Butch Johnson celebrates his remarkable 45-yard third-quarter touchdown grab.
January 15, 1978
While hordes of orange-clad loyalists shrieked their undying allegiance to the Denver Broncos, Thomas (Hollywood) Henderson of the Dallas Cowboys stood defiantly on the green carpet of the Louisiana Superdome.
As the overhead clock ticked off the final moments of Super Bowl XII, the uninhibited linebacker crumpled an orange cup in his upraised fist and shouted into the teeth of the storm: "There's your Orange Crush."
For weeks, especially after the Broncos defeated the Oakland Raiders in the American Football Conference championship game, Broncomania had raged unchecked through Rocky Mountain country.
Orange-shirted behemoths representing the Denver Broncos suddenly became known as the Orange Crush during the team's first championship season and sales of a soft drink bearing the same name skyrocketed so that suppliers were unable to meet the demand.
Any item with an Orange Crush label was guaranteed to sell. After the Broncos qualified for the Super Bowl, 65,000 Orange Crush T-shirts were sold within 48 hours. Even the Denver mayor was caught up in the contagion and displayed his shirt as proof.
The disease, said Woodrow Paige Jr., in "ORANGE MADNESS," was identified by these symptoms:
"Stiffness of the index finger -- caused by repeatedly signaling No. 1; compulsion to purchase anything orange -- it was estimated that 50 new items were going on sale weekly; sprained knee joints -- caused by constant jumping up and down at Broncos games; irrational behavior -- as evidenced by Denverites' when their team was excluded from ABC's Monday Night football highlights; glassy eye -- a look generally associated with those dreaming about a weekend in New Orleans; unbearable foot irritation -- known as the Super Bowl itch."
This was the affliction that Hollywood Henderson figuratively stomped out in the early evening of January 15, 1978, as the Cowboys were wrapping up a 27-10 victory that clinched their second NFL championship.
Dallas and Denver had compiled the best regular-season records in 1977, each winning 12 games and losing two. The Cowboys eliminated Chicago, 37-7, and Minnesota, 23-6, to earn a fourth trip to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, 14-6 losers to the Cowboys in the regular-season finale, thumped Pittsburgh, 34-21, before edging Oakland, 20-17, in the AFC playoffs. The contest with the Raiders carried dramatic overtones for the more than 74,000 who jammed Denver's Mile High Stadium for the title struggle. Oakland, the wild-card team from the Western Division, finished one game behind the Broncos and had split its two previous games with Denver, losing at home, 30-7, and winning, 24-14, two weeks later at Mile High.
Riding highest on Denver's emotional wave was Craig Morton, 35-year-old quarterback who had thrown two touchdown passes to Haven Moses in the AFC title game and was about to face his former Dallas teammates, with whom he played nine seasons.
Morton's Dallas counterpart was Roger Staubach, the former Heisman Trophy winner at the Naval Academy who had beaten out Morton for the Dallas quarterback position some years earlier.
"We're friends now," declared Morton, who had drifted from the Cowboys to the New York Giants and then to Denver where, in Red Miller's first season as head coach, he had helped give Denver its first major sports championship.
But a nagging hip injury had restricted Morton's mobility late in the season and his state of mind took a plunge when he was forced to face batteries of reporters in the early days of workouts at Tulane Stadium.
A private sort of person, Morton was confident that the question he would be asked most frequently by media people would pertain to a recent story about a check on his tax returns by the Internal Revenue Service.
He wasn't disappointed. Steeling himself for the onslaught, Morton faced the gaggle of newsmen one morning. As Paige recorded it:
" 'Craig, what about the income tax thing,' a guy from Dallas asked. Morton smiled. Of course.
"'Everybody come in close,' Morton said. 'I'm going to talk about this once and then I'm not going to discuss it anymore. It's all being taken care of. We've talked with the Internal Revenue Service and the matter will be settled. I've paid the taxes I thought I owed, and then another amount was added on. That's about it. It's not really that important. It's not on my mind. (But the IRS had sent him a notice about back income taxes, and the story broke the same day. He had lost some respect for the privacy the IRS reportedly keeps.) Now, any more questions?'
"A reporter walked up, managed to inch his way toward the front of the pack and speak up. 'Craig, could you tell what's going on with the income taxes?' Morton lowered his head. It wasn't going to be easy."
Staubach, in his book "ROGER STAUBACH, Time Enough to Win," with Frank Luksa, said, "The only thing that made me nervous was competing against Craig Morton. The media was into comparing us every which way. Craig was coming off a tremendous season and because I liked him personally I was happy for him.
