Jan. 15, 1978 New Orleans
Cowboys Rip Erring Broncos
By Leonard Shapiro
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 15 Doomsday arrived for the Denver Broncos tonight in an avalanche of interceptions and fumbles that allowed the Dallas Cowboys to claim a 27-10 Super Bowl victory.
The Orange Crushmen were turned into so much orange slush in the Superdome by a Cowboy defense that intercepted four passes, recovered four fumbles and generally wreaked havoc with Craig Morton and the Denver offense all day.
The Cowboys front four pounded away at Denver quarterback Morton and held the Broncos to 156 yards offense. Morton mercifully was removed from the game late in the third period, and his replacement Norris Weese fared little better.
This was another in a series of loosely played Super Bowls, although the Cowboys were in command almost from start to finish. They opened a 10-0 lead in the first period, stretched it to 17 points late in the third quarter and were never seriously threatened.
When it was over, the Cowboys had their second Super Bowl championship on their fourth trip to the title game. Denver was playing for the championship for the first time.
The Dallas victory was the first for a National Football Conference team since 1972, when the Cowboys beat Miami. The AFC still holds an 8-4 edge in the championship series that began 11 years ago to the day Jan. 15, 1967 when Green Bay defeated Kansas City in the first Super Bowl.
The game, the first played before a prime time television audience, also was one of the longer Super Bowls, running 3 hours, 35 minutes.
The Cowboy offense squandered all sorts of wonderful opportunities in the first half after coming up with seven of those eight turnovers in the first 30 minutes.
Still, the Cowboys rolled up 325 yards of total offense, and when Roger Staubach passed 45 yards to Butch Johnson for a touchdown with 6:59 left in the third quarter, the Cowboys were all breathing rather easily.
The Broncos were breathing fire, however, because they believed Johnson dropped the football in the end zone without ever having control.
NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally said, however, that Johnson had control of the ball when he landed in the end zone and did not drop it until after he had rolled over on his back. McNally said he believed Johnson had control when he landed, and thus, the touchdown was legitimate.
The Cowboys put away this game for good with the last of the Bronco fumbles, and it was caused by one of the game's two most valuable players, Harvey Martin (Randy White was the other.)
After Denver had managed to get to within 20-10 on Rob Lytle's one-yard touchdown run with 5:39 left in the third period, the Broncos and their orange-clad fans in the crowd of 76,400 were still hoping for another miracle to get back into the game.
It never happened. On third an four from this own 30, Weese took a snap from center in the shotgun and looked downfield. Martin came rumbling in, spun the quarterback and knocked the ball loose.
Cowboy cornerback Aaron Kyle pounced on the football, and the Cowboys took over at the Bronco 29.
Staubach, who had gone to the dressing room and missed most of the previous series with an injured finger on his right hand, let bowling ball back Robert Newhouse throw the pass that tamed these Broncos for good.
Staubach handed the ball to Newhouse, who took off toward the left sideline as if he were running and end sweep. Newhouse gave a magnificent performance to suck in the Bronco secondary, then stopped short and lofted a long floating pass toward receiver Golden Richards.
Richards had just a step on Bronco cornerback Steve Foley, but that was enough. Richards made a lovely over-the-shoulder catch just over Foley's desperate leap for the touchdown.
Efren Herrera, who earlier had missed three field goals, was straight and true on the extra point, and the Cowboys had a 27-10 lead with 7:04 left to play. That was that.
There were steads of heroes for the Cowboys. White, the former Maryland man, was a tackling terror all game.
The Cowboy defensive strategy was simple enough, particularly after they opened that early 10-0 lead. They pressured Morton with a variety of charges, linebacker and safety blitzes, and shut down the Bronco running attack.
Morton had no chance against the likes of Martin, White, Ed Jones and Charlie Waters. And after a short screen pass Morton attempted under a heavy rush was nearly intercepted by Jones late in the third quarter, Bronco coach Red Miller switched to Weese with 6:37 left in the period.
Morton finished with only four completions in 15 attempts for 39 yards, setting a Super Bowl record for interceptions. He completed as many passes to Cowboy defensive backs as he did to his own receivers, and never could get his offense untracked.
