Super Bowl V-A Personal and Historical Memoir Part 2: 1970 Colts and Cowboys defined by Sixties Playoff Frustration

Jim O’Brien celebrates after kicking winning field goal to beat Dallas in Super Bowl V

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

What makes Super Bowl V interesting to me from a purely historical and somewhat metaphysical viewpoint, the destinies of the Colts and Cowboys are bizarrely intertwined with one another based on their experiences in the 1960s. Both teams during that decade had a penchant for coming up spectacularly short in the big game—they both shared the same nemesis—the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns.

As ironic as their paths were in the 1960s, it should be noted that the Colts were originally the Dallas Texans franchise (1950) that relocated to Baltimore in 1953.

Baltimore’s journey of postseason futility in the 1960s began on the cold field of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. Winners of the NFL’s Western Conference, the Colts came in with a 12-2 record and the Browns won the Eastern Conference with a 10-3-1.

The Colts were a seven-point favorite over a Browns team with was reportedly a suspect defense. Sports Illustrated was so sure the Colts would win that they had planned to put Johnny Unitas on the cover. But the Browns came away with a shocking 27-0 upset. They broke open a scoreless game in the second half. Browns quarterback Frank Ryan hit wide receiver Gary Collins for three touchdown passes. Unitas was held to 95 yards passing.

In 1965, the Colts and the Packers finished in a tie for the Western Conference title. In the playoff game at the Lambeau Field, Baltimore, playing without an injured Unitas and backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo, started running back Tom Matte at the quarterback who had the plays taped to his wristband. He completed just five passes

The game ended in a controversial 13-10 overtime win for Green Bay. Trailing 10-7 late in the game, Packers kicker Don Chandler tied the game on a 22-yard field goal that appeared to be wide right. Photographs of the kick confirmed it. There was an Associated Press picture showing Chandler shaking his head in disapppointment, thinking he missed it.

Though the NFL would raise the uprights an additional 20 feet, it was no solace for a Colts team who saw their hopes for a title stymied again. In 1966, Green Bay won the West again and clinched the title on a muddy day in Baltimore on a play that became known as the “Million-Dollar Fumble.”

After the Packers had taken a 14-10 lead late in the game, Unitas drove Colts to the Packer 15, but fumbled the ball to Green Bay defensive end Willie Davis. The Packers went on to win the game, the division, the NFL Championship and the first Super Bowl.

The years 1967 and 1968 would be even more painful for Baltimore’s championship hopes. In what was a realignment of the NFL’s Eastern and Western Conferences because of expansion franchises the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints, the Colts were in first place in the Coastal Division of the Western Conference coming into the final game of the regular season. They were unbeaten with 11 wins and two ties. The Los Angeles Rams were on the Colts heels at 10 wins, one loss and two ties.

When the two teams met in the regular-season finale at the L.A. Coliseum,  the Rams came away with a resounding 34-10 win and won the Coastal Division title because they scored more points in the two games they playe against each other. The Colts, 11-1-2, saw another great season come to a disappointing end.

And then there was 1968, the Colts steamrolled to a 13-1 record without the services of an injured Unitas and on the wings of a little-known backup quarterback named Earl Morrall, who was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. They easily beat the Vikings in the Western Conference playoff and exacted some vengeance from 1964 on the Cleveland Browns with a 34-0 shutout in the NFL Championship game.

Hailed at that time as one of the greatest teams in NFL history, the heavily favored Colts were foiled again as the American Football League Champion New York Jets pulled off a shocking 16-7 upset in Super Bowl III.

The Colts, experiencing the hangover of their Super Bowl loss, ended the sixties with a 8-5-1 record and a second place finish in the Coastal Division of the Western Conference.

Born of expansion in 1960, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t experience their first taste of postseason until 1965—when they finished in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-7 record. They played in what was the Playoff Bowl, a consolation game between the two second place teams that was played at the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami from 1960-1969.

The Playoff Bowl was then Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s way of promoting the NFL in the face of competition from the American Football League prior to the 1966 merger between the two leagues. The Cowboys lost the Playoff Bowl to the Colts of all teams in a 35-3 rout.

Though the Playoff Bowl was an exhibition game and not included in any NFL postseason records, it is a fascinating piece of irony that the Colts and Cowboys met each other in a game for second place teams considering their collective playoff fates during the latter half of the 1960s when both teams were known for being next year’s champions.

In 1966, the Cowboys won the Eastern Conference with a 10-3-1 record and took on the Green Bay Packers for the NFL Championship and a trip to Super Bowl I. A close game ended with a 34-27 Packers win at the Cotton Bowl, then the Cowboys homefield in Dallas.

The ending of the game was even more painful for Cowboys fans. The Cowboys, looking to send the game into overtime, had driven to the Green Bay two-yard line, but got penalized for a false start, but took three downs to move the ball back to the two. On fourth down, Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith with Packers linebacker Dave Robinson hanging on his back was intercepted in the end zone by Green Bay safety Tom Brown.

