The Cowboys and Colts watch Jim O'Brien's game-winning kick sail through the uprights.
The Colts Get
January 17, 1971
The sting of defeat in Super Bowl III was still with the Baltimore Colts when they arrived in Miami in January, 1971, to begin preparations for Super Bowl V.
To linebacker Mike Curtis, the old wounds from the ignominious upset by the New York Jets in 1969 remained raw and painful.
"No one knows the despair, the abject humiliation we felt that day," said the player known as The Animal. "The 1968 Baltimore Colts, a perfect football machine that crushed every opponent except one in a tough schedule . . . The Colts, the first National Football League team to lose a Super Bowl.
"I felt great anger inside me that day. Those damn Jets, for one thing, were holding as if they were never going to hold again."
Quarterback Earl Morrall conceded that he had "tried to shrug off the defeat, but I can't. I keep thinking about it and I still get flashbacks, remembering all the bad things and the turning points. I've replayed in my mind that whole game over and over again. The interceptions, the flea-flicker, the whole mess."
Tight end John Mackey remembered "sitting around in the clubhouse at halftime two years ago, and how bad it was. How unprepared we were. And, funny thing, I remember that the night before the game was the only time my wife stayed with me before a game. No, I'm not blaming the loss on her -- it's just something I remember, that's all."
If cohabitation was a mistake in the 1969 game, Colts management would not commit the same blunder this year. Players were quartered at the Miami Lakes Country Club, a short distance from their practice field at Biscayne College. Wives and children were to arrive a day before the game and be lodged elsewhere.
There were other changes, too, since the Colts' last visit to Miami. Owner Carroll Rosenbloom, like Art Rooney in Pittsburgh and Art Modell in Cleveland, had accepted $3 million to transfer his club into the American Football Conference of the restructured NFL.
In addition, Don Shula had succumbed to the blandishments of Joe Robbie and was now coach of the Miami Dolphins. In his stead was Don McCafferty, described by one observer "as warm as a pot-bellied stove" while Shula had been "a whistling tea kettle." To the Colts players, McCafferty was referred to fondly as "Easy Rider."
Recalling the Colts' NFL championships in 1958 and '59 and the misfortune that had dogged them in the 1960s, John Steadman wrote in "The Baltimore Colts":
"But 1970, happily, turned it all around. The kicks that were off-line suddenly began to go their way, measurements that came up an inch short were now long enough. It was a year the Colts learned the breaks of football do eventually even up. The opener in San Diego against the Chargers found rookie Jim O'Brien kicking three field goals, the last one with 56 seconds remaining, to give the Colts a 16-14 win. This set the tenor of the season, close victories. The Colts didn't look impressive, but they were winning and that's what counted.
"During the '60s they were often awesome, but awfully unlucky. It was as if all those disappointments were going to even out in one year. The Colts qualified for the Super Bowl with late rallies and narrow victories during the season. They won over the Chargers by two points, the Oilers by four, the Packers by three, the Bears by one. It was almost as if it had been pre-ordained this was to be Baltimore's year."
By comparison, the Colts' Super Bowl opponents, the Dallas Cowboys, had appeared less than title aspirants early in the season. Wide receiver Bob Hayes had been benched for failure to measure up to the performance level expected by Coach Tom Landry.
Fullback Calvin Hill suffered a leg injury and was replaced by Duane Thomas. A wire service story alleged wide use of drugs on the squad, split end Lance Rentzel was found guilty on a morals charge and the quarterback situation resembled a merry-go-round between Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. Most everybody had written the Cowboys off as a legitimate title threat.
After nine games the Cowboys owned a 5-4 record. One of their defeats had been to Minnesota, 54-3, and two to St. Louis, 20-7 and 38-0.
After the second St. Louis fiasco, which had been viewed nationally on Monday night television, ex-Dallas quarterback Don Meredith, then an ABC sportscaster, remarked: "I never thought I'd see a Cowboy team lay down like that. It was obvious there was no leadership out there."
