Thursday, February 05, 2009
I really love Super Bowl weekend. Not so much for what the long wait of Sunday brings, as I can think of nothing more boring than waiting for kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday. But, the weekend itself has established a bit of a tradition in my world.
It involves 3 things that I really get into. The game itself, the Hall of Fame announcements, and a personal past-time: Going to my DVD collection, and grabbing an old Super Bowl broadcast on DVD and popping it in. I watch the original broadcast, grab a notebook, and watch it as if it is happening today. I analyze and take notes as if it is a Cowboys game being played today, and wanted to give it a true “Bob’s Blog” treatment.
This year’s project was Super Bowl X, the first meeting between the Pittsburgh Steelers and your Dallas Cowboys, played on January 18th, 1976.
The 1975 Cowboys season was not the best they ever had. The St Louis Cardinals actually won the division, and the Cowboys finished 2nd, and were relegated to a road game in the playoffs at Minnesota. One Hail Mary play later, the Cowboys went to Los Angeles and drilled the Rams 37-7 in the NFC Championship game. As unlikely as it seemed, the Cowboys were back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the Super Bowl VI win after the 1971 season.
Here are some of the notes taken in my viewing of the historic game from the Orange Bowl in Miami, a game known best for the show put on by Lynn Swann.
• Plenty of talk from the CBS crew (Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier) about the banged up Steelers. Terry Bradshaw was hurting, Lynn Swann was trying to recover from a concussion from the Raiders game, and Joe Greene is not himself. They all give it a go, but it is clear early that “Mean Joe” will not be a factor.
• The Cowboys have a trick play on the opening kickoff. Preston Pearson takes the return, but hands off to rookie LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson on a reverse to the left sideline. Hollywood is shot out of a cannon, and reveals his absurd speed for a Linebacker. Roy Gerela, the kicker who will play a huge role in this game, forces him out at the Pittsburgh 44, but the Cowboys look ready to roll.
• The Steelers first possession ended on a punt meltdown. The snap is fumbled by Bobby Walden, the Steelers punter, and Billy Joe Dupree is on it. One play later, Drew Pearson drags across the middle of the field, Roger Staubach hits him in stride, and Pearson races to the end-zone for a one play drive and the Cowboys have a 7-0 lead. We are informed by Summerall that the team that scores the first touchdown has won the first 9 Super Bowls. Good omen, right?
• Harvey Martin is flying all over the place. What a beast.
• Late in the first Quarter, Lynn Swann’s famous catch along the right sideline occurs. Mark Washington is best known in most places for being the CB who was abused by Swann that day, but looking at the 3 most remarkable catches, I am not sure what Washington could have done different. This play it really does seem that Swann is levitating. How he stays in bounds is remarkable and seemingly impossible. This broadcast doesn’t have hardly any replay angles (I may be spoiled by modern times), but knowing what NFL Films will show us, I am willing to consider this 4 catch performance from Swann the best big-game performance of all-time. The drive ends 3 plays later when Bradshaw finds TE Randy Grossman in the endzone wide open. 7-7, tie.
• One of the obvious rule changes that have benefited the offense since this game is the outlaw of the head-slap, but in this game, it is still quite handy. Dwight White basically punches Ralph Neely in the side of the head on one pass rush, and you can see what a tremendous technique that would be if it were still legal.
• The announcers discuss the two teams’ approaches to play-calling. Terry Bradshaw calls all of his own plays, but Tom Landry sends in Pearson and Doug Dennison with his orders before each huddle. On the Cowboys FG drive early in the Quarter, they have 11 plays run; 9 running plays and just 2 passes – both to the TE Jean Fugett. 10-7, Dallas.
• Brookshier discusses Bradshaw and actually references the idea that he has a low IQ. It would seem in the modern day NFL, this is a bit of a taboo topic.
• On the first Steelers drive of the quarter, they are certainly on the move inside Cowboys territory. But, on 4th and 2, the Steelers go for it with a pass to Franco Harris – which Cliff Harris breaks up. Harris is all over the field, and has many collisions with Franco Harris all day long. Harris really can cover some ground.
• The Cowboys special teams are coached by Mike Ditka, who is wearing a nice light blue V-neck sweater with the sleeves pushed up. The entire Cowboys sideline is a wardrobe discussion, but Ditka and his mustache are pretty distracting. Dan Reeves and Gene Stallings are also notables on Tom Landry’s staff that I can spot through the CBS cameras.
