The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has waited 45 years to host its first Super Bowl. It only took a tenacious, aggressive megalomaniac owner and a billion bucks to get it here. And now that the attention of the world is turned to our little corner of it, some old-school Cowboys fans would just as soon the two teams coming to Dallas didn’t. They would be just as happy if their annoying fans stayed home, too.
No sooner had Ben Roethlisberger completed the pass that became the dagger in the heart of Jets’ fans than my cell phone rang. It was my father-in-law, who is navigating his way through his seventh decade in this world, and who happens to be a day-one, dyed-in-the-wool Dallas Cowboys fan.
“Well, it is the worst-case scenario,” he sighed.
I did not have to ask what he meant. He has been around long enough to hate the Packers for what they kept the Cowboys from becoming in the 1960s and the Steelers for stealing the ’70s.
Don’t get me wrong: the Cowboys have had their successes against Green Bay and Pittsburgh. From 1993–’95, Troy Aikman’s Cowboys knocked Brett Favre’s Packers out of the playoffs three consecutive times. All of those games were played in Dallas and none of them were close. The Cowboys also beat the Steelers 27–17 in Super Bowl XXX. They were clearly the superior team in that contest.
All of that notwithstanding, the most heart-breaking, agonizing losses in Cowboys’ history have come at the hands of the Packers and the Steelers.
For the benefit of those too young to know and those too old to remember, I will break down the championship rivalries between the Cowboys and the Steelers/Packers, which may as well be a single entity for all anybody around here cares.
1966 NFL Championship Game: Green Bay Packers versus Dallas Cowboys
The Green Bay Packers were already owners of nine NFL Championships by January 1, 1967. Their opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, had only been around since 1960, but had risen fast under the steady guidance of coach Tom Landry.
The ’67 meeting would take place at the Cotton Bowl, the home of the Cowboys, and would determine the NFL participant in the game dubbed Super Bowl I. The Super Bowl was to be the contest between the rival professional football leagues, the NFL and the AFL.
Though a merger was imminent, it would not take place until 1970.
The Dallas Cowboys had emerged as an up-coming power by 1966. With names like Don Meredith, Bob Hayes, Bob Lilly, Dan Reeves, and Lee Roy Jordan on the team roster, it was little wonder.
The championship game would be a shootout, too, with the Packers emerging victors, 34–27. The Cowboys had a chance to complete a comeback after being down 34–20 in the third, but fell just short. On fourth and goal from the Packers’ two yard line, quarterback Don Meredith rolled out to pass, but was under heavy pressure and threw an interception in the end zone.
1967 NFL Championship Game: Green Bay Packers versus Dallas Cowboys
This is the famous “Ice Bowl” game, about which so much has been written, it hardly seems necessary for me to add my voice to din. Here is what Wikipedia says about it:
The 1967 National Football League Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys was the 35th championship game in NFL history. Popularly known as the Ice Bowl, it is widely considered one of the greatest games in NFL history, due to the hostile conditions in which it was played, the importance of the game, the rivalry between the teams, the duel between two future Hall of Fame head coaches, and the dramatic conclusion.
The game was played at Lambeau field and with an actual game-time temperature of -13°, it is the coldest on record. It was also a brutal battle between Vince Lombardi’s Packers and Tom Landry’s Cowboys. The two legendary coaches had once been coordinators together with the New York Giants. By 1967, they were bitter rivals, vying for the championship and the right to represent the NFL in Super Bowl II.
As it had the year before in Dallas, the championship game came down to a final play on the goal line. This time it was the Packers with the ball and the Cowboys clinging to a narrow 17–14 lead. With 16 seconds remaining, it was third and goal at the Cowboys’ one yard line. Quarterback Bart Starr called his own number. He followed guard Jerry Kramer, who pushed Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh just enough to let Starr sneak the ball over the goal line. The Packers won, 21–17.
For the Dallas Cowboys, 1967 ended the way it had begun. On January 1st, the Cowboys lost the ’66 championship to the Pack and on December 31st, they lost the ’67 championship to that same ugly, green machine and their gap-toothed coach. (Not that anyone was bitter about it.)
And now the taunts were beginning. The Dallas Cowboys were called “the bridesmaids of the NFL,” or “Next Year’s Champions.”
