50 years ago ~ Super Bowl VI

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Super Bowl VI – The Cowboys come of age

the NFL the postseason is in full swing and before we know it, Super Bowl LVI will be upon us. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to watch a decade of the great game anniversary. In this case, it’s half a century ago and the first championship for the Dallas Cowboys.

As the NFL celebrated 100+ seasons I also like to remember the pre-Super Bowl era. However, to many modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history begins with the, (retrospectively named), the first superbowl. For example, few will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Advantages of Akron.

So we’ll stick to the Super Bowl era and go back 50 years to 1972. For the NFL, that game was a championship game with 81,023 fans in attendance at Tulane Stadium in New Orleas to see the 11-3 NFC Champion Dallas Cowboys crush the AFC champion 10-3-1 Miami Dolphins 24-3.

The approach to the game

The 1971 NFL season leading up to this game was the second season after the NFL-AFL merger. Following merger agreements earlier in the decade, the first four Super Bowl games were to be known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

However, they had been renamed Super Bowl three years earlier. Thus, Super Bowl VI was actually the fourth game to bear the name while the others were renamed retroactively.

The Cowboys were in their 12th full season. They had gone from 0-11-1 in 1960 to being incredibly competitive. Between 1966 and 1971, they went 63-19-2 and made their sixth straight playoff appearance. They had played in two NFL championships and, following the merger, the Super Bowl of previous years. But they had finished second each time. Now they were desperate to get rid of the chokehold tag in the big game.

The Miami Dolphins were in only their sixth full season. At first they were uncompetitive going 15-39-2 under George Wilson. Then, in 1970, Don Shula arrived. Things had changed immediately. Miami had its first winning season in 1970, going 10-4 but losing in the playoffs at the first hurdle to Oakland. Now, in 1971, they had gone 10-3-1 and made it to the Super Bowl.


The Cowboys’ defense (nicknamed the “Doomsday Defence”) had only given up one touchdown in the last 25 quarters before the Super Bowl. This included their run in the playoffs. This TD came courtesy of the Vikings in the Divisional Round. But by then the Cowboys had a 20-5 lead with less than 2 minutes to go. It was a game that saw them force 5 turnovers and win comfortably 20-12.

The NFC Conference Championship Game was the first playoff game at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys baptized the occasion with a solid defensive performance. They outplayed the San Francisco 49ers, allowing just 61 rushing yards and 9 first downs, and forcing 3 interceptions. They would qualify for Super Bowl VI after a 14-3 victory.

A thriller and a domination

Miami had traveled to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round on Christmas Day 1971. Miami won 27-24 in double overtime. It was the longest game in NFL history with over 80 minutes of actual playing time.

The teams were tied 10-10 at halftime and 17-17 after three. Kansas City took the lead, 24-17, in fourth. With 1:25 to go, Dolphins QB Bob Griese threw a touchdown to Marv Fleming, forcing overtime. Both kickers missed overtime. It was Miami kicker Garo Ypremian who was able to redeem himself by registering the winner from 37 meters in the sixth quarter of the game.

There was something redeeming about the AFC Championship game for Shula. He had been fired by the owner of the Baltimore Colts after the 1969 season. During his time with the team, he had led them to a 71-23-4 record and an NFL championship. But mostly remembered for training them to win in the biggest upset up to this point. A 16-7 loss to the Jets in Super Bowl III. His replacement, Don McCaffrey had quickly delivered a Super Bowl in his first season. But Shula led his troops to a 21-0 win over the defending champions as Miami held Johnny Unitas in check with 3 sacks and 3 interceptions.

The game itself: Super Bowl VI

Played at Tulane Stadium, it was the second Super Bowl in three years to be played in New Orleans. Ironically, venues that had been suggested for this game previously included the Orange Bowl in Miami and Texas Stadium in Dallas.

Early in the game, the Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive the ball. All they managed was a three and an out. The Cowboys also punted, but on the first play of their next possession, Larry Csonka fumbled for the Ends. It was his first breakaway of the season. The Cowboys converted that into an 11-play 50-yard drive capped by a 9-yard field goal to lead 3-0.

