December 28, 1975: Staubach Says A Prayer And Drew Pearson Answers
On December 28 1975, in a first round playoff matchup against the Vikings in Minnesota, Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach launched a 50 yard Hail Mary into the hands of Drew Pearson with just 24 seconds left in regulation that put the Cowboys ahead 17-14. The 24 seconds proved to be too little time for Fran Tarkenton's squad and the Cowboys were headed to the next round as the Vikings players sat shocked at the ending to the game that became an instant classic the moment Pearson crossed the goal line. The coach of the Vikings as well as players and fans thought that Pearson had interfered with defensive back Nate Wright to make the catch. Some fans began to shower the field with bottles and other debris hitting one of the referees and knocking him out. He recovered from a gash to the head but I'm sure he don't remember that game as fondly as the fans in the Big D. The Vikings got a huge break in the second quarter which led to the first points of the half. It happened when they were forced to punt, as the ball was on the way to return man Cliff Harris, Minnesota's Autry Beamon came flying in and Harris failed to field it. The field judge, who later caught bottle with his head signaled fumble and Pat Donovan, a lineman for the Cowboys went after it then lost the handle before the Vikings, Fred McNeil ended up with it at the 4. Three plays later Chuck Foreman capitalized on the blunder as he slammed it in from the 1. The momentum shifted back to Dallas quickly as their defense held Tarkenton and company in check until they finally broke through in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Cowboys offense seemed to be clicking as well, seven times they crossed midfield and scored on two of those trips. The first Dallas score came on a 4 yard touchdown run by Doug Dennison then Toni Fritsch put them on top with a 24 yard field goal. Comparatively, the Vikings only crossed into Dallas territory twice after their good fortune in the second. While they struggled to get the ball moving against that Dallas defense Tarkenton was able to engineer an 11 play drive that was capped off with a one yard dive from Brent McClanahan to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead with just a little more than 5 minutes left on the clock. The Vikings came into the contest as two time defending champions of the NFC and many thought that this was the year they were going to win the Super Bowl. Things were looking like they would definitely be going to the NFC title game as time dwindled. With less than a minute to play the improbable began. Staubach, backed up to his own 25, facing a 4th and 16 found Pearson on a 25 yard first down grab, two plays later he unloaded the 50 yard bomb that will live forever. The ball was thrown a little short of the mark and Pearson had to come back and get it. In the process he was briefly tangled up with the defensive back but made the catch then took it into score. While the crowd screamed in protest the call stood and Dallas had a lead that would carry them to the title game in Los Angeles where they destroyed the Rams 37-7 and punched a ticket to Super Bowl X. The run would end there with a 21-17 loss against the Steelers. However, the journey to the big game was a remarkable one and that catch by Pearson was a signature moment in that '75 season for those boys from the Big D.