1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #20 Doug Dennison
Somewhere at a place now forgotten, at some point in time long ago, a philosopher outdid himself in noting that the hardest yard to gain in football is very often the last one. Never had a franchise realized the implicit truth of this observation in such horrific fashion as the Dallas Cowboys of early years, who witnessed more than its fair share of hopes evaporate on the doorstep of the goal-line over its first fifteen seasons in the NFL.
How it happened that a similar tale did not unfurl itself over the course of the 1975 season is a credit to the grit and determination of Doug Dennison. A second-year player out of tiny Kutztown State in Pennsylvania, Dennison fostered initial hopes of taking the torch from the departed Calvin Hill by claiming the starting running back job in training camp. When that didn’t work out, Dennison eventually settled into the role of the Cowboys’ battering ram, and wound up exceeding all expectations by leading all Dallas runners in touchdowns scored.
At first glance, Dennison’s 6-0, 195-pound frame didn’t convey the impression commonly associated with short-yardage backs. But what he lacked in size, Dennison more than made up for in effort. A former triple jumper in college, Dennison possessed a burst and an uncommon desire that made it extremely difficult for defenders to take him down behind the line of scrimmage.
“Dennison always gives you everything he’s got…” said head coach Tom Landry.
Yet even the greatest effort needs to be channeled in the proper direction. In college Dennison simply received the handoff and started running. After graduating to the professional ranks, the necessity for reading defenses before the snap was a constant source of discomfort for him in the backfield. So Landry took some of the guesswork out of the equation by putting Dennison in on short-yardage and goal-line situations.
As a rookie in 1974, Dennison had flashed his potential in this role, scoring four touchdowns on just 16 rushing attempts. During the ensuing off-season, he worked hard to earn more playing time, strengthening a knee that had bothered him since undergoing knee surgery during his senior season at Kutztown State. Before his surgery Dennison ran a 4.5. By the time training camp rolled around in July of 1975, he was back to running a 4.6.
Dennison made a strong bid for the starting job with a 20-carry, 89-yard performance against Minnesota in the third preseason game, but was ultimately outlasted by the consistency of speedy Charles Young. However, when Young went down with an injury just before the start of the regular season, Dennison was tagged to split the carries with Newhouse beginning in Week 1 against the mighty Los Angeles Rams.
In a game that all the experts picked Dallas to lose, it was Dennison who scored the Cowboys’ only touchdown in an 18-7 upset. A week later, he carried 17 more times for 42 yards as Dallas topped St. Louis in overtime.
A foot injury suffered against the Cardinals kept Dennison out of the next two games. Upon returning, Preston Pearson was firmly entrenched near the top of the depth chart, making Dennison almost exclusively a short-yardage runner for the remainder of the season.
During his first game off the injury list, Dennison provided Dallas a second-half lead over Green Bay with a 4-yard scoring plunge. Beginning in Week 8 at New England, Dennison scored a touchdown in four consecutive games, including a season-high 65-yard performance versus Philadelphia that earned him some post-game praise from his head coach.
By the end of the regular season, Dennison had notched more rushing touchdowns (7) than the rest of the Dallas running backs combined (6). And after scoring the initial Dallas touchdown of the regular season, Dennison followed suit in the postseason, his 4-yard scoring rush in the third quarter tying Minnesota 7-7 in the Divisional round.