(See a highlight video of the “Ice Bowl” here.)
Super Bowl X: Dallas Cowboys versus Pittsburgh Steelers
The Dallas Cowboys would meet the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl twice in four years. It was inevitable, really, since the Cowboys were to make five trips to the big game and the Steelers four during the course of the 1970s.
The first of these meetings was on January 18, 1976 in Super Bowl X. The game featured two of the the most storied defenses in NFL history. Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense boasted eight Pro Bowl players that year. The Steel Curtain featured “Mean” Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood on the line; two future Hall of Fame linebackers in Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, and future Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Blount.
The Cowboys’ DoomsDay II defense used Tom Landry’s innovative “Flex” formation and was fearsome in its own right, with Harvey Martin and Ed “Too Tall” Jones anchoring the line and future Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro joining the two best safeties in the league, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, in the defensive backfield.
Each offense was led by a Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL legend: Terry Bradshaw for the Steelers; Roger Staubach for the Cowboys. Of course, there was also coaching legends and hall of famers Chuck Knoll and Tom Landry on the sideline.
Befitting two storied franchises, the game itself was a nail-biter and was not decided for sure until the final gun sounded. On the game’s last play, Staubach was throwing for the end zone and the win, but the ball was tipped and intercepted by safety Glen Edwards.
The Steelers won, 21–17. Lynn Swann, another future of Hall of Famer, caught four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. He was also named the game’s MVP, becoming the first wide receiver to receive the honor.
Super Bowl X was the Cowboys’ third trip to the Super Bowl and their second loss. It was the Steelers’ second consecutive Super Bowl victory.
Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers versus Dallas Cowboys
Played on January 21, 1979, in Miami, Super Bowl XIII would mark the third time the Cowboys had been to the championship in four years, and their fifth trip in nine years. It was the Steelers’ third trip in five years. Pittsburgh would return for a fourth time the following year.
Imagine that: In a single decade, the NFC had been represented five times by the same team and the AFC had sent the same team to the contest four times. Yet, only one of those dynasties would emerge as the team of the ’70s. That team would be determined in the fairest way possible: two head-to-head meetings.
Had the Cowboys won just one of those games against the Steelers, they would have had bragging rights for the 1970s by virtue of their remarkable five trips to the Super Bowl. Alas, it was not to be. Though the games against the Steelers were among the most exciting Super Bowls ever played, the Cowboys came up short both times.
Super Bowl XIII was the one where Dallas linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson famously said that Terry Bradshaw could not spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “a.” Bradshaw responded by throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns, both Super Bowl records at the time. The Pittsburgh QB was named the game’s MVP despite throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble on the day.
Bradshaw’s heroics may have won the game, but his miscues very nearly cost his team the game. He might have as easily been the goat as the hero, had it not been for one of the Super Bowl’s all-time notable goats, Jackie Smith.
The Cowboys had lured Smith, a Hall of Fame-bound tight end, formerly of the Cardinals, out of retirement when the injury bug hit them. It was the third quarter and Smith was wide open in the middle of the end zone. Quarterback Roger Staubach hit him in the chest with a pass. Smith dropped it. The Cowboys settled for a field goal.
The rest is history…and still a raw memory for so many Cowboys’ fans.
The Steelers won the game, 35–31.
(See the Jackie Smith drop on video here.)
Four times the Dallas Cowboys have been within inches of a championship, only to be denied, either by the Packers or the Steelers. So, forgive the locals a little long in the tooth if they don’t offer a friendly smile or hearty handshake while you foul their beloved Cowboys’ home with your Green and Gold or Black and Gold.
And pay no attention at all to the bumper sticker that reads, “Welcome to Texas. Now, go home.”
I live up in Steelers country, so I have it pretty bad having to listen to people go on and on about them. I'm too young to have seen the games in the '70s, but I do remember Super Bowl XXX. Maybe it was 20 years too late, and perhaps it didn't quite get rid of that bad taste for the graybeard Cowboys fans, but that was the game that made me a fan.
Of all the teams to play in a Super Bowl in Dallas, it just had to be Pittsburgh. Obviously, this wouldn't bother me so much if Dallas was there, too. It seems fitting in an awful sort of way. I guess there's always next year.