"If anyone wanted to second guess the decision that resulted in my staying with the Cowboys and Craig's leaving, at this point they were forced to admit that it was good for both of us."
Recalling the 1977 season, Staubach continued: "We were coming off a season that left me depressed. I had a finger injury, felt that I had let the club down and even gave Tom Landry carte blanche to trade me. Our off-season attitude was good and, like 1976, we started off strong. I was confi4ent we wouldn't fall off at the end like we did in 1976 because we'd picked up Tony Dorsett. Our running back situation hadn't been solid for a number of years because of injuries to Robert Newhouse and Preston Pearson. I really think we were the best team in football."
Las Vegas oddsmakers favored the Cowboys by five points and other reputed experts shared that opinion.
Allie Sherman, former NFL quarterback and ex-coach of the New York Giants, proclaimed, "There is no way the Broncos can run against the Cowboys' flex defense. The Broncos have to come out throwing. They have to throw on first down and use a lot of play-action passes."
Len Dawson, hero of Kansas City's victory in Super Bowl IV and now a broadcaster for the Chiefs, echoed Sherman's opinion.
"I'd throw early," said the former quarterback, "and use my tight end a lot. In Riley Odoms the Broncos have one of the best. I wouldn't hesitate to throw on first down to pick up four, five or six yards. If I'm successful, the Cowboys will have to play defense and they'll be the ones who do the guessing."
Robert (Red) Miller, the Denver coach, conceded that "on paper the Cowboys are a better team than we are, but we've faced that situation all year. There were a lot of teams better overall than we are.
"What usually happened is that we outplayed the teams and beat them. And we have that one big thing going for us in this game -- motivation.
"Nobody expected us to be here," said Miller, hired to coach the Broncos after a player rebellion led to the dismissal of John Ralston. "We had a great training camp and I knew we had the makings of a good team.
"Nobody has given us credit. No rival coach ever congratulated us after a victory. They'd say, 'We played a bad game today,' or 'We've sure got a lot of work ahead of us.' By the end of the season we had made believers out of just about everybody. But something's funny. All along we're winning games week after week, and nobody seems to recognize it. It's been a great season for us, the greatest in Denver history."
Landry noted, "Denver is a very emotional team. It plays each game as if it has its back to the wall. I'm very impressed. It's a team in the true sense of the word, not a bunch of individuals."
Defending his own sideline stoicism, Landry said: "I don't believe you can be emotional and concentrate the way you should to be effective. As a team, we win by concentrating, by thinking. The players don't want to see me rushing around and screaming. They want to believe I know what I'm doing."
Dallas safety Cliff Harris added one final thought on the subject of emotion.
"Emotion is great," he observed, "but they pay for execution and we've got execution."
The team with the better execution could look forward to an $18,000 payday per man; the other would receive $9,000 per player.
The Broncos were not alone in generating emotion. Patrons of a Philadelphia travel agency were also working up a good head of steam, the result of discovering that the Super Bowl tickets that had been part of their package were not available.
Approximately 1,400 tourists were in a foul mood. To pacify them, the agency paid up to $350 for tickets that sold originally for
"We took a loss of between $95,000 and $100,000," disclosed a representative of Travel Leisure Concepts of Philadelphia. "These have been the most emotional days of my life. We combed every hotel lobby, every street for tickets."
Customers of a New York agency paid $450 for a full package and wound up watching the game on TV.
The game, aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System, was seen on 214 television stations in the United States and 378 in Canada. A total of 269 U.S. radio stations carried the game, which was broadcast on 70 French Language outlets.
A one-minute TV commercial sold for $344,000 and it was estimated that CBS would clear $2 million for the highest-rated sports event in TV history.
Because the game was played indoors for the first time, wind was not a factor in game strategy and the Cowboys, to the surprise of nobody in the crowd of 75,804, chose to receive the opening kickoff after winning the coin toss.
Their choice of plays in the opening series did create some surprise, however.
On a double reverse, wide receiver Butch Johnson fumbled, then recovered the ball on the Dallas 20-yard line.
Landry had debated the play selection and conceded later that he had made the wrong choice.
"I probably shouldn't have called the double reverse," he said. "But I just thought it might be something that would put them off-balance early. I should have known that we would still be a little tight at that stage of the game and that a fumble could occur.
"I figured that we could not afford to play conservatively. The Broncos have such great pursuit that you can't drive 60 or 70 yards on them."
