The last time the National Football Conference won a Super Bowl, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew were in office, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson were alive, the Dow Jones was ready to break 1,000 for the first time, The Godfather was just a book, Elizabeth Ray just a secretary and Watergate just an apartment complex. That was Jan. 16, 1972 in New Orleans, where the Dallas Cowboys pummeled the still-developing Miami Dolphins 24-3. Since then it has been all AFC, with Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland winning the last five Super Bowl games. But now, at last, the NFC seems to have a super team in the Super Bowl. Once again it is Dallas, and this Sunday night in the New Orleans Superdome the Cowboys are expected to put an unhappy ending to the Cinderella story of the 1977 Denver Broncos by stampeding them right out of Super Bowl XII.
In keeping with Super Bowl tradition, the Cowboy-Bronco game will be decided by defense, and few defenses have been more extolled than Denver's rambunctious 3-4 alignment, the Orange Crush. But the truth is, Dallas' Doomsday II defense is better. Dallas veterans call it the best Cowboy defense ever. And against Denver, Doomsday II's clear superiority at putting pressure on the quarterback should give the Cowboys all the edge they need to win.
The two quarterbacks—Dallas' Roger Staubach and Denver's Craig Morton—were team-mates on the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974. During that time Staubach took away the starting job that Morton had inherited from the retired Don Meredith. Morton led Dallas to the 1971 Super Bowl, which the Cowboys lost to Baltimore 16-13, while the less-experienced Staubach rode the bench. During the first half of the following season Coach Tom Landry gave Morton and Staubach almost equal time, with such predictably disastrous results that, after the seventh game, Landry made Staubach No. 1. Staubach responded by guiding Dallas to 10 straight wins and its Super Bowl victory. "They were both championship quarterbacks," Landry said recently. "Both could throw and both were leaders. But the one thing that tipped the scales was Roger's mobility. I made the right decision for the Dallas Cowboys."
That was not the end of the Morton-Staubach saga. The next year Staubach separated a shoulder in the exhibition season, and Morton came off the bench to quarterback Dallas into the playoffs. But when the team floundered under Morton against San Francisco in the opening round, Landry brought in Staubach. Staubach led a magnificent winning rally, and Landry rewarded him with the starting assignment in the NFC championship game against the Redskins the following week. Most of the Cowboys felt it was a bad decision, and a rusty Staubach confirmed that by playing poorly in a 26-3 loss. Landry didn't make the right decision for the Dallas Cowboys that day. But the issue of who was going to be quarterback in Dallas was settled forever. Morton asked to be traded, and in 1974, after forcing the Cowboys' hand by signing with the World Football League for 1975, he was exiled to the New York Giants.
Morton's predicament in Dallas was hardly helped by his life-style. In addition to his ability, Staubach was simply too much Landry's type of person to be denied the No. 1 job. Compared to Meredith, Morton was a dedicated football player, but compared to Staubach he deserved his nickname—"The Prince of Greenville Avenue," a popular strip of nightspots in Dallas.
That was the "old" Morton. The "new" Morton has settled quietly in Denver with his bride, and has "accepted Christ into my life." The reformed Morton also plays for a reformed coach. Before getting the head coach's job in Denver, Red Miller—Broncomaniacs want Red to change his name to Orange—spent 17 years as an NFL assistant, the last four as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. "I had just about made up my mind to be the best assistant coach I could," Miller admits. He was even turned down for the head coaching job with the WFL's Chicago Fire. Everywhere Miller went, though, he proved himself a brilliant offensive strategist as well as a coach who could relate to his players.
But his dedication was always in question. He was known as "Good Time Red Miller" and, as one Denver writer put it recently, "Darkness would sometimes find him out of bounds." Miller was determined to land a head job. "I stopped drinking about a year and a half ago," he says. "I haven't had a thing since." When the Broncos clinched the AFC West title in Houston in December, Miller smuggled eight cases of champagne aboard the team plane for a surprise celebration for his squad. He may have been the only person on board who didn't touch a drop.
While Denver's main weapon is its Orange Crush defense, the Broncos became Super Bowl contenders only when Miller, who serves as his own offensive coordinator, put some direction into the offense. The Denver attack is best described as realistic. Not blessed with a strong offensive line, the Broncos play cautiously, rarely gambling in their half of the field. And Morton has executed Miller's conservative philosophy perfectly. Often intercepted in the past, Morton had only eight passes picked off in 14 games this year.
Like Denver, Dallas also restyled its offense this season. However, comparing the Denver offense with Dallas' attack is like comparing the Bronco Belles with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Denver ranked 12th on offense in the 14-team AFC. Dallas, which ranked first in the NFC in 1976, was a far stronger first in 1977. "This is the most explosive team I have ever played for," says 13-year Offensive Tackle Ralph Neely, who was on both the Don Meredith-Bob Hayes and the Duane Thomas- Calvin Hill teams. The Dallas defense also ranked No. 1 this year, the first time a Super Bowl team has achieved that double since undefeated Miami did it in 1972.
"The big difference now is our running game," says Staubach, pointing out that last year's top Cowboy rusher, Doug Dennison, gained just 542 yards while this year NFC Rookie of the Year Tony Dorsett got 1,007 despite playing only about half the time the Cowboys had the ball. "Tony is very explosive. He had the longest runs in Cowboy history this season [84 and 77 yards]. Once you do something like that, everyone knows you can do it. It enables us to use play-action passes much better."