A Forgotten Rival

When thinking of the Cowboys non-division rivals, who immediately comes to mind? The 49ers and Steelers, and considering their long playoff history with both teams, that’s totally understandable. I’d like to add one team to that list, the Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys – Rams rivalry is one that isn’t talked about much (actually, at all) because they stopped meeting in the playoffs after the mid 80’s (and the Rams moved to St. Louis); but these teams met 8 times in the playoffs in a 12 year span from 1974 to 1986, and once before that if you count the meaningless Playoff Bowl that the two teams met in one year. For those who don’t know what the Playoff Bowl was, it was basically a game to decide third place in the NFL, which was essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Considering the Rams are our next preseason opponents, what better time to bring up forgotten history? I’ve included a short summary of the games, courtesy of Wikipedia, since I’m too young to have been around for any of these.

1. Cowboys 27, Rams 16; 1973-74 Divisional Round

The Cowboys avenged a 37-31 regular season loss to L.A. as two Rams turnovers in the first quarter gave the Cowboys a 14-0 lead. Lee Roy Jordan's interception of a John Hadl pass on the first play of the game led to Calvin Hill's 3-yard touchdown run. Mel Renfro then recovered a Lawrence McCutcheon fumble on the L.A. 35-yard line to set up the Cowboys again which later resulted in Drew Pearson's 4-yard touchdown reception. Toni Fritsch then added a 39-yard field goal to increase Dallas' lead by 17. But the Rams were able to cut the Cowboys lead 17-16 by the fourth quarter with David Ray's 3 field goals and Tony Baker's 5-yard rushing touchdown and a relentless pass rush that sacked Staubach seven times (2½ by Jack Youngblood, 2 by Merlin Olsen). However, quarterback Roger Staubach threw a short pass over the middle to Drew Pearson, and as the Rams were about to stop Pearson for a short gain, defensive backs Dave Elmendorf and Steve Preece collided and fell, allowing Pearson to scamper untouched for an 83-yard touchdown that effectively clinched the game. Fritsch added another field goal for the 27-16 final.

2. Cowboys 37, Rams 7; 1975-76 NFC Championship

Quarterback Roger Staubach threw for 220 yards and 4 touchdown passes while also rushing for 54 yards as the Cowboys upset the favored Rams. The first passing attempt by Los Angeles quarterback James Harris, who was coming off an injury and making his first start since the 13th game of the season, was intercepted by Dallas linebacker D.D. Lewis. This set up Staubach's first touchdown pass, a screen to running back Preston Pearson for 18 yards. A 4-yard touchdown reception byGolden Richards and a diving catch in the end zone by Preston Pearson put the Cowboys up 21-0 by halftime. Dallas scored again on their first drive of the second half on a shovel pass to Preston Pearson for his third touchdown reception of the game. Toni Fritsch later added three field goals. Harris gave way to backup Ron Jaworski, but only John Cappelletti's 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter prevented the Rams from being shut out. Pearson finished the game with 7 receptions for 123 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 20 rushing yards. The Dallas defense allowed only 118 yards, a mere 22 on the ground, and sacked Jaworski 5 times.