Staubach found the play altogether acceptable, declaring: "That play was well calculated. Denver's strength was its unbelievable pursuit. The Broncos flowed to the ball. It was very difficult to run wide on them. They would bottle us up. If we tried to cut back inside, the pursuit took care of the runner.
"With that reverse we told them, 'You better stay home and play your position. We have some things up our sleeves.' There wasn't any other meaning than that."
On their first possession, the Broncos drove to the Dallas 33-yard line before Morton was sacked for an 11-yard loss and Bucky Dilts punted to the 1-yard line, where Tony Hill fumbled. As on the previous fumble, the Cowboys recovered, Hill snatching the ball away from onrushing Broncos.
Moments later Tony Dorsett fumbled on the 19 and Cowboys center John Fitzgerald pounced on the ball. The one break that was so essential to Denver success was painfully elusive.
When the game's first turnover occurred, it went to the Cowboys. Under heavy pressure from defensive end Harvey Martin and defensive tackle Randy White, Morton passed erratically into the hands of safety Randy Hughes on the Denver 25.
In five plays, Staubach directed the Cowboys to a touchdown, Dorsett covering the last three yards on a sweep around left end.
Efren Herrera's conversion gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.
A second twist of good fortune produced more points for Dallas. When linebacker Bob Breunig tipped a Morton pass into the hands of Aaron Kyle, the cornerback returned the ball 19 yards to the Denver 35. Six plays later, Herrera kicked a 35-yard field goal and Dallas was on top, 10-0.
From a Denver viewpoint, matters were little better in the second quarter. Even an apparent interception worked against the Broncos. From the Denver 19, Staubach scrambled toward the sideline, then passed to the end zone where safety Bill Thompson intercepted.
Not so, ruled an official. Staubach had stepped out of bounds before releasing the football. An overhead camera cast serious doubt on the decision, but it prevailed and the Cowboys, given a reprieve, cashed in with a 43-yard Herrera field goal to provide a 13-0 lead.
And still misfortune dogged the Broncos. After a holding penalty on a kickoff set them back to their 10-yard line, Miller decided it was time for unconventional measures -- like a deep pass to Haven Moses. The wide receiver broke into the clear behind Benny Barnes, but the pass was underthrown and the Dallas cornerback intercepted at the Cowboy 40.
When Dallas punted, the ball struck John Schultz on the helmet and caromed into the hands of Bruce Huther of Dallas.
Still more misfortune lurked for the Orange Crush. A 15-yard pass to Jack Dolbin was fumbled away to Hughes and a shorter toss to Odoms met the same fate, a fumble recovery by Hughes.
During the first half, the Broncos had lost three fumbles and Morton was intercepted four times, half as many times as he was intercepted in 14 regular-season games. Had the Cowboys been executing as well as Harris predicted they would, their halftime lead would have been closer to 30-0. But Herrera missed on field goal attempts of 43, 32 and 44 yards and Billy Joe DuPree fumbled away a completed pass on the Denver
"We were jittery," explained Staubach. "An indoor atmosphere is crazy and I think both teams were fighting the noise. The noise is overwhelming if you're not accustomed to playing indoors."
In the game's first 30 minutes, the Broncos registered only 72 yards total offense, 28 by passing. They made three first downs and committed the seven turnovers.
In Houston, Oilers Coach Bum Phillips looked away from his TV screen at halftime and remarked dolefully, "What surprises me is that the Broncos are beating themselves, something they haven't done all year."
In Los Angeles, one-time Broncos Coach Jack Faulkner expressed amazement that the Broncos were "throwing down the middle. They should be throwing on first down, and throwing to the outside. Down the middle won't beat the Cowboys."
Meanwhile, in the clubhouse, Coach Miller was trying to convince the Broncos that they were still in the game. As the players stomped out the door, he shouted after them: "You're not too tight, just too emotional. Offense, break the ice."
Then, turning to Morton, Miller said: "You'll start the second half, but if we can't get something going, we'll have to see what Norris Weese can do."
Morton replied with a knowing nod.
On their first possession of the second half, the Broncos advanced 35 yards to the Dallas 30 before they stalled and settled for a 47-yard field goal by Jim Turner.
Midway through the period, the Cowboys struck again. On third-and-10, Staubach passed deep to Butch Johnson. The wide receiver made a diving catch of the 45-yard heave, broke the goal line plane, struck the end zone turf and released the football.
To all appearances it was a routine incompletion . . . then an official signaled a touchdown.
