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Revisiting Super Bowl XII: When Doomsday met Orange Crush

Two of professional football’s best defensive units clashed for the sports biggest prize to start out 1978.

Cowboys v Bears Photo by Johnathon Daniel/Getty Images

On January 15th, 1978, the Superdome in New Orleans played host to the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos as the two teams met to determine the best team in professional football. The teams would enter the contest with identical 12-2 regular-season marks.

That was not the only common denominator for the two squads. Dallas featured a dominating defense, Tom Landry’s famed Doomsday II, wile the Broncos countered with their highly touted Orange Crush Defense. It was inevitable that the defense that was best able to assert itself early on would create the best chance to win.

Both units were presented early opportunities to impact the game. Dallas tried to fumble the game away early, putting the ball on the carpet three times in their first two possessions. The Cowboys managed to retain possession on all three miscues.

Denver did not fare as well. Former Dallas quarterback Craig Morton suffered a flash back to his days in the Lone Star State, twice tossing the football to men with blue stars on their helmet. Defensive backs Randy Hughes and Aaron Kyle were both able to add Super Bowl interceptions to their resumes during the first quarter.

Dallas converted the first interception into a short Tony Dorsett scamper for a touchdown. The second pick of Morton resulted in a Efren Herrera field goal. The first stanza came to an end with the Cowboys staked to a 10-0 lead.

The sloppy offensive play by both teams continued into the second quarter. Some of this can be attributed to the efforts of two of the game’s best defensive units, but both offenses also contributed to their own struggles.

The Cowboys did manage to expand their margin to 13-0 thanks to Herrera, but the telling stat of the first half was the miscues. The Dallas kicker missed more field goal attempts than he made, going two for five before the intermission. They were fortunate that Denver only recovered one of the five Dallas fumbles.

Staubach also tossed up a pass that was intercepted by the orange squad, but he had stepped out of bounds prior to releasing the football.

It was even worse for Coach Red Miller’s Broncos, they set a record for offensive blunders during the half. They committed seven turnovers. Morton, who was typically not prone to interceptions, was picked off four times. They also lost three fumbles.

Denver got off to a quick start coming out of the locker room thanks to a decent kick off return and their offense finally coming to life. Doomsday bent but did not break. The Broncos were able to salvage a long field goal to finally put a tally on the board.

Roger Staubach and the Cowboys also found life after halftime. The Hall of Fame quarterback hit Butch Johnson on a deep scoring pass. The finger tip pass should have been ruled incomplete. When Johnson hit the ground the ball popped free but the ruling on the field was touchdown so Dallas was able to expand its lead. Remember, this was a pre-replay era, so calls stood no matter what.

Following a deep kick off return, Craig Morton was benched by Coach Miller after nearly tossing another completion to a Dallas defender. His replacement, Norris Weese, kept the ball on the ground and Denver finally found the endzone before the third period ended.

In the final quarter fullback Robert Newhouse hit Golden Richards with the first touchdown pass thrown by a non-quarterback in Super Bowl history. That would prove to be the final score of the game (27-10) and Dallas would go on to claim its second Lombardi trophy.

It is a testament to the Dallas defense that on the first vote the entire starting Doomsday defense was chosen to be the game’s MVPs. The NFL objected and so the award was presented instead to a pair of defensive linemen; Randy White and Harvey Martin.

Because of the sloppy play, Super Bowl XII is not considered to be one of the ‘better’ games ever played. Mistakes hampered both teams, the primary culprits being Morton and Herrera. Both defenses turned in big plays but Landry’s Doomsday unit was superior in its efforts. Their performance was a fitting tribute to their head coach and the Dallas defense did right by him in Landry’s final Super Bowl win.

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