• Both defensive lines seem to be way too much for the opposition. The simplest of stunts cause complete chaos for the pass protection. Too Tall Jones, Martin, and Jethro Pugh are impacting the game for the Cowboys, while LC Greenwood and Dwight White are certainly messing up things for the Steelers defense.
• After the Steelers are pinned deep by a Mitch Hoopes punt, they faced a 3rd and 6 from their own 10 yard line. Rather than play it safe, they go play action, and send it deep to Swann for his other historic grab – the play where he juggles the ball in the air to himself as the Cowboys flail in disbelief. This acrobatic catch again makes you want to be angry at Mark Washington, but really, it is just an amazing play that gains 53 yards. Had Mel Renfro not been on the scene, Swann might have gone 90 for the Touchdown. The Steelers actually get nothing out of the drive, as Roy Gerela misses a 36 yard FG right before the half, and large discussions blaming the wind result.
• Up with People perform. I kid you not. The default punch-line was born in truth.
• The halftime is Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, and Phylliss George sitting at a table in the 3rd row of the stadium at mid-field. It sure seems like Brent and Irv have very little use for the former Miss America sitting at the table with them. When Brent asks Irv what Chuck Noll should do, Cross goes on for 30 seconds. Then George asks Irv, “what about the Cowboys?”, and he quickly dismisses her with “Ask Tom Landry”.
• Brent doesn’t have any sort of Southern accent. Interesting.
• At the risk of committing Cowboys blasphemy, I think now is a fair place to question the performance of the great Roger Staubach in this game. Not very good. He fumbled the ball twice in the first half (but Dallas recovered each) and also threw a pass that should have been picked but was dropped. But here, early in the 3rd quarter, he threw a very poor pass into coverage that was intended for Golden Richards, but intercepted by JT Thomas. Time makes us forget the bad times of a historic icon like Staubach, but in Super Bowl X, Roger was not very good at all. This pick was returned to the Dallas 25 yard line, and in these games, turnovers get you beat. Tom Landry will be criticized for being too conservative with his play calling, but if you watch this entire game, aside from the pass to Drew Pearson back in the 1st Quarter, Staubach doesn’t look like the legend, and you can understand Landry’s desire to try to get the running game going.
• Pittsburgh cannot do much with the field position, and must settle for another attempted Field Goal. Gerela from 33 goes wide yet again, and as the play is over, Cliff Harris taunts Gerela verbally, and maybe even slaps him on the helmet (no good replays). Regardless, this sends young Jack Lambert into a rage, and he sends Harris to the turf. What effect that particular play had on Super Bowl X is certainly a point that has been discussed about a million times, but it is clearly evident on the ensuing Cowboys drive that Lambert is a man possessed, destroying everything in his path.
• For reasons that escape us all, the table at midfield now has Walter Cronkite sitting with the halftime talent. He looks old in 1976, so you can imagine my shock to find he is still alive today. He will turn 93 in November of 2009.
• The Dallas special teams are all over the place, with Cliff Harris looking like he is going to block another punt. But, he misses it, and the Steelers still trail by just 10-7 after 45 minutes. The Steelers have outgained the Cowboys 225-165, but Gerela’s inability to make field goals from 36 and 33 yards are the difference.
• The 1st offensive play of the 4th quarter looked like it was going to be a 83 yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw to Franco. But, the Steelers will have to settle for a 26 yard gain as Harris stepped out at the 40. The drive will be stopped when rookie Randy White sacks Bradshaw for a 14 yard loss. Steelers punt yet again.
• The Cowboys 1st drive in the final quarter included an attempted flea-flicker that Staubach wisely did not throw as the Steelers were sitting on Drew Pearson, and the end of Golden Richards day. Richards and Mel Blount, who won the 1975 Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL, had been battling all day after the whistle. On this occasion, Blount appeared to be kneeling on top of Richards back, and Golden stayed down with what turned into fractured ribs. Rookie Percy Howard would replace Richards.
• The Cowboys drive would end with a punt from Hoopes from inside his 5. The Steelers had an all out block on, and the Cowboys had no chance. Hoopes had the punt blocked, and fortunately, the ball went out of the back of the end zone for just the safety. Reggie Harrison would block the punt, but if he didn’t, it appeared another Steeler would have. 10-9, with a free kick to follow. This kick was returned to the Dallas 45, and momentum had clearly switched to the Steelers sideline. A few plays later, and Gerela actually made a Field Goal, and it was the Steelers first lead of the Super Bowl, 12-10, with 8:41 to go in the game.