Referee Jim Tunney offered this explanation: "Johnson caught the ball in the air in flight. He crossed the goal line in possession and came to the ground in the end zone. Then he released the ball. He didn't fumble the ball. He hit the ground and then released it."
The play had been improvised in the huddle, Staubach disclosed. "Bernard Jackson (Broncos free safety) had been hanging in the middle. He wasn't dropping into a deep zone as he should have been doing. Our receivers had mentioned it to me and I remembered it in the huddle. Butch wasn't supposed to figure in the play, but I told him 'Run a good post pattern.'
"When I faded, I saw that Jackson hadn't dropped quickly enough. Steve Foley (cornerback) did a good job, but Jackson should have stopped the play. When I threw, I thought the pass was too long. I couldn't believe it when Butch made a sensational catch."
Johnson snared the pass despite a broken right thumb, suffered while blocking in the second quarter. Ordinarily a wide receiver only, Johnson was pressed into service as a tight end after Jay Saldi was sidelined by bruised leg muscles.
"As a pass catcher," observed offensive coordinator Dan Reeves, "Butch has better concentration than any receiver I've ever seen."
Protests by Jackson and Foley that he had made an illegal catch brought only a smile to Johnson. "They were complaining about everything," he reported.
Johnson explained that he had to "catch the ball more with my left hand than with my right," because of the injury, "but when the pass is there you'd better catch it."
Trailing 20-3, the Broncos nearly erased six points on the ensuing kickoff, which Rick Upchurch returned a record 67 yards, to the Dallas 26.
When, on the next play, Morton's pass was almost intercepted by Ed (Too Tall) Jones, Miller made the change he had mentioned at halftime, replacing Morton with Weese. Four plays later, Rob Lytle crashed over from one yard out and, with the conversion, the Broncos were again within 10 points of the Cowboys.
"The near-interception had nothing to do with the change of quarterbacks," insisted Miller. "Weese was going in on the next play, we had already decided that."
Throughout the season the Broncos had dominated fourth-quarter action and as the last period was about to start at the Superdome, Miller held up four fingers in front of the Denver bench. The signal was unmistakably clear before Miller shouted: "We can win this thing, we're gonna win."
The Cowboys had already lost the services of Tony Dorsett because of a knee injury and when Staubach broke the tip of his right forefinger, chances for another cardiac climax by the Broncos appeared improved significantly.
Unfortunately for the Orange Crush, however, Weese fumbled and Aaron Kyle recovered. By this time, Staubach had received a shot of novocaine and was back in action although unable to throw a football with any degree of accuracy.
On the Dallas sideline, Landry decided it was time to call for a big play, one that would put the game beyond Denver's reach and quash the fourth-quarter mystique enjoyed by the AFC champions.
While Staubach was unable to pass, he could hand off, or pitch out. But, said Robert Newhouse later, it was time to call for the unexpected. Landry sent in a play that the Cowboys had rehearsed all week -- one that Newhouse had assured himself, however, would not be used in Super Bowl XII.
Newhouse was so confident the play would not be called that the fullback had coated his hands generously with stickum, the better to hold on to the football. Now he was in a dilemma.
He started licking his fingers feverishly. He wiped his hands on his pants and on a towel provided by Preston Pearson, hopeful that the Broncos would not grow suspicious.
Taking a Staubach pitchout on a play from the Denver 29, Newhouse glided toward the outside as though on an end sweep. The Cowboys had noticed that Steve Foley had been quick to move up on running plays and were now prepared to make the cornerback pay for his discretion.
Wide receiver Golden Richards faked a block on Foley, then sped on by. Too late, Foley realized he had been duped. As Newhouse arched a perfectly thrown pass toward the end zone, Foley made a desperate lunge -- but it was no contest.
"I was nervous about throwing the ball," confessed Newhouse, who had not thrown a pass since his rookie season five years earlier when he fired a TD pass against Detroit. "In practice the ball had been wobbling, but Danny (backup quarterback Danny White) told me to get my hip around it. I kept thinking about that when I got the ball."
Even after the pitchout, Newhouse was not positive he wanted to go through with the pass. "I saw all that wide-open space downfield," he said, "and I was tempted to run, but then I remembered it was one of Coach Landry's all-or-nothing plays, so I threw."
As Richards clutched the football in the end zone, Miller turned to assistant coach Babe Parilli and said somberly, "That's it, Babe. It's all over."
