The Dallas Cowboys, a patient team with a resourceful quarterback, waited for the San Francisco 49ers to make mistakes in their NFC championship rematch in Irving, Texas last weekend, and San Francisco obliged with enough of them to give the Cowboys their second straight conference title 14-3.
It was in a way a curious game, for the two teams are more or less mirror images of each other defensively. Dick Nolan, the 49er coach, played with, played under and coached under Dallas' Tom Landry for 11 years. The difference, finally, was the experience edge the Cowboys have in pressure games; this was the sixth year in a row they have been in a playoff.
The first half was played tentatively by both clubs. Neither was able to mount a drive, and they often looked like the offensive and defensive squads in a team scrimmage, both well aware of what the other can do and equally confident of how to stop it.
The Cowboys took quick advantage of the first and most serious 49er mistake. It came early in the second quarter, with San Francisco in possession of the ball on its own 14-yard line. John Brodie had had little luck in trying to run against the redoubtable Dallas defense, and now, for the first time in the game, he tried a screen pass. The softly thrown ball dropped ludicrously into the grasp of Dallas End George Andrie, who recovered from his surprise enough to advance it to the San Francisco two-yard line, where Brodie collaborated on the tackle.
"I took an outside route," Andrie said later. "Len Rohde was riding me out, and I was trying to fight back in against his block when I saw the line setting the screen and went out again. I don't think John even saw me. [He did not.] The ball hit me right in the chest, and it stuck."
Two plays later Calvin Hill leaped high over the massed 49er defense from the one for the touchdown.
The staid pace of the game picked up somewhat after that; indeed it became more what 49er Defensive Tackle Earl Edwards had predicted it would be—"an alley fight with white dinner gloves." The gloves, Edwards explained, were because you had to abide by the rules.
"When you get seven behind in an extremely defensive game like this," said Paul Wiggin, the 49ers' defensive line coach, "the tempo really goes against you. That's what happened to us."
San Francisco's defense had certainly done its homework. "We're a year older, and we won't be affected by the junk they'll throw at us," Middle Linebacker Frank Nunley had said before the game. "All the motion, formations and shifts you never see anywhere else. We get our game plan out of a computer, which shows exactly what Dallas is. You think of them as a wide-open offense. It is explosive, but basically very conservative."
In the final analysis, though, the difference between these teams, and something no computer can be programmed for, was the ability of Roger Staubach, the Dallas quarterback, to ad lib and scramble, especially in the second half. In the first half the San Francisco pass rush headed by Defensive End Cedrick Hardman caused Staubach to hurry his passes, so that he missed open receivers several times.