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Steelers, Cowboys and a Touch of History

When the Dallas Cowboys came into existence in 1960, the Steelers welcomed them with open arms.  Being an expansion franchise, the Cowboys were one of the few teams that Pittsburgh could beat on a regular basis.  The Steelers won seven of the first 10 meetings.

In 1963, Steelers' receiver Buddy Dial was one of my all-time favorites.  He led the NFL in yards-per-reception (a lofty 21.6) and campiled 1,295 yards and nine touchdowns in just 14 games.  He was terrific.  The Steelers decided to trade the All Pro in an effort to get younger.  The Cowboys, already young and in need of experience, were the perfect trade partner.  The two teams agreed that if a player named Scott Appleton was still available fourth, where the Cowboys picked in the 1964 NFL draft, the Steelers would ship Dial back to his home state for Appleton.

The trade proved disastrous for both teams.  Appleton never played a down for the Steelers.  He opted instead to sign with the Houston Oilers of the AFL, who also drafted him (back then the two leagues held seperate drafts).  The Steelers got absolutely nothing in return for a Pro Bowl receiver.  Dallas didn't fare much better.  Dial hurt his back and was never a productive Cowboy.  Several back operations led to an addiction to painkillers which in turn led to kidney failure and premature death at the age of 71.


The Cowboys got real good nonetheless and in 1965 commenced whipping the Steelers seven times in a row.  The Steelers' win that ended that drought came in the 1976 Super Bowl.  With MVP Lynn Swann making four huge catches for 161 yards, all with Dallas cornerback Mark Washington draped all over him in perfect coverage, Pittsburgh won, 21-17.  Swann's catches are still shown in highlights to the chagrin of Cowboys' fans. 


The turning point in the game occurred in the third quarter when Roy Gerela missed his second field goal.  Cowboy defensive back Cliff Harris decided to taunt Gerela and tapped him mockingly on the helmet.  Jack Lambert caught this act of foolishness out of the corner of his eye.  If there was ever one Steeler you did not want to agitate it was Jack Lambert.  He picked up Harris and threw him to the ground like a rag doll.  In today's game Harris would have been flagged and Lambert would have been ejected.  In 1976, boys would be boys. 

Lambert was a man possessed from that point forward.  He had a hand in the next five tackles.  For the rest of the game, until Pittsburgh had all the points they would need, the Dallas offense was rendered completely useless.  Lambert was all over the field and Staubach, nicknamed "the Dodger" for his elusiveness, found himself eating a heavy dosage of dirt.  He ended up being sacked seven times in the game.

The two teams met in the Super Bowl three years later and the Steelers won by the same four points, this time 35-31.  I was in college in Miami at the time and had the opportunity to work the game as a volunteer.  Blessed with a field pass, I may have been the closest human being to Rocky Bleier when he caught his touchdown pass at the end of the half.  I had to move out of the way so he wouldn't run into me.  And I think for sure I was the closest person to Jackie Smith when he dropped his opportunity in the same end zone (certainly no Steelers were anywhere near).

That game, known as the best Super Bowl up to the time, featured the bogus pass interference call on Benny Barnes when his feet tangled with Lynn Swann's.  It also featured the infamous Hollywood Henderson's claim that Terry Bradshaw "could not spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a'."  Bradshaw got the last laugh.  Henderson's bigger mistake that game was claiming not to hear a whistle.  On a third-down play, the Steelers didn't get the play off.  The whistle stopped play for delay of game and everyone heard it, except Henderson.  He came in untouched and flung Bradshaw to the ground.  Today he would have been flagged, incarcerated and deprived of his first-born male.  Back then it wasn't even a penalty. 

It did, however, spark a fire in Franco Harris.  In 12 years with the Steelers, I never saw him lose his cool or become emotional, even after the Immaculate Reception, but he was infuriated with Henderson.  He got in Hollywood's face and was jawing at him for the one and only time I ever saw Franco do anything of the sort.  He then screamed something in his own huddle.  On the very next play, despite being third and nine, Harris went up the middle like a maniac and went all the way to the house.  The only Cowboy who have a chance of tackling him, Charlie Waters, ran smack into the umpire and the play was history.

Roy Gerela squibbed the ensuing kickoff and Hall of Famer Randy White tried to return it.  He had a cast on his arm from a fracture the week prior, which didn't help matters when none other than Tony Dungy blasted into him and caused a fumble.  Dirt Winston recovered and on the very next play, the Blonde Bomber went right to the end zone where Lynn Swann made one of his patented acrobatic catches to make the score 35-17. 

The third time would be a charm for Dallas, as the Cowboys gained revenge in the 1996 Super Bowl.  The Boys were loaded with superstars Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders.  All of them contributed to the Cowboys' 27-17 win.  But for the first time ever, a cornerback was the game's MVP.  As happy as Dallas' fans were with Larry Brown, they were even happier with Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell.  Not once, but twice, with a close game on the line, O'Donnell threw perfect passes to a surprised Brown who broke the Steelers' back.  Both were long returns inside the Pittsburgh red zone and both resulted in Dallas touchdowns.  Neil O'Donnell would never again wear a Steelers' uniform.  He scurried out of town to the New York Jets in 1996.


It should be noted that the Steelers and Cowboys have one very important legend in common.  The great Ernie Stautner Played for the Steelers from 1950 through 1963.  His playing days as a defensive tackle earned status into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  After he retired, Stautner became an assistant coach for the Cowboys, a position he held for 23 years, from 1966 through 1988.  He was a major factor in the development of Dallas' Doomsday Defense, playing concurrent with the famous Steelers' Steel Curtain.


Another interesting connection is halfback Preston Pearson.  Pearson played for the Steelers from 1970 through 1974.  He was with the team for the Steelers' first Super Bowl ring.  The very next year, 1975, he was traded to Dallas.  Ironically, that year he played against the Steelers in the Super Bowl!  He finished his career with Dallas in 1980.

The last meeting between the two teams was in 2004, in Dallas, when rookie Ben Roethlisberger proved his mettle by bringing Pittsburgh back from a double-digit deficit for a victory.  Since 1960, the Steelers have won 14 times, with Dallas winning 15.  For Pittsburgh fans, this Sunday would be a glorious time to even the all-time series.