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Captain Comeback


Today is the 40th anniversary of the greatest NFL playoff game of the 1970s. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the San Francisco 49ers 30-28 on this date in 1972 in the NFC Divisional Playoff game in San Francisco, CA. Many, if not most of you don’t know that because all the NFL talks about — ad nauseum — is the Immaculate Fluke accompanied by those whiny bitches the Oakland Raiders. This game happened later in the day — lost in the hubbub — just like today. It’s the not the Steelers and Raiders fault — who wouldn’t exploit opportunities for continued exposure and income in retirement? Myth-making is fun after all.

Craig Morton had started most of the season due to Roger Staubach being injured most of the season and so he started the game promptly leading Dallas to a 28-16 deficit into the 4th quarter. Enter Staubach…

The Cowboys’ defense held San Francisco in check the rest of the way, setting the stage for the final two minutes, when Staubach went into full comeback mode. When it was all said and done, Staubach’s magnificent fourth-quarter performance saw him complete 12 of 20 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

A toss to Billy Parks got the Cowboys to the 20 after the two-minute warning. Staubach then spotted Parks in the end zone for the first of his two touchdown passes. Dallas was now down 28-23 with 1:20 to play.

But the Cowboys needed to figure out a way to get the ball back into Staubach’s hands.

“We had this foreign kicker from Australia, Toni Fritsch,” said Waters. “He used to try all these tricky ways of kicking the ball. And he used to do this thing where he’d run up to the ball and run past it. And he’d kick it behind his back.”

Sure enough, Fritsch fooled the 49ers. He lined up to kick to the left, but Fritsch instead squibbed the ball to the right, bouncing it off the 49ers’ Preston Riley. Mel Renfro recovered the ball for the Cowboys.

“Once we got that onside kick, the momentum definitely turned,” Staubach said.

Again, Staubach hit Parks to set up the winning touchdown. Then with 52 seconds to play, the game-winner went to Ron Sellers, capping a 15-point rally in the fourth quarter and a 30-28 victory.

“I think the biggest thing about Roger is that he never quit,” Cowboys defensive end Bob Lilly said. “It didn’t matter now much the Cowboys were down.”

It didn’t turn around a losing franchise, but it set the stage for Roger Staubach’s reputation and set the context for
“The Catch” game 9 years later when the 49ers got their revenge and again in 1992-95 when we got the 49ers back (with one blip). The sad thing is the 15 years since when neither the 49ers nor the Cowboys have done much — the 49ers look to change that this year of course.

The next week? The Cowboys went on to get shellacked 26-3 by the Redskins in the NFC Championship and the Steelers went on to lose in workmanlike fashion 21-17 to the Dolphins. Miracles don’t always pay off immediately. :-)

6 comments to Captain Comeback

  • Scott M.

    John Brodie was the Niners QB….his back up was one Steve Spurrier,whose main job was punting.Glad you enjoyed the game at age 2,Floyd!

  • Things were much more simple then.

    I could never understand why my mother wouldn’t let me wear my Cowboys sweatshirt to school more than once a week.

  • Spike

    Raiders were still robbed. How many NFL franchises were knocked out late in the playoffs on three terrible referee calls? (Immaculate Reception, the 1977 “early” whistle Rob Lytle fumble and the Brady “apparently, I throw the ball with two hands” Tuck call. I’m sure Cowboy and Steeler fans would take it in stride if they were eliminated from Playoff contention on just one bad call……During the decades when the Raiders were good, the NFL happily treated them like the WWF treats the “Iron Sheik”. Good for ratings but the only way they move on is if they won by 14. Okay…bring it.

  • EricP

    Sure, Roger already had the Heisman, but this made the legend. Like Floyd, didn’t get to know this fully till later in the decade. At least he had Lone Star family to help, though. All I had were library books and highlight reels.

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