3. Rams 14, Cowboys 12; 1976-77 Divisional Round

The Rams overcame two blocked punts by the Cowboys to come away with a 14-12 win in a defense dominated physical game. Dallas opened the scoring with a 44-yard field goal, but Los Angeles responded with quarterback Pat Haden's 4-yard touchdown run. Late in the first half, Charlie Waters blocked a punt to set up running back Scott Laidlaw's 1-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 10-7 lead. Early in the final period, Rams kicker Tom Dempsey made what would have been a game-tying field goal, but Cliff Harris was called for a running into the kicker penalty on the play. The usually conservative Ram coach Chuck Knox uncharacteristically took the points off the board, giving Los Angeles a first down. A few plays later,Lawrence McCutcheon vindicated Knox's decision as he ran for a one yard touchdown to give the Rams the lead, 14-10. With 1:59 remaining in the game, Waters blocked another punt and the Cowboys recovered the ball at the Los Angeles 17-yard line. On first down, Butch Johnson's reception was ruled incomplete because he could only get one foot down in bounds in the end zone. On 4th and two, the Rams stopped Staubach for a one yard gain and took possession on their own 8 yard line. After three "kneel downs" and Cowboy time outs, the Rams faced a 4th and 14 with seconds left in the game. Wary of another blocked punt, Coach Knox ordered Ram punter Rusty Jackson to step out of the back of the end zone for an intentional safety, and the Rams won 14-12. The Ram defense held Dallas to only 85 rushing yards; Dallas' defense was equally stingy, allowing 120 rushing yards but the Rams needed 49 attempts to achieve this. Constant Ram pressure caused Staubach to have one of his worst playoff games ever as he was 15 of 37 for 150 yards; he was sacked 4 times and threw 3 interceptions. In addition, Staubach, who had hurt the Rams the year before with his scrambling runs, gained only 8 yards rushing. Ram QB Pat Haden couldn't do much better vs. Dallas' tough defense; he was 10 for 21 for 152 yards and also threw 3 interceptions.

4. Cowboys 28, Rams 0; 1978-79 NFC Championship

After a scoreless defensive struggle in the first half (Ram kicker Frank Corral missed two field goals), the Cowboys forced 5 second half turnovers that led to 28 points. With 1:52 left in the third quarter, Dallas safety Charlie Waters intercepted a pass and returned it to the Los Angeles 10-yard line. Five plays later, running back Tony Dorsett, who finished the game with 101 rushing yards, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead. Waters then recorded another interception on the Rams next drive, setting up quarterback Roger Staubach's 4-yard touchdown pass to Scott Laidlaw with 58 seconds into the final period. On Waters' second interception, Pat Haden's throwing hand hit Randy White's helmet, breaking his thumb and knocking him out of the game. On the Rams' next drive, Vince Ferragamo, Haden's replacement, hit Willie Miller on a 65-yard pass to the 10-yard line, but on first and goal Cullen Bryant fumbled, and Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martinrecovered at the 11-yard line. Dallas then marched 89 yards, featuring a 53 yard run on first down by Tony Dorsett to score on Billy Joe Dupree's 11-yard touchdown catch. The Cowboys closed out the scoring with 1:19 left in the game when linebacker Thomas Henderson intercepted a Ferragamo pass and returned it 68-yards for the final touchdown.

5. Rams 21, Cowboys 19; 1979-80 Divisional Round (Staubach’s last game. Yes, you read that right)

Quarterback Vince Ferragamo led the Rams to a victory by throwing for three touchdown passes, the last one with 2:06 left in the game. The Cowboys scored first when defensive tackle Randy White sacked Ferragamo in the end zone for a safety. However, Ferragamo responded by throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to running back Wendell Tyler. Dallas kicker Rafael Septien kicked a 33-yard field goal with 52 seconds left in the first half, but Ferragamo completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Ron Smith before time expired to make it a 14–5 halftime lead. The Cowboys, led by quarterback Roger Staubach in what proved to be his last NFL game of his hall of fame career, then scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half to take the lead, 19–14. With about 2 minutes left in the game and the Rams at midfield, Ferragamo found wide receiver Billy Waddy on a short crossing route and Waddy sprinted the rest of the way for a game-winning 50-yard touchdown. Staubach was unable to engineer a late fourth-quarter comeback like the ones that made him famous throughout his career. The Rams defense forced a sack, and then pressured the Dallas quarterback to throw a pass illegally to an ineligible receiver, guard Herbert Scott, on fourth down; the last pass of his career.

