The Dallas Cowboys were to supposed to be rebuilding in 1975, not appearing in the NFC Championship game. However, the mood inside the Cowboys locker room was vastly different.
"When I first came down here, Dan Reeves [Cowboys offensive coordinator], that was the first thing out of his mouth: 'We have to get back into the championship chase,'" Preston Pearson, an acquisition off the waiver wire that off-season, said to CowboysHQ.
1975 was supposed to be the year the St. Louis Cardinals went deep into the playoffs, or maybe the Minnesota Vikings, that Dallas and Drew Pearson knocked off the week prior with a Hail Mary, would get a fourth shot at the Super Bowl. The 12-2 NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams were still alive, and hosting the revitalized Cowboys for the conference crown.
Dallas dispatched the Rams 18-7 on Opening Day in Texas Stadium. Dallas would lose four games that year while the Rams only lost one more the entire year. Dallas would walk into the playoffs as a wildcard while Los Angeles settled for the second seed in the NFC.
The 1975 Cowboys draft class was nicknamed "The Dirty Dozen" for its list of 12 rookies who had a significant impact during the season. One of them was first-round linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. Special teams coach Mike Ditka had an assignment for the rook: take out the kicker, Tom Dempsey. Yes, the Tom Dempsey who kicked with a prosthetic foot and played with a withered arm. On the opening kickoff, Henderson dashed for Dempsey, whose head was down, and clocked the 28-year-old right on the chin.
Ditka's plan worked. For the rest of the game, Dempsey's kickoffs were short ... not that he had an opportunity to kick very many.
Rams quarterback James Harris was returning to the lineup after missing the past three games, including the 35-23 victory over the Cardinals. On his first dropback of the game, Harris threw an interception to Cowboys linebacker D.D. Lewis. The eighth-year linebacker out of Mississippi State helped set up Dallas with favorable field position. On Staubach's pass attempt, he hit Preston Pearson on a screen for an 18-yard touchdown to put Dallas up 7-0.
Preston was the Cowboys' other Pearson. The Cowboys claimed Preston off waivers from the Steelers, and his specialty as a third-down back gave the Cowboys the advantage they needed in 1975.
"Remember, free agency wasn't the same back then," Pearson explained. "You really weren't free. Actually, you were guys that got cut, or released from other teams, and got picked up."
After a four-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Golden Richards, Preston made a diving catch for a 15-yard touchdown reception to give Dallas a 21-0 heading into the halftime locker room. The papers had said Dallas didn't have a chance, but the team felt like they had just got their tickets to the Super Bowl.
They punched those tickets on the Cowboys' first drive of the third quarter. Staubach dropped back and shovel-passed to Preston for a 19-yard touchdown, his third of the game.
People ask Preston Pearson what was the biggest and most memorable game of his career. He has many of them, having played with the Colts with Johnny Unitas coached by Don Shula and later Chuck Noll's Steelers with Terry Bradshaw under center.
"That game was the most important to me," Preston said.
"I still think for us, as a team, it was important."
Down 28-0, the Rams were at a severe disadvantage. Even their attempts to throw a pint of water onto the Cowboys' conflagration of a lead were futile. Dempsey, who had taken that shot from Henderson on the opening kickoff, lined up for a field goal. Henderson trash-talked that he was again going to level Dempsey. Henderson broke through the line and deflected the field-goal try.
Dallas kicker Toni Fritsch didn't have the same worries as his Rams counterpart. He was free to kick two field goals in the third quarter, which were like dirt being thrown on Los Angeles' grave. As the fourth quarter began, the Rams would have to overcome a 34-0 deficit if they wanted to play the Steelers two weeks from then in the Super Bowl in Miami. They had no chance.
Running back John Cappelleti ran for a one-yard touchdown to stave off just the second shutout in conference championship game history to that point. However, the wounds were all fatal to the Rams' Super Bowl hopes. Even Cowboys backup Clint Longley got into the game and completed two passes for a 100% completion percentage. Fritsch's third field goal of the game set the game's final score at 37-7. To this day, it stands as the third-largest win margin in NFC Championship game history.
"We had a lot of people who we depended on all year who made big plays for us make big plays in that game," Ed "Too Tall" Jones, who had a sack in that game, told CowboysHQ.
"It was a dream come true to have an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl."
Said Pearson: "That was my day. I remember everything."
The Rams disparaged Dallas' use of the shotgun formation during 1975, but they had no answer for it in the Coliseum. Roger Staubach went 16/26 for 220 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Preston Pearson caught seven catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns. The other Pearson, at least for this game, caught five balls for 46 yards. Richards caught two passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. The team rushed for 195 yards on 50 carries to boot.
Lewis added another interception, and safety Cliff Harris picked one off for 22 yards. The reloaded Doomsday Defense pressured Harris and Jaworski all game. "Beautiful" Harvey Martin, Randy White, Jethro Pugh, Bill Gregory, and "Too Tall" Jones each recorded a sack of Jaworski after forcing Harris out of the game. The Rams ground game carried the ball 16 times for a paltry 22 yards and a meaningless touchdown in the game's final minutes.
This Sunday, the Cowboys aren't headed to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but to Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. With running back DeMarco Murray having more rushing yards than 24 other teams to this point, and facing a team he feasts on, the Rams are the underdogs while Dallas ideally will punch their ticket to their fourth straight 2-1 start. Hopefully, Murray has a Preston Pearson-like performance, whether by ground or air, to give Dallas the victory.