While one headline screamed "Cowboys Are Through," Landry assumed full responsibility, saying, "It was embarrassing to all of us. You guys really didn't want to win. It was the worst performance I've ever seen."
"Everybody was down on us -- friends, the media, coaches," remembered linebacker Lee Roy Jordan. "All we had was ourselves. So we pulled together. We didn't have anybody else."
The Cowboys pulled together so effectively that they won the last five games on their schedule. The defense, inspired by cornerback Herb Adderley, veteran of Green Bay's two Super Bowl championships, played 23 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown.
While Baltimore, 11-2-1 in the regular season, eliminated Cincinnati, 17-0, and Oakland, 27-17, in the AFC playoffs, Dallas was beating Detroit, 5-0, and San Francisco, 17-10.
When Morton was asked what had converted the Cowboys from nondescripts into conference champions, he replied: "The Cleveland game (a 6-2 victory). We had a way of going under against those guys when something went against us. In the Cleveland game, when Hayes dropped a punt for a safety, we began to get together. Before, we caved in with a bad break. But everyone sort of said, 'That's okay, we'll get it back, Bobby.' And we did, and we won and we kept on winning. I really can't explain why. We just did, that's all."
Part of the explanation lay in the emergence of Thomas as a running back. Hill, healthy once more, was unable to regain his old starting berth.
Landry's decision to entrust the quarterback chores to Morton was another factor.
"I had to either start calling plays for Morton or go with Staubach," explained Landry.
Because Morton had undergone shoulder surgery the previous winter and still was experiencing arm problems, the Cowboys de-emphasized the pass in the latter portion of the season in favor of a running game.
"In the playoffs we didn't have much of a passing game, because of Craig's arm problems," said Landry. "When we needed to pass we just dropped it off short. We did not try to go deep. We felt that our defense could hold anybody."
When the Cowboys arrived at their Fort Lauderdale camp site, one of their major concerns was disappearing rapidly. Morton was regaining his voice after a week of silence.
Morton lost his voice the day after the conference championship game. Several days of rest had effected a cure.
"I called more audibles against San Francisco than in any other game in my life," explained the former University of California All-America. "I expect Baltimore will move around so much that I'll have to change a lot of plays at the scrimmage line again."
As the teams completed their preparations for the January 16 encounter at the Orange Bowl, an occasional laugh broke into the daily drudgery.
When Bob Asher, rookie defensive tackle from Vanderbilt, was asked his reaction to the crush of media persons at the Dallas camp, he replied, "I've never seen so many newspapermen in my life. Tell you the truth, I'm getting tired of answering the same question over and over."
Questions like what, he was asked.
"What's your name," said Asher straight-faced.
With a sellout guaranteed for the 80,577-seat Orange Bowl Stadium, Miami attorney Ellis Rubin filed suit in circuit court to force the NFL to lift the local television blackout. Rubin charged that since local tax money was being used to stage the game, the 2.5 million TV owners deserved the chance to watch the game.
Twenty-four hours before the game, State Circuit Judge Arthur Franza declared that he had no authority to issue an injunction although, he said, the blackout violated federal antitrust laws.
Calling the blackout "a transgression and a usurpation of the airwaves and the people who own them," Judge Franza said he would applaud a decision by Pete Rozelle to remove the blackout, but the commissioner held firm, asserting that such action would set a dangerous precedent.
"In the history of professional football there has never been a championship game televised locally," said Rozelle. "I think that's one of the reasons they continue to be sellouts."
The Cowboys having been established as one-point favorites, inquisitive folks started looking for reasons. One advantage, some concluded, was in their having played 14 of 22 games (including preseason) on artificial turf like that of the Orange Bowl.
The Colts had sampled ersatz turf only three times, once in preseason and twice during the season.
Players saw no particular significance in the situation. Baltimore quarterback John Unitas explained: "A quarterback must learn to pick up his feet when he sets up to pass. I usually slide my feet along, but on this surface you can't do that."
"It moves you fast," said Hayes quaintly, "but I don't like the burns."
