Dallas Cowboys: 2014 Memorable Plays

Cowboys' top play winner: The Hail Mary

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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Roger Staubach and Drew PearsonAP Photo/Bill Kostroum
Score: Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
Date: Dec. 28, 1975 Site: Metropolitan Stadium

With nearly 40,000 votes cast, Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson was voted as the most memorable play in Dallas Cowboys' history by the ESPN.com readers.

Troy Aikman’s fourth-quarter pass to Alvin Harper in the 1992 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers that set in motion the 1990s dynasty finished second. Bob Lilly's sack of Bob Griese in Super Bowl VI was a distant third even if it propelled the Cowboys to their first championship.

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Which is the most memorable play in Cowboys' history?

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    57%
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    36%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 38,414)

The voters got this one right. Staubach is the most iconic player in franchise history, and that play is frozen in time. It was one of the most iconic plays in NFL history and introduced “Hail Mary,” into the league’s lexicon. You cannot write the history of the NFL without that play.

To recap the play: With time running out in a 1975 divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had the ball at midfield and needed a miracle. They had dominated statistically, but the Vikings had a 14-10 lead.

Staubach pumped to his left after taking the shotgun snap, in hopes of moving safety Paul Krause away from the sideline. As he pumped, Staubach said he nearly lost the ball and as a result the pass was underthrown.

Subsequently, Pearson had to pull up and either knocked Nate Wright down (Minnesota's version) or made an excellent adjustment to the ball (Dallas' version) to score the winning touchdown, pinning the ball against his right hip.

Some of you wondered why Tony Dorsett's 99-yard run, Emmitt Smith's carry in which he broke Walter Payton’s rushing record or his stiff-arm of Lawrence Taylor playing with a separated shoulder, Clint Longley's Thanksgiving Day heave against the Redskins or even Leon Lett's miscue in Super Bowl XXVII didn’t make the list.

Two of my personal favorites: Marion Barber’s run out of the end zone against the New England Patriots breaking seven tackles and Tony Romo's first-down scramble vs. the St. Louis Rams after a shotgun snap sailed over his head didn’t make the list either.

There needed to be some historic value to the play. The Hail Mary had that, so did Aikman-to-Harper and Lilly’s sack.

But there’s no question which play had the most value.

Cowboys' top plays: Bob Lilly's sack

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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Bob Lilly and Bob GrieseAP Photo
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Cowboys history. We already discussed the Troy Aikman-to-Alvin Harper pass in the 1992 NFC Championship Game and the Hail Mary from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson.

Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys’ most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3
Date: Jan. 16, 1972 Site: Tulane Stadium

The Cowboys were known as "Next Year's Champions" after losing the 1966 NFL championship to the Green Bay Packers, the ’67 title game (better known as the Ice Bowl) to the Packers and Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts.

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Which is the most memorable play in Cowboys' history?

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    57%
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    36%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 38,414)

But the Cowboys quickly put to rest any doubt that they would win Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins.

After taking a 3-0 lead, the Cowboys forced Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese into retreat mode. Larry Cole had the first chance at Griese but jumped in the air, allowing the quarterback to escape. Briefly. And in reverse. Eventually, Bob Lilly, Mr. Cowboy, was able to bring Griese down for a 29-yard loss.

Doomsday had dominated, and with their 24-3 victory, the Cowboys were “This Year’s Champions,” becoming the first team to win a Super Bowl the year after losing one.

The Cowboys lost Super Bowl V to the Colts on a Jim O’Brien field goal that led Lilly to flinging his helmet in disgust. A year later, Lilly had his championship moment.

The sack remains the largest negative play in Super Bowl history. The Cowboys are the only team not to allow a touchdown in a Super Bowl. A Miami offense built around Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick was shut down. Csonka and Kiick had 40 yards rushing each. Warfield had 39 receiving yards, with 23 coming on one play.

Roger Staubach was named the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VI with two touchdown passes, completing 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards. But it was the defensive dominance, highlighted by Lilly’s sack, that brought Tom Landry and the Cowboys their first championship.

