NFC East: Bob Lilly
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.
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.
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.
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.
@toddarcher it was just the sheer dominance of that defense. That was the play where you KNEW Dallas was going to win that game.— Bess Maxwell (@LaSpiritsBess) July 2, 2014
While it will be the first Pro Bowl trips for Smith, Bryant and Hatcher, it will be Witten’s ninth in 11 seasons. The only years he did not make it to the Pro Bowl came as a rookie in 2003 and in 2011.
Witten ties Randy White for the fourth most Pro Bowl appearances in team history. Only Bob Lilly (11), Larry Allen and Mel Renfro, who appeared in 10 each, have been selected to more than Witten.
Witten caught 73 passes for 851 yards and had eight touchdown passes in 2013.
He did not speak after the game. What could he say that he had not said in 2011 and 2012 when the Cowboys got to Week 17 only to lose NFC East deciders to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins?
Yet as he looks to his 12th season, Witten has one playoff win.
“He’s a great football player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s the best tight end in football and has been for 10 years. He’s just a helluva player, as special a guy as I’ve ever been around. He just is a unique individual. It’s no surprise to me or any of us that he played as well as he did in this big game for us. That’s what he’s done his whole life. He’s a great example to his teammates, a great example to his coaches about how to do things, and I love him.
“I love him to death. He just does things the right way. He puts more into this than anybody I know. His commitment is as strong as anybody’s and it’s just disappointing for him. Again, he can walk out of the locker room with his head high and shoulders back because he does [it] the right way and he’s done it the right way for a long time. He’s going to be a Hall of Fame player, and he’s a Hall of Fame individual as well.”
Sunday was the 171st straight game for Witten, tying him for third in team history. Only Dale Hellestrae (176) and Bob Lilly (196) have played in more consecutive games with the Cowboys.
At Lambeau Field, the photos from the great moments in Packers history line the wall from the tunnel to the locker room. When the stadium was renovated years ago, they took a row of old bricks and moved it to the new tunnel so players can say they walk over the same ground as the greats who played at Lambeau Field.
With a loss Sunday, though, either team will need even more help to just make the postseason.
The Packers and Cowboys have combined for 18 NFL championships (Green Bay 13, Dallas five) and nine Super Bowls (Green Bay four, Dallas five). They produced one of the NFL’s iconic games -- the Ice Bowl -- in the 1967 NFC Championship. They were coached by legends in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. They rekindled the rivalry in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs from 1993 to 1995.
The current teams carry something of a burden with them because of the successful pasts.
“We always look at it as a sense of pride and energy to tap into,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We think it’s very important to have that and recognize it and honor it, so I always refer to it as there’s pride in the bricks of Lambeau Field and it’s something we need to tap into. We talk to our current team about it and how important it is to win and represent the Green Bay Packers the right way.”
Jason Garrett does not talk about the expectations laid out from the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He talks about the standard those players and teams set.
“You want to be in a place where there’s a high standard for achievement,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a good thing. That brings the best out in people. What we try to do each and every day is be our best. Come to work as players and coaches and put our best foot forward and get ready for our challenges each week and again, embrace the past. That’s a good thing. ... That drives us. That’s part of what drives us to achieve, really, each and every day, and certainly each season.”
Tony Romo is constantly measured against Staubach and Aikman. Aaron Rodgers is measured against Bart Starr and Brett Favre, but he has the Super Bowl ring that Romo is still looking for, having beaten the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV.
Rodgers has 23 teammates on the roster with a Super Bowl ring.
Romo hopes one day to have his own, so he and his teammates can have their pictures on the wall holding the Lombardi Trophy.
“You want to be a part of a storied franchise,” Romo said. “It just makes it important. You want a challenge. You want it to matter, and you want it to be important. That’s what’s great about this organization and great about our fans.”
Dallas sent 11 players to the Pro Bowl after the season, and they could’ve had a few more on defense. If not for Smith’s holdout, this was the type of team that might have made a run at a perfect season. The Triplets were unstoppable, and the Cowboys had perhaps the best offensive line in the league. The Roger Staubach teams of the '70s were formidable, but I just don’t think they were as deep as Johnson’s teams of the early '90s.
The Doomsday defense from the late '70s trumps the defense from the early '90s, but the Triplets surpassed what Staubach, Tony Dorsett and Drew Pearson accomplished.
Most impressive win: It’s too easy to say the Super Bowl, so give me the overtime victory in the Meadowlands over the Giants to end the regular season. The win gave the Cowboys the division title and a wild-card bye week. In that 16-13 win, Smith had one of the best individual efforts in club history. Playing with a separated shoulder, he rushed for 168 yards and caught 10 passes.
Best player: How can you not go with the guy who won the NFL’s MVP award, the Super Bowl MVP and the rushing title in the same season? Let’s go with Emmitt.
1977: The Super Bowl champions were dominant on both sides of the ball. Dallas began the season 8-0. The Broncos didn’t belong on same field in the Super Bowl. Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Harvey Martin and Randy “Manster” White put the “Doom” in Doomsday.
1992: You almost forget how Jimmy Johnson could send waves of pass-rushers at quarterbacks. Tony Tolbert had more sacks than Haley in ’92. And Maryland and Leon Lett were just beginning to figure things out. The collection of talent was remarkable. The Triplets truly began to impose their will on opponents.
1971: Some of the great defensive players from the early days -- Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan -- finally got their championship. The offense scored 29 points per game and the Cowboys won by an average of 13.1 points per game.
Here's the breakdown of the top 10:
1. Tom Landry
2. Roger Staubach
3. Emmitt Smith
4. Bob Lilly
5. Troy Aikman
6. Tony Dorsett
7. Randy White
8. Michael Irvin
9. Mel Renfro
10. Tex Schramm
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones checks in at No. 17, one spot ahead of safety Cliff Harris. Jason Witten is the highest-ranked current Cowboys player at No. 29 -- and I have no problem with that. He's been one of the top tight ends in the league since his 2003 rookie season.