"After the game," quipped Curtis, "your fingernails are clean."
Unitas and his counterpart, Morton, presented contrasting backgrounds and styles. Johnny U, regarded as too skinny when he applied for a scholarship at Notre Dame, and ignored completely after he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers after a successful career at the University of Louisville, was 37 and had been a topflight quarterback for more than a decade.
Early in the week, William N. Wallace related this anecdote in the New York Times:
"Sid Luckman, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chicago Bears, spoke recently at a dinner honoring Unitas.
"Said Luckman: 'Sammy Baugh and I made an agreement a long time ago. He would always call me the greatest pro football player of all time and I would always call him the greatest. I called Sammy this morning and told him I was sorry but I had to break the agreement because I was going to a dinner to talk about a pro football player who surely was the greatest of all time, Johnny Unitas.'
Morton, 28, was less distinguished by many degrees. Sid Gillman, veteran coach of the San Diego Chargers, said of him: "He can only improve."
In the Cowboys' playoff victories over Detroit and San Francisco, Morton completed only 11 of 40 passes. On non-passing plays he handed off and stepped aside.
Morton, somebody wrote, was the exception to the rule that every great football team must have a great quarterback.
Despite the brickbats, Morton's sense of humor never wavered. "The only thing that gave me a lift after the St. Louis game (38-0 defeat)," he wisecracked, "was when (teammate) Ralph Neely gave me a Spiro Agnew watch."
As countdown started for the 2:10 p.m. kickoff and as scalpers outside the stadium tried to peddle tickets at face value or less, those inside sat in anticipation of pre-game entertainment, wondering how it would compare with the balloon fiasco at New Orleans in 1970. The answer wasn't long in coming.
The four Air Force jets that had been invited to buzz the stadium during the National Anthem arrived two minutes after the final strains wafted out of the stadium.
But that was not the only ill-timed event of the day. In fact, it may have set a pattern that was followed closely by the Colts and Cowboys. The two teams committed 10 turnovers. Unitas was intercepted twice and his understudy, Morrall, once. The Colts also fumbled five times, losing three of them.
The Cowboys were intercepted three times, too, but lost only one fumble.
Midway through the first quarter, Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley intercepted a Unitas pass and returned it to the Baltimore 46-yard line. In three plays, however, the Cowboys lost 23 yards, to their own 31, and punted to Colts safetyman Ron Gardin, who fumbled on the Baltimore 9. Cliff Harris of Dallas recovered.
Three plays later, Mike Clark gave the Cowboys a 3-0 lead with a 14-yard field goal.
Later in the period, after the Cowboys moved inside the Baltimore 10 on a roughing-the-passer penalty, Morton drew a 14-yard penalty for passing to an ineligible receiver, guard Blaine Nye, and then failed to spot an eligible receiver, Thomas, unattended on the sidelines. But the drive was not a total failure because Clark kicked a 30-yard field goal early in the second quarter, giving Dallas a 6-0 lead.
On the Colts' next possession, Unitas fired a third-down pass that just nicked the fingertips of wide receiver Eddie Hinton. Cowboys cornerback Mel Renfro also leaped, and beyond him Baltimore's tight end, Mackey, did likewise.
The ball nestled in Mackey's hands and big John romped the rest of the way to complete a 75-yard touchdown play.
"Illegal pass," screamed Dallas adherents citing the rule that makes any pass touched consecutively by two offensive players illegal. Despite Renfro's protest that he had not tipped the ball, which would have made the pass illegal, officials ruled that the cornerback had fingernailed it and allowed the play to stand. The next day game films confirmed the ruling.
With a chance to give the Colts a lead, O'Brien's extra-point attempt went squarely into the chest of Mark Washington, who had slipped the block of Tom Nowatzke.
On the Colts' next offensive series, Unitas, finding no receivers open, ran with the ball and fumbled when he was tackled by Lee Roy Jordan, the Cowboys recovering on the Baltimore 28. Quickly, the Cowboys converted the break into a touchdown. A flare pass to Dan Reeves picked up 16 yards, a running play gained a few more and then Morton passed to Thomas, who went the final seven yards for a touchdown. Clark's conversion gave Dallas a 13-6 lead.