Cowboys' top plays: The Hail Mary

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
10:00
AM ET
Roger Staubach and Drew PearsonAP Photo/Bill Kostroum
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Dallas Cowboys history. We already discussed the Troy Aikman-to-Alvin Harper pass in the 1992 NFC Championship Game. On Wednesday, we will include Bob Lilly's sack of Bob Griese in Super Bowl VI.

Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys' most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
Date: Dec. 28, 1975 Site: Metropolitan Stadium

What if Roger Staubach didn't grow up Catholic? Would "Hail Mary" be part of today's lexicon?

With 24 seconds left in a 1975 divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had the ball at midfield and needed a miracle. They had dominated statistically, but the Vikings had a 14-10 lead.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Cowboys' history?

  •  
    57%
  •  
    36%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 38,414)

As happens many times before iconic plays, smaller plays get overlooked, but to just get the ball to midfield for the Hail Mary, Staubach and Drew Pearson connected on a fourth-and-16 pass at the sideline that by today's rules would have likely been ruled incomplete or overturned on replay. On first down, a Staubach check-down to Preston Pearson was off. Had the pass been complete, the Cowboys might not have gotten off another play because they didn't have a timeout.

With 32 seconds left, Staubach mentioned in the huddle a double-move route Drew Pearson used against the Washington Redskins earlier and to do it again on this play. Pearson took a couple of steps to his left, then sprinted down the right sideline to create separation.

Staubach pumped to his left after taking the shotgun snap in hopes of moving safety Paul Krause away from the sideline. As he pumped, Staubach said he nearly lost the ball, causing the pass to be underthrown.

And here's where allegiances matter. Vikings players, coaches and fans will forever believe Pearson pushed cornerback Nate Wright. Cowboys players, coaches and fans will forever believe Wright slipped.

Wright went down. Pearson pinned the ball against his right hip and backed into the end zone. Replays show Krause pointing at Pearson, expecting a pass interference penalty. An orange flew past Pearson in the end zone, and soon he was surrounded by celebrating teammates after heaving the ball over the scoreboard.

"It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play," Staubach said after the game.

Staubach's Hail Mary was answered ... and born.

Cowboys' top plays: Aikman to Harper

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
10:00
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Alvin Harper and Troy AikmanUSA TODAY Sports
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in team history. In the next two days we’ll include the sack of Bob Griese by Bob Lilly in Super Bowl VI and Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings. Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys’ most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 30, 49ers 20
Date: Jan. 17, 1993 Site: Candlestick Park

If you’re looking for the moment the Dallas Cowboys took over as the best team in football in the 1990s, this was it.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Cowboys' history?

  •  
    57%
  •  
    36%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 38,414)

With San Francisco scoring a touchdown to cut the Dallas lead to 24-20 with 4:22 to go in the NFC Championship Game, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson told offensive coordinator Norv Turner to attack. On the first play of the ensuing drive and with the 49ers expecting a run, Troy Aikman connected with Alvin Harper on a 70-yard completion.

That Harper caught the pass was something of a surprise. He lined up to Aikman’s left only because Michael Irvin switched positions. Having run the play a few times earlier in the game, Aikman had thrown to Harper in the slot. Once he heard the play called in the huddle, Irvin switched to the slot believing the ball would come to him with the game and season on the line.

Seeing a blitz before the snap, Aikman knew the ball had to go to Harper on a slant quickly. The receiver won at the line of scrimmage and sprinted to the 49ers 9-yard line before getting tackled.

Three plays later, Aikman found Kelvin Martin for the game-clinching touchdown and the Cowboys had earned their first Super Bowl trip since 1978.

Two weeks later, the Cowboys would win their first of three championships in a four-year span by whipping the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, but the Aikman-to-Harper pass is the moment when the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys arrived.

The play signified Johnson’s willingness to take a chance when other coaches would have run the ball to kill the clock, especially on the road. Going to Harper in a big moment showed Aikman’s precision as a passer and decision-maker.

Aikman-to-Harper didn’t end in a touchdown, but it did spark a Super Bowl run that had been unmatched up to that point.

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