If you watch the highlights of the game, you’ll still see what happened on the next practice – Cowboys’ Bob Lilly sacking Miami’s QB Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss. If you look at the play you will see Lilly and Cowboys DE Larry Cole rocking and harry Griese. The QB twists and turns looking for a chance to throw the ball or get rid of it, but Lilly corners him. It’s probably the most iconic game in gaming.

In the second quarter, Miami tried to tie things up, but a 49-yard field goal attempt by kicker Garo Ypremian failed under the crossbar. After an exchange of goods, once again Dallas got rolling. They rushed for 76 yards in 10 plays. Highlighted by a 27-yard pass from Roger Staubach to Lance Alworth at third-and-nine. As well as a 7-yard TD connection of the same pair to style the drive.

Miami responded with no huddles and moved the ball 44 yards in 4 plays in just over a minute. I don’t know if they would have time for two games before halftime. Miami took the points as Ypremian threw a 31-yard field goal to make it 10-3 at Dallas at halftime. Which was as good as it gets for Miami.

The second half

The score may have only been 10-3 but Dallas had dominated. In the first half, they led at yardage 177-74 (124-34 rushing and 53-40 passing), they had run 37 plays to Miami’s 21 and led the first down count 13-5.

Dallas’ dominance would only grow in the second half. In the third quarter, they held the Dolphins without a first down. But they extended their lead with an 8-play 71-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown from Duane Thomas that made it 17-3. Now the Dallas players were beginning to believe their first championship was coming. This touchdown was also audible to Staubach. It was a dominating practice in which the Miami players got pushed around. The tone of the game was completely in Dallas’ favor now.

As they headed into the third quarter, Dallas now had 277 total rushing yards to Miami’s just 117. They had also surpassed the team rushing record of 160 yards set by the Packers in the second Super Bowl.

Around the fourth trimester

In the fourth quarter, Miami converted a third down for the first time in the game. Even that didn’t end well as later in the same practice Griese was picked and LB Chuck Howley brought him back to the Miami 9. Dallas converted the opportunity as Staubach hit TE Mike Ditka for a 7-yard TD on third down to take the score further at 24-7.

Miami was playing for pride now and put up a good drive. They went from their own 23 to the Cowboys 16. Their first visit to the red zone. Again, things fell apart. Griese fumbled a snap and Cole recovered for Dallas. The Cowboys reached the Dolphins 1-yard line before things were done, but Dolphins safety Jake Scott (who would be Super Bowl MVP next year) dropped the ball and Manny Fernandez (who, according to lot, could have been next year’s Super Bowl MVP, retrieved).

Roger Staubach, who had 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as 5 carries for 18 yards, was named MVP. Dallas was 13-0 this year in games it started.

The real dominance had come on the field where the Cowboys converted 48 rushing plays for 252 yards and a touchdown. And from a D that pretty much stopped Miami’s vaunted running game all along.

What happened next

The Cowboys had finally succeeded. After a succession of near-misses, this dominating performance gave them their first championship.

The following season, they went 10-4 and were well beaten in the NFC Championship Game by Washington. But, they were well into a hit streak now. The 70s were going to be a great time to be a Cowboys fan. After their first title, the Boys went 84-32 in the regular season. Along with making 5 NFC Championship games, 3 more Superbowls, and winning their second NFL title in Superbowl 12. From 1966 to 1985, they had 20 consecutive winning seasons.

As for Miami, they were only in their sixth season as a franchise when Dallas outplayed them here in Super Bowl VI. But, they were about to experience the greatest period of their history. The Dolphins advanced to the next two title games and won both. The zenith being their 1972 season, which remains the only perfect season (no losses, no draws) in NFL history.

Between 1970 and 1975 Miami went 67-16-1 and made 5 playoff appearances winning 3 conference championships and 2 Superbowls. Since that peak, they’ve had great seasons and made Super Bowls, but they’ve yet to win a title.

Banner image: Super Bowl VI action. Image of mysanantonio.com

About Betty J. Snyder

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