Anniversary Of America – America's Team

This isn't exactly what anniversary-minded Dallas Cowboys fans envisioned for Super Bowl XLII. But instead of roasting this year's non-Super ‘Boys. … let's go back exactly 30 years, for some toasting of that year's Super ‘Boys as they ascended to "America's Team'' status.

Ideally, this year's Cowboys would've fulfilled their destiny – or at least, the oddmakers' guesstimations – and earned a berth in The Big Game. What a beautiful full-circle experience that would have been for Randy White and Roger Staubach and Cliff Harris and Robert Newhouse and Hollywood Henderson and for fans who grew up with those Cowboys.

Instead, those legendary Cowboys will have to settle for their memories of Super Bowl XXII, 30 years ago, when Dallas crushed Denver in New Orleans, 27-10, thus killing the moniker "Next Year's Champions'' and birthing the nickname "America's Team.''

It was the end of the 1977 season, the Super Bowl to be played in 1978, and everything about those Cowboys seemed glitzy and glamorous and almost space-age'y. The uniforms were shiny. The "Flex'' defense was mysterious.

The "shotgun'' was cool. The decisions were made by computers. The stadium was other-worldly. The greatest "faces of the franchise''? Quarterback Staubach was an intriguing combination of whole milk and all-military.

Coach Tom Landry wore everything – from clothing to his detached expressions – as if he knew he was a bigger-than-life bronze statue just waiting to be erected outside the Texas Stadium entrance. They were innovative in every area, from the way their offensive linemen raised their torsos in a full-body salute before the snap to the way they were marketed.

The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

"Doomsday II.''

And of course – through no real credit or fault of their own, inasmuch as it was NFL Films that actually creates the still-fitting nickname – "America's Team.''

History now tells us that those Cowboys had it all figured out. They certainly were not going to lose to the silly Broncos, with their homely uniforms and their pep-talky coach (Red Miller) and their broken-down Dallas discard Craig Morton under center and their childish nickname.

"Orange Crush''? A second-rate soda pop was going to top the soon-to-be "America's Team''? It helped that the Cowboys had been there, done that.

The Cowboys of a previous generation had recorded a Super Bowl victory over Miami in 1972, that win sandwiched between losses to the Baltimore Colts in 1971 (when Morton was the Cowboys QB) and to the dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976. So Landry & Co. knew their way around the block. … and around the French Quarter. Legend has it that the organization brought an army of staffers to New Orleans, soldiers assigned to take care of every Cowboy whim, to solve every Cowboy problem, to eliminate every Cowboy distraction.

A nice dinner? Extra tickets? Need a massage? The Cowboys were taken care of.

And more than that, Landry set a loosey-goosey tone. You might be surprised to learn that the famously moralistic icon allowed his players to party in New Orleans without a curfew until Thursday.

"You've got to trust and respect your players,'' said Landry, words that should still resonate interestingly for control-freaky coaches and knee-jerky fans all these 30 years later.

Of course, history should also remember that at the time, the National Football Conference had lost five straight Super Bowls, and that these "legendary'' Cowboys names were then, in many cases, still building their reputations. Who knew that Randy White and Harvey Martin would put so much pressure on Morton – who'd coughed up only eight interceptions all season -- that he would throw four picks. … in the first half alone?

Who knew that kid halfback Tony Dorsett would become a Hall-of-Fame running back, in part by demonstrating the explosiveness he used to rush for 66 yards in the first half?

Who knew we would so quickly after the game could we fully take stock in Staubach, who with the win matched Bob Griese and Terry Bradshaw with a pair of SB victories? (By the way, it was a statistically simpler time for NFL quarterbacks: Roger's final line featured 19 passes, 28 completions and 182 yards. In other words, Tom Brady on two possessions.)

Who knew squatty fullback Robert Newhouse would throw an unlikely touchdown pass that would become the single most memorable highlight of Super Bowl XXII?

In the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys already in control, Coach Landry – faith-based for certain and mild-mannered by reputation but in fact a Texas-tough SOB who'd flown in World War II and willed his way to a successful career as an NFL player – decided to suck the last drop of life from the "Orange Crush.''

Martin had just record another sack (and a fourth Denver fumble) to position the Cowboys offense at the Broncos' 29-yard line. Plenty of reason to grind it out, eat it up, to win via slow tortune of the smallish, overmatched Denver defense.

Instead, Landry called a play: "Brown right formation, X opposite shift, toss 38, halfback lead, fullback pass to Y."

Did he say "Fullback pass to Y''?

So Staubach hands to Newhouse, who waddles his way on an apparent sweep. Then his massive thighs put on the brakes. Newhouse uncoils an unlikely toss to the "Y receiver,'' Golden Richards – if there is going to be a "Y receiver'' named "Golden Richards,'' he might as well play for the Dallas Cowboys, right? -- and Richards makes the adjustment, the catch and the touchdown.

The Cowboys got ahead 10-0 early and maintained that lead throughout. They made Butch Johnson an immortal (in his own mind, anyway) by feeding him a 45-yard pass that he turned into a spectacular diving TD snare. Did he even catch the ball? In that pre-Refereeplay Era, we didn't get to pretend that technology would help us decide. Zebras' paws went up, that's a touchdown, and Butch gets to California Quake for the rest of his life.

"It looked spectacular,'' Johnson said then, "because it was.''

By game's end, the Broncos' featured player was the queerly-named quarterback, Norris Weese. By game's end on the other sideline, the Cowboys' featured player was. … well, everybody.

Harvey Martin and Randy White would be named co-MVPs, and heroes back in Big D. Those two and and dozens other Cowboys would use the high-profile success of games like this to go into the look-at-me industries of broadcasting and business. Seven members of that team would become Pro Football Hall-of-Famers. The names of Landry, Dorsett, Staubach, Randy White, Rayfield Wright, Mel Renfro, team president Tex Schramm and Cliff Harris are in the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium, and will live on in the glorious new building in Arlington. Safety buddies Charlie Waters and Harris would remain best friends for the ensuing 30 years, working together on everything from operating businesses to writing books. Staubach would become a real-estate king and a civic leader in North Texas.

Hollywood Henderson would celebrate his climb to the top of the mountain by becoming a drug addict, would lose it all, then would win a lottery and use his good fortune to help others with addiction and behavioral problems.

Ups and downs? They've all experienced them. But on that day, 30 years ago in Super Bowl XXII, it was all up. And that success remains a foundation of what today's Dallas Cowboys can accomplish.

Not this year, on the anniversary, unfortunately. The Patriots are now dynastic, the Giants are in our place. But maybe in the near future, this latest edition edition of "Next Year's Champions'' can live up to the original soon-to-be "America's Team'' moniker.


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