys 11th season. Following a steady start between 1960 & 1965 they exploded into contention. From 1966 onwards they had put together a 52-16-2 regular season record. However before the 1970 season they were 1-4 in the playoffs. This year they had beaten Detroit and San Francisco to earn their spot.
The Colts had made it to the playoffs with the best recod in the AFC. They hosted both playoff contests. But this was not down to seeding. It wasn’t until the 1975 season that playoff teams were seeded by record. This was just down to pre agreed rotation.
The Colts beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round 17-0. The Colts defence, held Cincinnati to only 139 total yards. The AFC title game saw Baltimore host the Oakland Raiders. They converted a 10-3 halftime lead into a 27-17 win which was confirmed by a late interception in the end zone.
The Coboys won a 5-0 contest against Detroit at home in the Cotton Bowl in a Divisional match. There were hardly fireworks in this one as the only scoring came via a first quarter Field Goal and a fourth quarter safety.
That meant a trip to Kezar stadium in San Francisco. Although Craig Morton went 7 of 22 passing in this one he threw a TD and no picks. But the win was ground out as Dallas ran the ball 51 times for 229 yards and a touchdown on their way to a 17-10 win.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl V
They say defence wins championships. Well both of these teams were strong on D. And it showed. Neither team making a 1st down until the eighth possession of the game!
The Cowboys did get near the Colts End Zone in the first quarter. This following a fumbled punt return by Ron Gardin of the Colts. But when QB Craig Morton spotted Reggie Rucker open in the right corner of the End Zone he overthrew him.
Dallas settled for a Mike Clark 14 yard Field Goal and a 3-0 lead after one. In fact Morton would not have a great game in either Super Bowl he started. Arguably had he been even a little sharper in this one Dallas would have taken their first title.
After a long drive the Cowboys were pressing again to start the second quarter. On 3rd and goal from the 8 yard line Morton was hit as he threw. The ball landed on the 7 with no eligible receiver in sight. An intentional grounding penalty ensued and the Cowboys settled for another Field Goal and a 6-0 lead.
Still struggling and facing a third down, Unitas and the Colts still didn’t have a single First Down early in the second. Then controversy struck. Johhny U overthrew intended receiver Eddie Hinton. Hinton tipped the ball over a leaping Ray Renfro, who made a swipe at it, and the ball fell into the hands of Mackey, who ran untouched for a 75 yard TD.
Arguably Cowboys Safety Charlie Waters might have had a shot at running Mackey down. But he was too busy telling the referees it was an illegal catch after the ball touched two straight offensive receivers. Which would have been right under the rules of the time. But if Renfro of the Cowboys touched the ball at all, which the refs must have thought, then the play was right to stand.
The score stayed at 6-6 however as Jim O’Brien had his extra point blocked. The teams exchanged possessions before the Cowboys D came through again. They had already picked off Unitas. Now a hit by Lee Roy Jordan caused a fumble and Dallas recovered at the Baltimore 28.
This time Dallas capitalized fully. Morton hit Duane Thomas on a quick screen and he followed blockers into the End Zone from 7 yards out.
Unitas would throw another interception whilst taking a hit that knocked him out of the game. That brought in backup Earl Morall who many saw as the goat of Super Bowl III to look for redemption. The score remained 13-7 to Dallas at the half.
Super Bowl V: Second Half
A cursory glance at the box score would suggest that D dominated the third quarter as neither side added to their tally.
This game often called the Blunder Bowl because of the multiple turnovers and penalties was not without its excitement though. For some too it was one of the harder hitting games you would see.
Whilst it has not gone down in history as a classic, you can see from highlights that the play in this game was often ferocious. And ferocious D should not be underrated as a spectacle.
One of the most infamous plays in early Super Bowl history unfolded in the third quarter.
On 1st-and-Goal, Dallas RB Duane Thomas ran off Left Tackle but fumbled when hit just short of the goal line. The ball disappeared into a pile of players. DT Billy Ray Smith yelled “Colts ball!“. After which Line judge Jack Fette, whose view was obscured by back judge Hugh Gamber, signaled that Baltimore had recovered. But when the human pile-up was sorted out, Dallas centre Dave Manders was holding the ball.
Later in the game, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Morrall threw an interception to Howley in the end zone to preserve the Cowboys’ 13-6 lead.
The Colts offence was getting nowhere against a strong Cowboys D. But they were given life when Rick Volk intercepted a Morton pass and returned the ball 30 yards to the Cowboys’ 3. Two plays later, the Colts scored on a two-yard touchdown run by Nowatzke. This time O’Brien made the XP and the game was tied 13-13.
The next two possessions ended in traded punts, with the Cowboys eventually taking over in excellent field position at the Colts 48-yard line with less than two minutes left in the game.
The game winner
Facing 2nd and 31 Morton was picked off by Mike Curtis who returned the ball 13 yards to the Dallas 28 with 0:59 in the game. Two plays later, with nine seconds left in the game, O’Brien kicked the go ahead 32-yard field goal, giving Baltimore a 16–13 lead. As that is how the game finished he found redemption for his missed extra point.
Defence was so dominant in this game that Morrall was the top passer of the game, with 7 out of 15 completions for 147 yards, with 1 interception. Cowboys LB Chuck Howley was named MVP – the only MVP named from a losing Super Bowl team.
It is a game long remembered for sloppy play, turnovers and penalties. But perhaps we do Super Bowl V an injustice. This was a game of ferocious, hard hitting defence and that side of the game should be celebrated too.
Hall of Fame Players
Super Bowl V had its fair share of future Hall of Fame members. 8 of those present have been inducted up to now.
That includes three Baltimore players, John Mackey, Johnny Unitas and Ted Hendricks.
For the Cowboys, five of those present in January 1970 are now enshrined in Canton. They include Bob Hayes, Rayfield Wright, Bob Lilly, Herb Adderley, and Mel Renfro.
What came next
The Colts would not be back to defend their title the following year. However a 10-4 season did see them come within a whisker of the Super Bowl before losing 21-0 to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game.
Few would have foreseen that the next 12 seasons after that would deliver just three playoff appearances. They came on a 31-11 run from 1975 to 1977. But what people foresaw even less was the Colts leaving town and becoming the Indianapolis Colts from 1984 onwards.
The Cowboys did come back the following season. And, following an 11-3 season finally won the NFL title defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. In fact Dallas were embarking on a sustained run of success. From 1971-1985 they would go 144-63 leading to 13 playoff appearances, 9 NFC Championship games, 4 Super Bowl appearances, and 2 Super Bowl wins.
Banner image from the New York Daily News