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Doomsday in the Dome

That ferocious Dallas defense forced and recovered four Denver fumbles and intercepted four passes as the Cowboys belted the Broncos in the Super Bowl

Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:18PM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 3:58PM
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Randy White; Harvey Martin
Randy White; Harvey Martin
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By Dan Jenkins

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 23, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated.

As Super Bowls go, the one played indoors last Sunday in New Orleans was way up there for mosts -- it had the most fumbles, the most hitting, the most noise, the most penalties, the most tricky plays, and no doubt the most Xs and Os stamped on a coach's forehead, as Dallas' Tom Landry nailed Denver's Red Miller to a blackboard and left him there. And when last seen, the Cowboys' two biggest heroes, Randy White and Harvey Martin, were still lecturing the State of Colorado on the mysteries of the flex defense. As a final gesture of victory, another Cowboy star, Linebacker Tom Henderson, went prancing down the field as the last seconds flashed off and jumped up and stuffed a football over the crossbar. Maybe he thought it was Craig Morton's right arm.

The score was Dallas 27 and Denver 10, as the National Conference finally captured one of these things after five straight failures, and it seemed that close only if you were sitting on the Denver side of the Superdome. Actually, Dallas jumped into a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and after that the margin was never less than 10 points, even when Denver finally held on to the football long enough to put a few drives together. All the while, it was a case of the Cowboys doing just about whatever they wished on offense, and so thoroughly confusing the Broncos with their Doomsday II defensive genius and manpower and quickness that the Bronco assistant coaches upstairs on the headphones must have sounded as though they were under a Kamikaze attack as they screamed down to the field with their guesses and remedies for poor Craig and poor Red.

The Broncos had the same flaming emotion that had carried them so stunningly into Super Bowl XII in the first place, but the Cowboys had everything else -- the more gifted athletes, certainly the superior quarterback in Roger Staubach, who has now won as many Super Bowls (two) as Bart Starr, Bob Griese and Terry Bradshaw -- and all of the smarts. Dallas was so much the better team it could even overcome getting too caught up in its own expertise and flimflam in the second quarter. If the Cowboys had taken advantage of all the Denver turnovers, the 76,400 in the audience would have deserted the Superdome for Bourbon Street long before they announced the Punt, Pass and Kick winners.

The Broncos never did come close to figuring out the flex defense and all of the stunts and blitzes that go with it. Led by Too Mean Harvey Martin and Too Strong Randy White, the Cowboys' front four put so much pressure on Morton that he set a Super Bowl record for interceptions (four) before the first half had even ended. And this was the quarterback who had been intercepted only eight times in 14 regular-season games. By the middle of the third quarter, Morton was on the sidelines, having been replaced by obscure backup Norris Weese.

One had to feel sorrow for Morton, who was also a Super Bowl loser as the Cowboy quarterback in 1971. For one thing, he had done so much to make the Broncos a miracle story during the season and the playoffs. For another, he was a good friend of many of his Sunday enemies, and he and Roger Staubach had even hugged one another after the opening flip of the coin. Dallas won that, too.

While the Cowboy defense was the dominant force in the game, Dallas was not without its celebrities on offense. Staubach had a fine day, hitting 19 passes out of 28 for 182 yards. Tony Dorsett, until a knee injury put him out late in the third quarter, was among the big things Denver did not have a runner who could scare you to death. He gained 66 yards in the first half, 22 more than the entire Denver team. And Butch Johnson made a diving catch of a Staubach bomb for a third-quarter touchdown that will have to go into the scrapbooks alongside Super Bowl catches by Max McGee, Lynn Swann and Fred Biletnikoff.

The final insult came in the fourth quarter after the last important Dallas sack -- Hi, Harvey -- caused the last of Denver's four fumbles, this one, too, giving the Cowboys the ball at just about the spot where they appeared to have leased a condominium. On the Broncos' 29- yard line. On the next play, Landry sent in a bit of business called, if you can believe it, "Brown right formation, X opposite shift, toss 38, halfback lead, fullback pass to Y."

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