Later, in the muffled Broncos clubhouse. Miller conceded, "Dallas is a very, very good team. The Cowboys are No. 1, I believe. They proved it because of their terrific defense."
Defense, as exemplified by right tackle Randy White and right end Harvey Martin -- co-winners of the game's Most Valuable Player award -- limited the Broncos to 156 net yards and permitted them to convert only three of 14 third downs.
"We knew we had to pressure Morton," said White. "It was part of our game plan. I figured that if we didn't give them turnovers and field position we would win. Denver is a field-position team. We gave them field position only three times, and we stopped them on two of those occasions."
"Denver was looking for the blitz," Martin added. "We showed it to them but we used just good defensive football. We wanted to give Morton something to think about, but it was just four guys rushing the passer.
"It seemed as though Morton was looking at me every time he came to the line. I think he was more concerned because he thought all of us would be coming at him.
"I guess we might have shocked a few people today. We knew there was no way that Denver was going to run on us, and Morton would have to put the ball up."
The pressure applied by the Cowboys' defensive line produced a record four interceptions against Morton, giving him a Super Bowl record total of seven in 41 attempts. He completed only four of 15 passes against Dallas, for whom he had played in Super Bowl V against Baltimore.
Other records set in the NFC's first Super Bowl win in six tries included: Most penalties, team -- Dallas 12; most penalties both teams -- 20; most fumbles, team -- Dallas, six; most fumbles -- both teams, 10; and fewest first downs passing, team -- Denver, one.
The effects of the aggressive Dallas defense were particularly evident in the Broncos' performance on first-down plays. Their record, with B denoting Broncos and C denoting Cowboys, was:
B47 -- Jon Keyworth loses 5 yards.
C3 -- Otis Armstrong gains 1 yard.
B39 -- Pass incomplete; holding was called on the second play, setting up a second and 20 at the Broncos' 29, and Dallas' rush hit Morton's arm, forcing the first interception at the Broncos' 25, setting up a touchdown.
B40 -- Lytle gains 2 yards; on second and eight at the Broncos' 42, Morton was rushed, the pass was tipped and intercepted by Dallas, setting up a field goal.
B28 -- Lonnie Perrin, no gain.
B10 -- Lytle gains 5 yards; on the next play, Dallas intercepted.
B26 -- Armstrong loses 3 yards on third and nine from the 27, Morton passes to Dolbin, who fumbles, Dallas recovers.
B20 -- Morton passes to Odoms, who fumbles.
B40 -- Morton pass intercepted.
B35 -- Keyworth no gain.
C47 -- Pass incomplete.
C36 -- Pass incomplete.
B35 -- Pass incomplete.
C26 -- Pass complete, no gain.
C1 -- Lytle, 1 yard, touchdown.
B45 -- Lytle loses 8.
B2 -- Weese gains 9.
C42 -- Pass incomplete.
B24 -- Weese loses I.
C47 -- No gain.
C29 -- Weese gains 9.
C11 -- No gain.
Landry, heralded by Dallas Owner Clint Murchison as "not only the Coach of the Year but also the Coach of the Century," maintained that the blocking and tackling was the hardest he had witnessed since Super Bowl V, in 1971, when the Cowboys bowed to Baltimore, 16-13.
"You had to be on the sidelines to appreciate how hard the players were hitting," he said. "Whenever you see players limping off the field, as they were today, you know they were hitting hard.
"I think the hard hitting had something to do with the fumbles and penalties. When you play on a synthetic surface, you can really get traction and dig in and pop someone. Also we got a little too high trying to match Denver's enthusiasm early -- that caused some execution problems that resulted in penalties. But everything eventually turned out okay."
While the Cowboys yippie-ei-ohed over their second championship, two amongst them paused to express compassion for their one-time teammate Craig Morton.
At the close of the contest, Landry and Staubach visited with Morton on the field.
"You're a great quarterback," volunteered Landry. "Today, it just wasn't there. Good luck."
Staubach told his old rival for the Dallas quarterback job, "You had a great season. I'm sorry it ended the way it did."
Later Staubach added: "I mean it. I feel sorry for him. I've been there myself in a few big games. Maybe he began to second-guess himself. It's no fun when there's no time for a quarterback to throw and we didn't give him time. He was on the run constantly. If Craig and I had changed places, the Cowboys still would have won."
Morton acknowledged the pressure, saying, "They sure came after me and they got us into too many predictable situations.
"You might expect me to be more disappointed. And I am disappointed in my play. But I'm pleased to be here. We've come such a long way. I can't base my season on just one game."