There were the Minnesota Vikings all set to inflict on another Super Bowl their flattop haircuts, the defense of the '50s and an offense of the '20s that puts more emphasis on going the width of the field than the length of it. Four times the Vikings had reached the NFC championship game, and each time they had won it—only to be humiliated by a modernized AFC powerhouse in the Super Bowl. But on New Year's Day in Texas Stadium the Dallas Cowboys—in particular Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Harvey (Too Mean) Martin, their massive defensive ends—pulled the plug on the Vikings, beating them 23-6 and winning the NFC title for the second time in three years.
It wasn't that easy for Dallas. The Cowboy offense sputtered, wasting numerous opportunities to put the Vikings away. Minnesota hung on grimly, and midway through the fourth quarter trailed by just 10 points, 16-6. But the Vikes could never escape the clutches of Doomsday II—the up-to-the-minute version of the Dallas Doomsday Defense. It was simply Too Tall (Jones helped force two fumbles, had one sack and made eight unassisted tackles), Too Mean (Martin recovered two fumbles) and too much for a Minnesota team that sorely missed its injured quarterback, Fran Tarkenton.
On offense, what the Cowboys lacked in execution they made up for in good, old-fashioned razzle-dazzle. All three of Dallas' touchdowns were scored or set up by clever plays. The first came on the Cowboys' second offensive play of the day, shortly after Minnesota Running Back Robert Miller, with the 6'8", 265-pound Jones staring him in the face, had muffed a hand-off from Quarterback Bob Lee at the Viking 40-yard line and Martin had made the first of his fumble recoveries.
Cowboy Coach Tom Landry had noticed in films that Viking Cornerback Bobby Bryant reacted quickly on screen passes, so he plotted to sucker Bryant in and then bomb him deep. The play started at the Minnesota 32-yard line with Wide Receiver Drew Pearson going in motion from the right side to the left, where the Cowboys' other wide receiver, Golden Richards, was lined up. Taking the snap, Roger Staubach faked a hand-off into the line to Robert New-house, then straightened up and pumped his arm toward Pearson on the left sideline. Immediately, Bryant reacted toward Pearson and when he did, Richards, who had moved downfield as if to block for Pearson, sped past Bryant and headed for the corner of the end zone.
January 9, 1978
Staubach, seeing a gaping hole in front of him, was tempted to run, but at the last second he spotted the wide-open Richards and lobbed a long pass to him. Richards lost the ball temporarily in the lights and, backpedaling, nearly fell, but he managed to make a breadbasket catch in the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
The way the Dallas defense played, that touchdown could have clinched the game, but Defensive End Carl Eller deflected Efren Herrera's extra-point try wide to the right.
The clinching touchdown came early in the second quarter on a five-yard run by Newhouse, who led all rushers with 81 yards. The big play in that drive, which covered 46 yards after the Cowboy defense had bottled up the Vikings near their goal line, was another piece of deception.
This time, however, it was unplanned. On fourth down at the Minnesota 43, Danny White, back to punt for the Cowboys, saw an open field in front of him and took off. "That sort of thing is always my decision," said White, who hadn't made a similar decision all year, "and if it doesn't work I'm the goat. I can just keep on running."
As it was, White gained 14 yards, the Cowboys' second longest run from scrimmage, and a first down at the 29. Dallas quickly scored, Herrera converted, and the Cowboys led 13-0.
On the Vikings' next two possessions, Lee moved them briskly into scoring position and 38-year-old Fred Cox, playing his last game, booted field goals of 32 and 37 yards, bringing Minnesota to within a touchdown at 13-6. But Dallas countered by driving 70 yards and getting a 21-yard field goal from Herrera in the closing seconds of the first half to take a 16-6 lead.
For a long time, it seemed there would be no more scoring. The Dallas offense was floundering, while Too Tall, Too Mean and the rest of Doomsday II were holding Minnesota to just three first downs in the third quarter, including one that came on a roughing-the-kicker penalty, and two in the fourth.
The Cowboys got their last touchdown late in the game after Linebacker Thomas Henderson brutally separated Minnesota's Manfred Moore from a punt. Jay Saldi of the Cowboys scooped up the ball and kept going nine more yards to the Viking 35. From there Dallas used five successive runs to score, the touchdown once again coming on a guileful play on third and six at the Minnesota 11.
The Cowboys lined up in the shotgun, normally a passing formation. Instead of passing, however, Staubach handed to Dorsett on an inside reverse and he out-raced the Vikings to the right corner of the end zone. Moments later Henderson intercepted a Lee pass. And then it was Hello, Super Bowl.