1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #16 John Fitzgerald
As if John Fitzgerald didn’t have enough on his plate to worry about, a meeting in early spring with head coach Tom Landry added even more to it. While recovering from off-season elbow and knee surgeries that had him doubtful that he would ever return to the field, Fitzgerald was informed that Landry would be installing the Shotgun into the Cowboys’ offensive playbook in 1975.
The sixth-year Cowboys center didn’t wait to be prodded. He immediately began practicing hiking the ball 5 yards behind him without looking. With Landry as his head coach, Fitzgerald was left without an alternative plan. He could either adapt, or else.
“The formation would probably have been used,” Fitzgerald said. “It would have been me that would not have been used.”
With limited movement and sore joints, Fitzgerald was inconsistent for several months. Not until training camp, when he was near full-strength once again, did Fitzgerald’s accuracy begin to improve.
“At first, just Roger (Staubach) and I would be out there working with Roger throwing to the receivers. And then we went to drills where I had a player lined up in front of me,” explained Fitzgerald.
“Then, in the first preseason game against Los Angeles, Roger called a play in the huddle… and I said, ‘uh, oh. Here we go.’ “
Fitzgerald continued to be erratic through the preseason slate, as mastering the Shotgun snap became one of his career’s most imposing challenges. And this coming from a player who converted from defensive lineman at Boston College to an NFL center. During training camp at Cal Lutheran College he deemed the degree of difficulty in snapping the ball from the Shotgun formation to be about a 9. “You can’t look at the quarterback and have your head down,” he said, “or you’ll get steamrolled. So you snap it just like you hand it back…with your eyes on the guy across from you just before he clobbers you.”
Fitzgerald was over his jitters by the time Dallas’ Week 1 meeting with Los Angeles rolled around. His performance that day in an 18-7 upset victory for Dallas was the first of fourteen consecutive clean outings for Fitzgerald, as he went the entire regular season without an errant Shotgun snap. In addition to his newfound trade, Fitzgerald also re-established himself as a solid run-blocker along the Dallas offensive line, helping the Cowboys rank first in the NFC in rushing for the 1975 season. His finest individual hour came in Dallas’ Week 10 triumph at Texas Stadium over Philadelphia, when he was named the team MVP for leading the assault on an Eagles defense that yielded 205 rushing yards.
During the waning moments of the Divisional playoff tussle with Minnesota, a slew of inaccurate Shotgun snaps to Staubach resulted in Fitzgerald being replaced by rookie Kyle Davis. Consequentially, Fitzgerald was a spectator like the rest of the world when, moments later, Staubach authored the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson that knocked the Vikings out and sent the Cowboys on to the NFC Championship Game.
Three weeks later in Super Bowl X, Fitzgerald’s aim was once again off-target as the Cowboys tried to mount a final drive to upset the favored Steelers. But this time when Davis ran onto the field, Fitzgerald was there to wave him back to the sideline, determined to see the 1975 season to its conclusion – win or lose.
And though the blue and silver came up short that day against Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald’s season-long display of adaptability remains a vital ingredient for the Cowboys’ improbable march to the Super Bowl.