The year the Cowboys ruined Thanksgiving

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
10:56
AM ET
Clint LongleyAP Photo/Harold WatersCowboys quarterback Clint Longley revels in ruining a young boy's Thanksgiving in 1974.
The Cowboys will be playing on Thanksgiving Day, just as they do every year. And their opponents this time around will be the Redskins. For some of us, though, the Cowboys' Turkey Day game is always against the Redskins, at least in our minds. It's been that way ever since 1974.

I was 10 years old in 1974, but I'd already developed a healthy hatred for the Cowboys. It hadn't yet matured into the well-rounded, full-bodied hatred it would later become, but it was definitely showing early signs of promise. A precocious little hatred, you might say. A hatred with major potential.

You know how it's sometimes easier to remember things from when you were really little than things from just a few years ago? When it comes to the Cowboys and my youth, I remember it all. How they beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI -- the first Super Bowl I ever watched. How they beat my favorite team, the 49ers, in a 1972 playoff game by scoring two touchdowns in the last two minutes. And most of all, how they totally ruined my 1974 Thanksgiving.

It was a weird holiday for my family. My mom had recently undergone surgery and didn't have the stamina to cook her usual big Thanksgiving dinner, so instead the five of us -- my parents, my older brother, my grandmother, and me -- went to a restaurant. It was the first time we'd ever done that, and it made for a very different kind of holiday. For one thing, the restaurant's food wasn't nearly as good as my mom's. For another, I couldn’t sneak into the TV room and see how the football games were going.

After finishing our dinner at the restaurant, we drove over to my grandmother's apartment to drop her off. We all went inside to spend a few minutes there before heading home, and I immediately turned on her TV. The Cowboys-Redskins game was in the third quarter, and the Redskins were winning 16-3. I smiled -- our holiday meal hadn't gone according to the usual script, but at least I was going to have the pleasure of watching the Cowboys lose. On their home field. On national television.

My father (not exactly a Cowboys fanatic himself) agreed that we could stay at my grandmother's place and watch the rest of the game. And it was right about then that Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game with an injury and some kid named Clint Longley came in to replace him.

Some of you reading this probably aren't old enough to remember Clint Longley. For practical purposes, his entire NFL career began and ended on that Thanksgiving Day in 1974. He was known as "the Mad Bomber," a nickname he solidified that day by -- well, here, see for yourself.

I can remember all of it, every last bit of it, in sickening detail. I can still see my grandmother's TV. I can still smell her apartment, which had that unmistakable grandma smell. And most of all, I can still see Clint Longley leading Dallas to an improbable comeback capped by a game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with less than half a minute to play.

I felt that last bite of pumpkin pie coming back up. I still feel it to this day.

Looking back, I was pretty selfish that day. I realize now that I should have been more concerned with the blessings of the holiday, or with my mom's condition. Hell, I even realized it then (I was young and immature, but not stupid). I don't have a good explanation for it except that I loved hating the Cowboys even more than I loved my family that day. In some ways, I still do.

Watching the Cowboys on Thanksgiving has never been the same. No matter whom they're playing and no matter who their quarterback is, I always have Clint Longley flashbacks. And that goes double when they're actually playing the Redskins.

Oddly enough, that hasn't happened too often. This Thursday's game will mark only the fifth time since 1974 that Washington has matched up with Dallas on Turkey Day (and the first time in a decade). That seems pretty surprising, given the teams' longstanding divisional rivalry -- a rivalry that was cemented on that day in ’74.

Then again, maybe there's no need for the NFL to schedule the Redskins against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. For some of us, Dallas versus Washington will always be a November holiday ritual, no matter who's actually on the field.

Paul Lukas, incredibly enough, once wrote a fairly admiring article about the Cowboys' uniforms. If you liked that, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.

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