6. Cowboys 34, Rams 13; 1980-81 Wild Card Playoffs

The Cowboys avenged a 38-14 loss to the Rams two weeks earlier (in a game they trailed 38-0) as Dallas running back Tony Dorsett rushed for 160 yards, caught 3 passes for 28 yards, and scored 2 touchdowns to lead his team to victory. After Dallas kicker Rafael Septien opened up the scoring with a 28-yard field goal, the Rams marched 73-yards to score on running back Jewerl Thomas' 1-yard run. However, the ensuing extra point was blocked and Septien later made a 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 6. In the second period, Los Angeles quarterback Vince Ferragamo completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver Preston Dennard, but the Cowboys tied the game before halftime with Dorsett's 12-yard rushing touchdown. After the game was tied at halftime, 13-13, Cowboys quarterback Danny White threw 3 touchdown passes in the second half. In addition, Dallas coach Tom Landry went to a 5 man defensive front and they dropped various combinations into 7 and 8 man coverage to confuse the Rams potent passing game. The result was a combination of pressure on Ram QB Vince Ferragamo, and Dallas intercepted 3 passes. White then threw touchdown passes on Dallas' first three drives of the second half: A 10-yarder to Dorsett, a 35-yard one to Butch Johnson, and an 11-yarder to Drew Pearson. Dallas then turned to a potent rushing attack to chew up time and keep the Rams offense off the field. Dallas rushed 46 times for 338 yards, and the Rams were never able to score in the second half.

7. Rams 24, Cowboys 17; 1983-84 Wild Card Playoffs

The Rams converted 3 turnovers in the second half into 17 points to upset the heavily favored Cowboys in Texas. Los Angeles scored first in the first quarter on quarterback Vince Ferragamo's 18-yard touchdown pass to Drew Hill after an 85-yard drive. The Cowboys then tied the game just before halftime after quarterback Danny White capped a 70-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tony Hill. Dallas then took the lead in the third period with Rafael Septien's 41-yard field goal. But then the Rams took advantage of the Cowboys' turnovers. Los Angeles' Mike Wilcher recovered a muffed punt at the Dallas 16-yard line, setting up wide receiver Preston Dennard's 16-yard touchdown reception. Then linebacker Jim Collins' interception set up Ferragamo's 8 yard pass to wide receiver George Farmer. Finally, defensive back LeRoy Irvin's 94-yard interception return set up Mike Lansford's 20-yard field goal. By the time White threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Doug Cosbie, the game was out of reach.

8. Rams 20, Cowboys 0; 1985-86 Divisional Round (Tom Landry’s last playoff game. Yes, you read that right)

Running back Eric Dickerson led the Rams to a victory by scoring two touchdowns and recording a playoff record 248 rushing yards. After the first half ended with a 3-0 Los Angeles lead, Dickerson scored on a 55-yard touchdown run early in the third period. On the ensuing kickoff, Kenny Duckett fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Vince Newsome to set up kicker Mike Lansford's second field goal. In the fourth period, Tony Hunter recovered a fumbled punt to set up Dickerson's 40-yard rushing touchdown. This was Tom Landry's final postseason game as the Cowboys head coach.

Anyone who’s familiar with the Cowboys’ history will not be surprised that the Cowboys won 3 out of 4 of the first 4 postseason contests during the height of their dominance under Tom Landry, but then as their contests go on to the 80’s the Rams won 3 of the last 4, for a combined record of 4-4 and combined scores of Cowboys 174, Rams 115. But I bet most of you did not know that both Staubach AND Landry played or coached their last playoff games against the Rams, and in Staubach’s case it was his last game played in the NFL.

I know what you’re thinking; "it’s just the Rams dude", why should I care? Well, Jeff Fisher knows a thing or two about building a perennial playoff contender, and the Rams are lucky to have him as their new Head Coach, and I think they’re closer to contention than most people believe. It was only two years ago they were in a playoff play-in game against the Seahawks to determine who would get in to the playoffs with a rookie Quarterback. They have a young franchise Quarterback in Sam Bradford, a bruising Running Back in Steven Jackson, a stout defensive line and stud Linebacker in James Laurinitis. If they can shore up their offensive line (sound familiar?) and find some legit receiving options for Bradford besides Danny Amendola (anyone remember him?) there is a strong chance they will be contending for championships sooner rather than later. Oh, they also have Les Snead as their GM, the guy who turned the Falcons into a contender. I’d say there is a decent chance the Cowboys and the Rams renew their playoff rivalry, assuming some of our own deficiencies get shored up as well.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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