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The Birth Of A Legend: 1970 Cowboys Team

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The 1970 Dallas Cowboys took things to new heights as the team made its first trip to football's promised land. Though unsuccessful during this attempt, the Cowboys legend grew with the squad's first trip to the big game.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The year was 1970, and the Dallas Cowboys were about to begin the franchise's second decade of play in the National Football League. A lot had changed in the landscape of professional football during the first ten seasons of the club's existence and the game was rapidly moving toward the era that we now enjoy. It had moved from a game that saw two competing leagues, the NFL and the AFL, to a game that had one top tier consisting of two conferences built around the former competing organizations. The die was cast for some serious growth and the organization in Dallas was perfectly situated to cash in on the opportunity.

Dallas was led by the unflappable Tom Landry. The coach had built a franchise around the innovations that he had developed over his time as with the New York Giants and perfected once he took the helm in Dallas. Landry finally had the pieces to fit and he was ready to prove his concepts to the football world. The roster was led by not one but two of the better quarterbacks of the era, Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. In their arsenal of weapons the two passers had weapons like "Bullet" Bob Hayes who had redefined what a wide receiver was supposed to be and Duane Thomas, a rookie running back who came into the league and set the gridiron on fire paired with fullback Calvin Hill (and later in the season Walt Garrison) set the tone for the Cowboys. The Dallas offense was potent, although not nearly as explosive as offenses are today.

The other side of the ball featured the Flex defense which was a further development on the 4-3 scheme that Landry had first introduced in New York. Bob Lilly anchored the squad on the defensive line while men like Lee Roy Jordan and Chuck Howley patrolled the middle of the defense to quickly put an end to opponent's threats. They were in turn back-stopped by Mel Renfro and a couple more rookies named Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters.

The 1970 Cowboys had a solid core of savvy veterans who had done their time in the game and some exciting talent ready to make a mark on professional football. They were also hungry. The franchise had risen from nothing at the beginning of the 1960 season to being the perennial bridesmaid who came so close as the decade wound to a close. A new league and a new decade presented the team with a blank page to write their own history, and write they did.

Dallas started the season strong, a pair of convincing wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants had Landry's squad looking like they were destined for another play-off appearance.  The team then hit a couple rough patches, losing two of their next three contests. A two-game losing streak followed shortly thereafter. The Cowboys soon righted the ship. Thomas, running behind  All-Pro caliber linemen like John Niland and Rayfield Wright soon began to dominate week after week. This allowed the squad to close with a strong five-game winning streak and win the NFC East crown.

The divisional round of the playoffs started with a low scoring affair. The Cowboys managed to score only five points against the visiting Detroit Lions. It was Landry's defense who saved the day in the opening round. They pitched a shutout when the team desperately needed one and their efforts insured that Dallas would head west to face the San Francisco 49ers for the first NFC Championship game.

The trip to California was not a pretty one for the Cowboys, although the scoreboard would indicate otherwise. Only the two place kickers were able to den't the scoreboard during the first half and the game was tied 3-3. Again it was the defense that saved the day for Dallas. Lee Roy Jordan and Mel Renfro both intercepted 49ers quarterback John Brodie and set up a pair of Cowboys touchdowns. San Francisco would also find the endzone before the third quarter ended. From there each team threatened but was rebuffed. After falling short in previous opportunities, the Dallas Cowboys were headed to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl V was held January 17, 1971 and it will be forever known to football historians as the "Blunder Bowl". The game was hallmarked by sloppy play out of both Landry's Cowboys and Don McCafferty's Baltimore Colts. There were 11 total turnovers between the two clubs. This includes a record seven by the winning club. At least the turnovers were not simple mental mistakes. It was a brutal, hard hitting contest and the errors resulted from the violence of the action.

I haven't been around many games where the players hit harder. Sometimes people watch a game and see turnovers and they talk about how sloppy the play was. The mistakes in that game weren't invented, at least not by the people who made them. Most were forced - Tom Landry

That does not excuse the penalties. 10 penalties for 133 yards was too much for the Dallas Cowboys to overcome. Despite having the early lead and a halftime advantage of 13-6, it was not meant to be. The Colts, behind back up quarterback Earl Morrall, who had replaced an injured Johnny Unitas, tied the contest half way through the game's final stanza. The Cowboys had an opportunity inside two minutes to go when they got possession of the ball in Colts territory. A field goal would likely give the Cowboys their first championship, but a holding call and an interception thrown by Morton would shift the hand of fate. With five seconds remaining to be played Baltimore kicker Jim O'Brien tacked on the game's final points. A second interception thrown by Morton sealed Dallas' fate, and Baltimore walked away with the Tiffany crafted Stirling silver trophy as the champions of professional football.

It is a testament to the intensity and dominance of the defensive play that Chuck Howley of the Cowboys became the first defensive player, and only player from the losing squad, to be named the MVP. Equally memorable is the fact that Baltimore's legendary Bubba Smith declined to ever wear his Super Bowl ring in part out of embarrassment over the level of play during the game and part out of disappointment over the team's failure against Joe Nameth's New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

One side note for the superstitious among us; Dallas was the home team and under the rules in place at that time the Cowboys were forced to wear the "home" blue jerseys even though they traditionally wore white at home. We all know what happens when Dallas breaks out the blue, don't we? A good measure of the belief in the jinx can be traced back to the events that happened in Miami during this game.