In 1967, the Cowboys would play Green Bay for the NFL Championship for the second straight year, but this time it would be at frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay. In Arctic-like conditions, the game we all know as the “Ice Bowl” ended with another Packers win in the closing seconds with Bart Starr’s one-yard plunge.

The Cleveland Browns would victimize the Cowboys in the Eastern Conference Playoffs in 1968 and 1969 with a pair of convincing wins. The final game of the 1960s for the Cowboys was in the last Playoff Bowl, a humiliating 31-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Something had to Give

And of course, there was Super Bowl V. The two teams that suffered through the sixties with painful postseason losses would meet in a Super Bowl where they something had to give. In the end, Dallas would suffer another heartbreaking defeat in the final seconds of a championship game on Jim O’Brien’s late field goal.

A pair of lasting images from the ending of that game for the Cowboys was seeing Mel Renfro throw his head into his hands in frustration and Bob Lilly tossing his helmet across the field.

In a crazy game of turnovers and penalties, Cowboys players from that team maintain the turning point of the game was Duane Thomas’ fumble into the end zone on the Cowboys first drive of the second half after recovering a Baltimore fumble on the kickoff to open the third quarter.

Or was it a fumble? When the officials uncovered all the bodies, Cowboys center Dave Manders came up with the ball. Accounts of the game credited the fumble to Colts cornerback Jim Duncan, who fumbled on the second half kickoff.  The Cowboys protested, but to no avail.

 If Thomas scores on that play, the Cowboys are up 20-6 and it would have been difficult for the Colts to get back in it. As Lilly said afterward: “And there was no way if we go up two touchdowns they were going to get two touchdowns off us.” The Cowboys never came that close to scoring for the rest of the second half.

For the Colts everything seemed to go right and wrong at same time. After falling down 6-0 on a pair of Mike Clark field goals, the Colts scored the game’s first touchdown on a 75-yard touchdown pass from John Unitas to John Mackey.

The play itself was a series of lucky bounces. Unitas was trying to pass to Ed Hinton, but the ball bounced off his hands and then it caromed off Mel Renfro’s hands. From there it went into the arms of John Mackey, who raced into the endzone for the score. Dallas maintained that Renfro never touched the ball.

In those days, the rules stated that two receivers from the same team could not tip the ball to one another. But the officials ruled that Renfro touched the ball before it landed in Mackey’s hand. NFL Films Super Bowl highlight footage also confirmed the official’s ruling—noting that the spin of football accelerated after  it grazed Renfro’s hands.

But then O’Brien missed the extra point and the game was tied. After the rest of the half was a comedy of errors, injuries and blown scoring opportunities. Trailing 13-6 late in the second half, the Colts, with Morrall subbing for Unitas after he was knocked out of the game by George Andrie, moved the ball to the Dallas two, but the Colts turned the ball over on downs to end the half after the Cowboys stopped running back Norm Bulaich on three straight runs.

In the fourth quarter, the Colts drove the ball deep into Cowboys, but turned the ball over twice- an interception by Dallas middle linebacker Chuck Howley and fumble by Hinton that rolled into the end zone for a touchback.

Baltimore’s final 10 points were set up by interceptions by Rick Volk, which set up the game-tying score and a pick by Mike Curtis that set up the winning 32-yard field goal. The Colts survived a season’s worth of mistakes—they committed seven turnovers– and were lucky to win.

While his some of his teammates didn’t feel Super Bowl V made up for the loss in  Super Bowl III, Colts offensive lineman Bob Vogel said he didn’t care if people thought the Colts were lucky, especially considering all the team’s near misses during the 1960s: “So what? I’ve had luck decided against us so many times I’m sick of it. I quit being proud when we lost games we should have won. The way I look at it is we’re going to get the Super Bowl ring because we won games that counted this year. We deserve it.”

Given the frustration of the mid-to late sixties for the Colts, Vogel was right because things finally went Baltimore’s way on that Sunday afternoon in Miami after so many near misses in the sixties. Meanwhile, the Cowboys would have to wait for Super Bowl VI to exorcise the demons of their playoff past.  In that game, Dallas left no room for doubt or last second field goals  and crushed the Miami Dolphins 24-3 for their first Super Bowl title .

The perennial  bridesmaids of the 1960s–the Baltimore Colts and the Dallas Cowboys-were the first two champions of the 1970s.

3 thoughts on “Super Bowl V-A Personal and Historical Memoir Part 2: 1970 Colts and Cowboys defined by Sixties Playoff Frustration

  1. Another great read in Part 2, Chris. Thanks for particularly referencing the 1967 season. The poor Colts are the only team in NFL history to enter their last game undefeated and not make the playoffs. Simply not right!! Looks like the NFL was a little late on the Wildcard concept.

  2. About 1967 and the Rams winning the Coastal Division title over the Colts: both teams finished 11-1-2, but the Rams won the division because they were 1-0-1 against the Colts that season. In their first game, the Rams rallied from a 10-point deficit to force a 24-all tie.

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