• Then, with work to do, Preston Pearson set the Cowboys up in poor position on the kickoff return at their own 15. And on the 1st play from scrimmage, Roger again made a very poor decision and throw. Looking for Drew Pearson on the same play and route as the Touchdown pass in the 1st, the Steelers baited Roger into throwing into triple coverage. Safety Mike Wagner jumped the throw to Drew, and picked it off, returning it all the way to the Cowboys 6 yard line. The game was slipping away. Staubach’s 62.5 Qb Rating to this point of the contest was not helping the cause.
• The Cowboys defense again held in the red-zone, which they had done all day, and the Steelers tacked on another Gerela FG from 18 yards for a 15-10 lead with 6:37 to go. After another Cowboys punt, the Steelers had the ball facing a 3rd and 4 from their own 36 yard line with 3:10 to go in the game. In today’s NFL, most teams would run the ball and use the clock. But, on that day, Bradshaw decided it was time to go for the kill shot. The Cowboys called a full fledged safety blitz, and the game would be decided on this one play. At the snap, it looked doomed for the Steelers as DD Lewis ran around left tackle without being touched and was in position on Bradshaw’s blindside for an easy sack. But, somehow, Bradshaw leaned forward and Lewis’ arm was not enough to impact the play. Cliff Harris blitzing up the middle was picked up for a split second, and eventually got to Bradshaw’s jaw – but only after the ball was gone. Lynn Swann, who had been quiet in the 2nd half, was lined up on the right side 1-on-1 with Mark Washington again. Due to the blitz by Harris, there would be no help for Washington, and with a perfect throw, there would be no stopping Lynn Swann – who caught the ball and ran into football immortality and a Super Bowl MVP. 21-10, Pittsburgh. 3:02 to play.
• Bradshaw on the throw was knocked silly by Harris, and stumbled to the sideline for further examination. He was then taken to the locker-room, and Terry Hanratty would finish the game – his last game with the Steelers before he would back up Steve Spurrier as a QB on the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
• Brookshier is gone to the locker-room, so Hank Stram joins Summerall. This is very odd, as they have not mentioned this as a possibility the entire broadcast. Was Stram just walking around and they grabbed him? When a new broadcaster joins a Super Bowl with 3 minutes to play, it had the feel of a closer entering a baseball game. It kind of threw off the equal librium of the whole thing.
• Down 21-10, the Cowboys started going vertical. Drew Pearson for 30 yards, and then Percy Howard made his only career reception in the NFL, a 34 yard Touchdown pass after Mel Blount fell down, and the Cowboys were down only 21-17, with 1:48 to play, and the Cowboys had all 3 timeouts.
• The onside kick was unsuccessful, and the Steelers would take over at the Dallas 42. 3 plays and 3 timeouts later, the Steelers faced 4th and 9 at the 41 with 1:28 to play. Apparently, the Steelers feared the Cowboys punt block team so much that they went for it, with a back-up QB, and a hand-off to Rocky Bleier gained 2 yards. The Cowboys would have a real chance to come from behind one more time. If they lost, Chuck Noll would have some explaining to do for that odd decision.
• This would only prove more aggravating for Dallas fans, because despite 1:22 to go, and 61 yards to cover, the offense proved to be less-than-satisfactory. Staubach kept the ball for 11 yards, but it would take 34 seconds to get the next snap off because he didn’t get out of bounds. That play gained 12 yards to Preston Pearson, but that play would erase another 28 seconds. Three desperation throws into the end-zone from the 38 yard line were not really close, and the final throw was intercepted. The Steelers win 21-17, and are the 3rd team to win consecutive Super Bowls.
• In the chaotic locker-room, Brookshier asks both Jack Lambert and Franco Harris about being single. On both occasions, it seemed like the players were startled by going from football talk to a love-life discussion. He might be drunk.
• Lambert does detail that Cliff Harris’ taunt on Gerela changed the game and fired him up.
• Brent tells Phyllis that he “didn’t think he would like working with a woman” but it was fun. Awkward.
• Walter Cronkite admits he enjoyed the game, but looks forward to “the political Super Bowl” this summer – the 1976 political conventions.
• Lynn Swann the clear MVP. I can’t even think who would be 2nd. Maybe, Franco or Bradshaw, but Terry went 9-19, so that might have been a tough sell.
Great stuff. We need to have a movie theater show the game sometime, but since the Cowboys lost, that might send some of you back into 1975 depression. I really enjoyed seeing this many Hall of Famers doing their thing at the same time. You wonder how history would be different if the Cowboys could execute a punt.
The Play by Play
The Morning News Game Story
The Game Stats from the Morning News
The Sports Illustrated Story – Dan Jenkins