Still more disaster lay in wait for the Colts. A Unitas pass not only was picked off by Renfro, but the quarterback, tackled by George Andre, arose unsteadily clutching his ribs. He was through for the day.
When, a few minutes later, Morrall trotted onto the field with the Colts' offensive unit, few in the crowd could ignore the reverse twist to the 1969 game in which Unitas had replaced Morrall in a futile effort to arouse the faltering Colts against the Jets.
But this clearly was not 1969, Morrall demonstrated quickly. He hit Hinton for 26 yards, then Roy Jefferson for 21 and the Colts were on the Dallas 2-yard line. This was a "new" Morrall in a "new" game-style, or was it?
Three times Norm Bulaich crashed into the line and three times he was thrown back. The 1969 specter was waving from the end zone. Morrall called time out and consulted with McCafferty.
"Go for the touchdown," advised the coach, recommending a pass to tight end Tom Mitchell in the corner of the end zone. The pass fell incomplete as the halftime gun sounded.
If the crowd of 79,204 and a record national TV audience of 64 million expected a halftime show of Anita Bryant and the Southeast Missouri State College band to produce a more tidy second half, they discovered the error of their logic when Jim Duncan fumbled the second-half kickoff and Richmond Flowers recovered for Dallas on the Colts' 31.
Duncan did not have long to wait for vindication. The Cowboys drove to the 2, from where Thomas made a second-effort dive for the goal line, only to fumble into the hands of Duncan.
Credit for the fumble-induced tackle was divided between safetyman Jerry Logan and linebacker Ray May.
"I hit him," said May, "but I think Billy Ray Smith jerked the ball loose."
"If he says I jerked the ball loose, then I guess I did," said tackle Smith.
On the first play of the fourth period, Morrall, under a heavy rush by Andre, threw still another interception, this one by Chuck Howley. It was the Colts' sixth turnover of the game.
With nine minutes remaining in the game and Dallas still protecting a 13-6 lead, Morrall remembered the ill-starred flea-flicker of two years earlier. Morrall lateraled to Sam Havrilak, but when Havrilak looked to return the ball to Morrall, his view was obstructed by the 6-6, 260-pound hulk of tackle Jethro Pugh. Undeterred, the former Bucknell quarterback sized up the situation and threw in the direction of Mackey. The football never reached Mackey. Eddie Hinton got to it first, caught the football and lit out for the goal line. En route, a strange thing happened to Hinton -- although maybe it wasn't so unusual, considering the way things were going for the Colts -- the ball was knocked from Hinton's grasp.
"I could see the end zone and was trying to work my way there when all of a sudden someone knocked the ball from my hands," explained Hinton. The someone was Dallas safetyman Cornell Green.
As the ball bounced toward the end zone a half-dozen players followed in mad pursuit. None succeeded in overtaking it and the ball trickled out of the end zone, a Dallas touchback.
The Cowboys did not retain possession long. From his own 20, Morton tossed a pass intended for Walt Garrison. The pass was tipped by Jim Duncan and picked off by safetyman Rick Volk, who returned the ball 30 yards, to the Dallas 3. On his second crack into the line, Nowatzke plunged into the end zone and O'Brien's conversion deadlocked the score, 13-13.
Less than two minutes showed on the clock when Morton, on his own 27, passed toward Reeves, coming out of the backfield. The pass, however, was intercepted by the Colts' Curtis and returned to the Dallas 28. Now there was less than one minute remaining. Two Bulaich smashes gained three yards and Morrall called a timeout. When he returned to the field he was accompanied by O'Brien, the long-haired rookie referred to by teammates as "Lassie."
"When we were running onto the field," recounted O'Brien, "Earl told me just to kick the ball straight, that there was no wind."
