Super Bowl VI – The Cowboys come of age
The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LVI will be upon us. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look at a decade anniversary of the big game. In this instance half a century ago and the first championship for the Dallas Cowboys.
As the NFL has celebrated 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. For instance, 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 1972. For the NFL this matchup was a championship game with 81,023 fans in attendance at Tulane Stadium in New Orleas to see the 11-3 NFC Champion Dallas Cowboys crush the 10-3-1 AFC Champion Miami Dolphins 24-3.
The run up to the game
The 1971 NFL season leading into this game was the second 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 three years earlier. So Super Bowl VI was actually the fourth game to carry the name whilst the others were retroactively re-branded.
The Cowboys were in their 12th full season. They had gone from 0-11-1 in 1960 to being incredibly competitive. Between 1966 and 1971 they went 63-19-2 and were making their sixth consecutive playoff apperance. They had contested two NFL Championships and, following the merger, the previous years’ Super Bowl. But they had finished second best on each occasion. Now they were desperate to shed the tag of chokers in the big game.
The Miami Dolphins were only in their sixth full season. In the beginning they had been uncompetitive going 15-39-2 under the coaching of George Wilson. Then in 1970 Don Shula arrived. Things had changed immediately. Miami had their first winning season in 1970 finishing 10-4 but losing in the playoffs at the first hurdle to Oakland. Now, in 1971 they had gone 10-3-1 and arrived in the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys defence (nicknamed the “Doomsday Defence”) had given up only one touchdown in the last 25 quarters prior to the Super Bowl. That included their playoff run. That TD had come courtesy of the Vikings in the Divisional Round. But by then the Cowboys had been 20-5 ahead with less than 2 minutes to go. It was a game that saw them force 5 turnovers and win comfortably 20-12.
The NFC Conference Championship game was the first playoff game at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys christened the occasion with a stout defensive performance. They dominated the San Francisco 49ers, allowing only 61 rushing yards and 9 first downs, and forcing 3 interceptions. They would qualify for Super Bowl VI off the back of a 14-3 win.
A thriller and dominance
Miami had travelled to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round on Christmas Day 1971. Miami won 27-24 in double overtime. It was the longest game in NFL history lasting over 80 mimutes of actual game time.
The teams were tied 10-10 at the half, and 17-17 after three. Kansas City went ahead, 24-17, in the fourth. With 1:25 left, Dolphins’ QB Bob Griese threw a touchdown to Marv Fleming forcing overtime. Both kickers missed in Overtime. It was Miami kicker Garo Ypremian who got to redeem himself by slotting the winner from 37 yards out in the sixth quarter of play.
The AFC Championship game had something of a redemptive feel about it for Shula. He had been fired by the Baltimore Colts owner following the 1969 season. During his time with the team he had led them to a 71-23-4 record and an NFL Chammpionship. But was best remembered for coaching them to defeat in the greatest upset up to that point. A 16-7 loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III. His replacment, Don McCaffrey had promptly delivered a Super Bowl in his first season. But Shula led his charges to a 21-0 win against the defending champions as Miami kept Johnny Unitas in check with 3 sacks and 3 interceptions.
The Game Itself: Super Bowl VI
Played at Tulane stadium, this was the second Super Bowl in three years to be played in New Orleans. Ironically sites that had been suggested for this game previously had included the Orange Bowl in Miami and Texas Stadium in Dallas.
As the game got underway the Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive the ball. All they managed was a three and out. The Cowboys punted too but on the first play of their next possession Larry Csonka fumbled for the Fins. It was his first fumble of the season. The Cowboys converted that into an 11 play 50 yard drive capped by a 9 yard field goal to lead 3-0.
If you watch highlights of the game you will always see what came on the next drive – the Cowboys’ Bob Lilly sacking Miami QB Bob Griese for a 29 yard loss. If you watch the play you will see Lilly and Cowboys DE Larry Cole switch over and harry Griese. The QB twists and turns looking for a chance to either throw the ball or get rid of it but Lilly pins him down. This is probably the most iconic play of the game.
In the second quarter Miami tried to tie things up but a 49 yard field goal attempt by kicker Garo Ypremian fell short floating under the crossbar. After an exchange of possessions once more Dallas got rolling. They drove 76 yards in 10 plays. Highlighted by a 27 yard pass from Roger Staubach to Lance Alworth on third and nine. As well as a 7 yard TD connection from the same pairing to cap the drive.
Miami responded by going no huddle and moved the ball 44 yards in 4 plays in just over a minute. Not sure if they would have time for two plays before the half Miami took the points as Ypremian booted a 31 yard field goal to make it 10-3 Dallas at the half. Which was as good as it got for Miami.
The Second Half
The score may only have been 10-3 but Dallas had dominated. In the first half they led on yardage 177-74, (124-34 on the ground and 53-40 passing), they had run 37 plays to 21 from Miami and led the First Down count 13-5.
Dallas’ dominance would only grow in the second half. In the third quarter they held the Dolphins without a First Down. But they extended their onw lead thanks to an 8 play 71 yard drive finished off with a Duane Thomas 3 yard touchdown run that moved the score to 17-3. Now the Dallas players were starting to believe their first championship was coming. That touchdown came off an audible by Staubach too. It was a dominant drive in which the Miami players were getting pushed around. The tone of the game was in favour of Dallas completely now.
As they headed into the third quarter Dallas now had 277 yards of total offence to only 117 for Miami. They had also surpassed the team rushing record of 160 yards set by the Packers in the second Super Bowl.
Into the fourth quarter
In the fourth quarter Miami converted a third down for the first time in the game. Even that didn’t end well as later in the same drive Griese was picked off and LB Chuck Howley ran it back to the Miami 9. Dallas converted the opportunity as Staubach hit TE Mike Ditka for a 7 yard TD on third down to take the score out further to 24-7.
Miami were playing for pride now and mounted a good drive. They went from their own 23 to the Cowboys 16. Their first visit to the Red Zone. Once again things fell apart. Griese fumbled a snap and Cole recovered for Dallas. The Cowboys made it to the Dolphins 1 yard line before things were done but Dolphins safety Jake Scott (who would be Super Bowl MVP the next year) knocked the ball loose and Manny Fernandez (who many think could have been Super Bowl MVP the next year, recovered).
Roger Staubach who had gone 12 of 19 for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as having 5 carries for 18 yards was named MVP. Dallas were 13-0 this year in games he had started.
The real dominance had come on the ground where the Cowboys converted 48 rushing plays into 252 yards and a touchdown. And from a D that pretty much shut down Miami’s vaunted running game throughout.
What came next
The Cowboys had finally made it. After a succession of near misses, this dominating performance gave them their first championship.
The following season they would go 10-4 and be well beaten in the NFC championship game by Washington. But, they were well into a run of success now. The Seventies would go on to be a great time to be a Cowboys fan. After their first title, the Boys went 84-32 in the regular season. As well as making 5 NFC Championship games, 3 further Superbowls and picking up their second NFL title in Superbowl 12. From 1966 to 1985 they had 20 consecutive winning seasons.
As for Miami, they were only in their sixth season as a franchise when Dallas outplayed them here in Super Bowl VI. But, they were about to have the greatest period in their history. The Dolphins made it to the next two title games and won both. The zenith being their 1972 season, which remains the only perfect season, (no losses, no ties), in NFL history.
Between 1970 and 1975 Miami went 67-16-1 and made 5 playoff appearances winning 3 conference championships and 2 Superbowls. Since this peak they have had great seasons, and made Superbowls, but they have yet to win another title.
Banner Image: Super Bowl VI action. Image from mysanantonio.com