Randy Hughes, a reserve Cowboy safety who plays in the Dallas nickel defense, intercepted one of those four passes and also recovered two of the four Bronco fumbles.
Staubach, despite his late-game hand problem, completed 17 of his 25 passes for 183 yards, although the Cowboys clearly had to be kicking themselves for not rolling up an even larger margin in the early going.
Still, they did go to the locker room with a 13-0 lead at halftime after dominating the first two periods. "I was very uneasy at the half," Staubach admitted. "Denver was only 13 points down. We had so many opportunities in the first half and we didn't take advantage."
They converted Hughes' interception of a Morton pass at the Denver 25 into their first touchdown, a three-yard pop off tackle by Tony Dorsett behind a Newhouse block on a fourth-and-inches situation.
Dorsett gained 66 yards in 15 carries for the day, but was held out the entire fourth quarter after he twisted his knee catching a screen pass on the final play of the third period.
Still, he helped the Cowboy cause carry on, and played a major role in Dallas' second score. After Kyle had intercepted a Morton pass two plays after Dorsett's first touchdown, the Cowboys took over at the Bronco 35.
On second and one from the 26, Dorsett whooshed around the right end for 18 yards to the Bronco eight. The Cowboys were unable to get closer, but Herrera came on the kick a 35-yard field goal for a 10-0 advantage with 1:31 left in the first period.
The Cowboys were on the move again early in the second period, mostly because of a 19-yard pass from Staubach to tight end Billy Joe DuPree that carried to the Bronco 23.
On third and six from the Denver 19, Staubach scrambled away from Barney Chavous toward the right sideline, then tossed a pass into the crowd in the end zone. Bronco safety Bill Thompson intercepted the ball, but referee Jim Tunney ruled Staubach had stepped out of bounds.
"It was my call," Tunney said later. "My responsibility is the quarterback, and I felt that he had touched the line and then threw. The ball was still in his hand when he touched the line. I saw no reason to doubt myself. I saw the line and I saw the touch."
With that reprieve, Herrera trotted out and connected on a 43-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.
Denver finally got on the board early in the third period with the help of a Dallas blunder 12 men on the field on a Denver punt situation. Bucky Dilts had attempted to throw a pass on a fake punt from the Cowboy 41, but was hit by Kyle for a three-yard loss.
The Broncos got five yards and a first down on the illegal procedure call, but could not get much farther. Veteran field goal kicker Jim Turner came on and hit a 47-yard field to trim the Dallas lead to 13-3 with 12:32 left in the third period.
The Cowboys muted the joy of that happy event 5 1/2 minutes later on the Staubach-to-Johnson touchdown pass. On third and 10 from the Bronco 45, Johnson got behind Foley and Bernard Jackson and made a diving leap to catch the ball.
He rolled over on his back in the end zone, then dropped the football. Bronco players and fans howled fumble but field judge Bob Wortman immediately signaled touchdown.
Referee Tunney, who was questioned by a pool reporter after the game, said, "We talked about that one. He (Johnson) caught the ball in the air, in flight, and 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, then released it."
The catch was all the more remarkable because Johnson had suffered a broken thumb earlier in the first half.
Herrera's extra point gave Dallas a 20-3 lead, but Denver came right back when Rick Upchurch burst through the middle on the ensuing kickoff and breezed 67 yards, a Super Bowl record, to the Dallas 26.
On fourth and one at the 17, Miller became a gambling man and had Weese run and option play. He rolled down the right side of the line, then pitched out to Jim Jensen at the last moment. Jensen turned the corner, leaped over a would-be tackler and went 16 yards to the one.
Lytle took it over from there, and Denver trailed, 20-10, with 5:39 left in the third period.
There was great concern in the Cowboy camp after Staubach left the game for a series early in the fourth period with what was later described as a broken index finger on his throwing hand. But he came back to the game after Danny White had run five plays.
After Martin had stripped Weese of the ball and Newhouse had thrown that oh-so-tricky fullback option touchdown pass to Richards for a 27-10 lead, the Cowboys were home free.