DeMarcus Ware is No. 36, but he'll probably end up much higher -- when the DMN does its 75-year list. Quarterback Tony Romo checks in at No. 47 and left tackle Flozell Adams rounds out the list at 50. I like the fact that Danny White cracked the top 30. He took a lot of abuse, but if he wins one of those three NFC title games, his legacy is completely different. His reputation also took a hit during the strike, but that doesn't change what he accomplished on the field.
I think Charles Haley ended up at No. 31 because he was only with the Cowboys from '92-'96, but the fact that he was a big part of three Super Bowl titles should've put him higher on the list. His behavior off the field is well-documented, but he was a brilliant pass-rusher who deserves to be about five spots higher.
I also think Cornell Green's too low at No. 25. I've had a lot of former players tell me that Green was one of the best defensive backs in league history. He got his hands on everything, but he dropped a lot of potential interceptions. I'm shocked that the late Mark Tuinei, the left tackle on those 90s Super Bowl teams, didn't receive a single vote. That makes no sense to me. Kicker Rafael Septien received a few votes, but a man who played 15 seasons at offensive tackle was shut out?
The selection panel came up with only a single vote for the great defensive coordinator, Ernie Stautner. Linebacker Ken Norton and defensive tackle Leon Lett didn't show up on the list, but both are worthy. Some people will argue that Terrell Owens should've been on the list. I'm not buying that one because he was only with the Cowboys for three seasons and the team didn't win a playoff game during that time.
It's pretty remarkable that two Hall of Famers -- Bob Hayes and Rayfield Wright -- didn't even crack the DMN's top 10. The only thing I'd change about the top 10 is that I'd probably put Bob Lilly in front of Emmitt Smith. I know that sounds crazy to some of you, but this list was about "greatest Cowboys," not the greatest NFL players. When I think about the players that have defined this franchise, Lilly comes before Smith in my opinion. They don't call him "Mr. Cowboy" for nothing.
What did you guys make of the list?
No matter where you stand on the Dallas Cowboys, you have to admit that Texas Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in all of sports. From an aerial view, it's hard to distinguish the NFL's new state-of-the-art facilities, but the hole-in-the-roof has provided an enduring image for Cowboys fans and haters. On Wednesday, the NFC Beast stopped by Valley Ranch and talked to former and current players about what Texas Stadium has meant to them. Former running back Calvin Hill, who now works in player development for the Cowboys, was in his third year with the club when the new stadium opened in 1971. Wide receiver Roy Williams played at Odessa Permian (Texas) High School and remembers his first high school playoff game in the famous stadium.
Calvin Hill, RB, 1969-74
"I'd torn my knee up in the last game at the Cotton Bowl. I figured I'd be allowed to watch [the first game in Texas Stadium] from a box upstairs, but they didn't let me. They said I could sit in the stands with my wife. I spent the game driving around Denton, and I was pissed. The first time we practiced in there, I just remember it being so pristine. It was like an opera house. I remember Bob Lilly saying to one of the coaches, 'Can we spit in here?'" When it rained, we'd go over to Texas Stadium to practice because we didn't want to mess up the practice field. I remember looking up in the stands and seeing Tex [Schramm] and Gil [Brandt] sitting out of the rain. Lilly kept talking about how stupid we were to be out in the rain while those guys were sitting up there enjoying themselves. I put a lot of sweat equity in that building. I hurt my knee in my last game there and I remember dislocating my elbow. At the time, I think we wanted a building that rivaled the Astrodome, which was called "The Eighth Wonder of the World." There were rumors that [ownership] had run out of money, and that's why we had that hole in the roof. At one point, they were having a little trouble moving the [luxury] boxes and they gave me the chance to have one in lieu of the $50,000 signing bonus they owed me. I didn't take them up on that offer. I remember coming in after one game at Texas Stadium and LBJ was standing in the locker room. The one thing I recall is thinking, 'I had no clue his hair was so white.'" Like a lot of presidents, he'd aged a tremendous amount in a relatively short period of time."
Roy Williams, WR, 2008-present
"Playing there in high school meant a lot to me. Seeing those name tags above your locker made you feel like a Dallas Cowboy. I remember scoring a touchdown. I ran down the left sideline and then around the goal post to the other side of the field. I didn't want to stop running. I just wanted to stay out there forever. And I still have that name tag at home."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
On Tuesday afternoon, the NFC Beast radio show had a chance to visit with Cowboys Hall of Famer Bob Lilly on ESPN 103.3 FM. Here's the exclusive audio from the interview.
Lilly's new book, "A Cowboy's Life," was just released. It's the story of how a kid from Throckmorton, Texas, grew up to be one of the greatest defensive tackles in the history of the league. I've had the pleasure of getting to know Lilly pretty well over the years, and he's a fascinating guy. After his playing days were over, Lilly became an accomplished photographer.
At TCU, he was considered one of the strongest players in the nation. But he didn't start lifting weights until the late 1960s. Before that, he said players used to buy their own weights and bring them to the practice facility. He used to watch Mickey Mantle do interviews on TV in front of what appeared to be a spacious locker. But when he arrived at the Cowboys' practice facility in 1961, he was shocked to find the same lockers he had in junior high.
Lilly was kind enough to grant us an interview during what has been a difficult couple of weeks. He buried his brother, Larry, recently after an extended illness. Lilly said promoting his new book has been therapeutic for him as he grieves.
I read half the book Tuesday night, and it's pretty entertaining. If you're trying to come up with the greatest all-time Cowboy, the conversation has to begin and end with Lilly.