1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #27 Bill Gregory & #26 Larry Cole
Like a spirited team of thoroughbreds, Bill Gregory and Larry Cole traversed the long and winding course of the 1975 season while hitched to a common position, and tugging at a familiar role. The fact that each pulled their weight at a peculiarly comparable level is why each player is ranked together on this countdown list.
During a span of six months which saw the Cowboys go from run-of-the-mill to conference champions, Gregory and Cole were an inseparable pair along the Dallas defensive line, enduring a strange, unpredictable odyssey in their efforts to replace a monument founded on the bedrock of predictable greatness. The retirement of Bob Lilly in mid-July had left Gregory convinced that, after four years in a backup role, the starting job at right defensive tackle would finally be his to keep. But Gregory never imagined Tom Landry’s next move, which was to move veteran Cole over from end to tackle and announce an open competition at the position.
The timing of this announcement could not have come at a poorer time for Gregory. With the defensive line officially in flux (Harvey Martin and Ed “Too Tall” Jones had also switched end positions), Landry spent a large portion of training camp and preseason with a heavy emphasis on stopping the run. Gregory, who moved better laterally, was more of a pass-rusher, while Cole was better at the point of attack.
Still, the two were in a dead heat throughout training camp. A strong outing by Cole in the third preseason game versus Minnesota provided him with an advantage that he would not relinquish for the remainder of the summer. At the conclusion of the exhibition schedule Cole was announced the starter, though Landry assured everyone that Gregory would still be a prominent part of the rotation.
Gregory was predictably ticked off at the final result, though he promised not to make waves in the locker room. “I accepted [the decision], but I was mad about it,” said Gregory. “That’s the way it was, though.”
Cole had as much to say of his good fortune as if he was a bench-warmer; nothing. Which surprised nobody in the Dallas locker room. Cole was such a quiet guy that teammate Blaine Nye once remarked, “When Larry retires, he will become an end table.”
The defensive lineup was a resounding success to open the regular season, as the Cowboys bounced the favored Rams 18-7. But a week later against St. Louis, Cole suffered an ankle injury that brought Gregory back into the limelight. Once there, it didn’t take him very long to have a breakout game.
Versus the New York Giants in Week 4, Gregory made life miserable for former teammate Craig Morton, tallying a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery to earn the team’s MVP award in a 13-7 Dallas victory. “Bill just had a super game,” Landry said afterwards. “He seemed to be everywhere and did everything he had to do to win the ball game.”
But with Cole on the mend, reporters wanted to know if Gregory had done enough to hold onto the starting job. While refusing to declare him the starter, Landry said he wasn’t going to move him back to his original complementary role either.
“Either one of them can start and play well for us,” said Landry. “It’s the toughest situation we have on the team. Bill has been very hungry to be a starter and Larry Cole has been a great player for us for a long time.”
But when the Dallas defensive line struggled in back-to-back losses to Washington (zero sacks) and Kansas City (164 rushing yards allowed), Landry inserted Cole back into the starting lineup. Cole’s veteran presence on early downs helped young defensive end Harvey Martin diagnose running plays with added proficiency, while Gregory’s contributions as a pass-rusher helped everyone along the Dallas front.
With Cole and Gregory complementing their surrounding cast, the Cowboys got back to their winning ways, taking five of their final six regular season games to clinch a Wild-Card spot. In Super Bowl X against Pittsburgh, Cole authored one of his most memorable plays when he knocked Terry Bradshaw out of the game with a blind-side hit in the fourth quarter. Though Lynn Swann still managed to score on the play, Bradshaw’s absence in the final minutes was a contributing factor in a near-comeback by the Cowboys.