No rookie ever followed a veteran's directions more faithfully. With five seconds remaining, O'Brien's 32-yard kick sailed true and the Colts had won the world championship that eluded them two years earlier.
As time expired, veteran Dallas defensive tackle Bob Lilly heaved his helmet mightily toward the opposite goal line. It may have been the Cowboys' finest aerial of the day.
In the Baltimore locker room, after Mrs. Vince Lombardi presented the championship trophy to Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, the spotlight shifted to O'Brien, the free spirit who had begun his college career at the Air Force Academy.
"I hated it there," reported O'Brien. "They recruited me pretty good and what does a kid from Cincinnati know? I lasted six months. I developed ulcers and left. I still feel the ulcers kick up once in a while. But the big reason was I didn't like anyone else telling me what to do. Not that I resent authority. It's just that there was so much Mickey Mouse stuff. I guess that you can say I'm just not shaped for the military world."
O'Brien transferred his football talents to the University of Cincinnati.
"When we lined up (for the winning field goal)," related O'Brien, "the Dallas linemen were yelling at me, trying to distract me. Other teams always do that.
"Then, for a second, I remembered our practices and how Billy Ray Smith would holler at me, and I said to myself, 'This is only Billy Ray yelling.' I knew I was either going to win or lose the game for us. Some of the fellows came over to me and started talking. Tom Mitchell said, 'Don't worry about anything. Just kick it.' It felt good going off my foot. I knew it was good."
As O'Brien talked, so did Billy Ray Smith. "It's all over now," said the 36-year-old tackle. "I just won $15,000 (each Cowboy earned $7,500). This is my last game. What can I possibly do after this, come back and have the coaches run me out?"
Wide receiver Jimmy Orr also was talking. "Billy Ray and I started together for the Rams," recalled Orr. "Then we were traded to the Steelers, and then he was traded to the Colts. . . . He told the Colts to trade for me, so he's the one who got me here. Now we're going out together just the way we came in."
Cuddling the game ball, Coach McCafferty said that, in his opinion, the turning point of the game "was the interception by Curtis that set up the winning field goal. We had a lot of bad breaks early in the game, but those fellows hung in there."
The interception, Curtis disclosed, was made in a newly installed defensive alignment. "We put it in only three weeks ago," he said. "I had a deep drop to help out the safety on the deep pattern and when Jerry Logan hit Reeves as he was catching the pass the ball popped up and I caught it."
"A back fresh out of college could have caught the pass," grumbled Reeves. "I went as high as I could, but it went through my hands.
"I don't take the blame for the loss. We lost it as a team."
The numerous turnovers, the Colts maintained, were due to the punishing tactics by both teams.
"It may have looked sloppy, but it was a great defensive game," said Logan.
"Maybe it wasn't a good game for the fans, but it was a good physical game," added Curtis.
Landry cited Thomas' goal-line fumble as the "big play" of the game. "If he had scored, they would have had a lot of catching up to do. We would have been in firm control, but he fumbled because of his second effort.
"The ball was bouncing off us instead of them. It was a tough way to lose."
Morton, who completed 12 of 26 passes for 127 yards, blamed the Dallas defeat on too many mistakes. "Their defense didn't do anything we didn't expect," he noted. "But they shut down our run, especially in the second half. And we've been a running team. I don't know what they did, maybe they changed up front."
Unitas, completing three of nine passes for 88 yards before he was injured, could have returned to action if he had been needed.
"But Morrall (7 of 15 for 147 yards) was doing such a fine job I saw no reason to make a change," said McCafferty.
When it was suggested that luck played a dominant role in the Colts' last-minute victory, offensive tackle Bob Vogel replied with a trace of heat:
"I've had luck go against me so many times I'm sick of it. I quit being proud years ago when we lost games we should have won. The way I look at it we're going to get the Super Bowl ring because we won the game this year that counted. We deserve it."
Dallas linebacker Howley, the game's most valuable player, would willingly have changed places with Vogel.
"The award is tremendous," he conceded, "but I wish it were the world championship. They go hand in hand."