1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #34 Mitch Hoopes
Among training camp goals, that belonging to Mitch Hoopes may have been the least complicated of any Dallas Cowboys player in camp. To be around when the regular season began on Sep. 21, Hoopes had to beat any and all comers at his position. For the rookie punter out of Arizona, that meant out-legging veteran Duane Carrell in an eight-week marathon filled with two-a-day practices and exhibitions.
In a race that was nip-and-tuck throughout and in which both contestants distinguished themselves rather well, Hoopes was declared the winner shortly after the sixth and final preseason game. Hoopes was in. Carrell was out. And the Dallas Cowboys had themselves a punter.
It was only when the regular season began that head coach Tom Landry realized, sometimes to his dismay, that Hoopes was even more than that. An All-State halfback in high school, Hoopes still envisioned himself as something of an athletic specimen, and seemed bound and determined to prove his value as an all-around football player.
The legend of Mitch began in Week 1 versus the mighty Los Angeles Rams at Texas Stadium, when he jump-started the Cowboys’ miracle season with an impromptu second-quarter effort. With the score still reading 0-0, Hoopes circumvented a blocked kick by tucking the ball and running for his life down the left sideline. By reaching out while going to the ground, Hoopes was able to gain the necessary yardage to keep the Dallas drive going. A few moments later, place-kicker Toni Fritsch put the Cowboys on the scoreboard with a short field goal, setting Dallas on its way to an 18-7 upset victory.
In Week 7 versus Washington, Hoopes managed to dazzle onlookers with his abilities as a passer by completing a 21-yard throw to linebacker Bob Breunig on fourth-and-19.
But his ad-libbing didn’t always work out. During a Week 6 game at Philadelphia, Hoopes audibled into a fake-punt pass play deep in Dallas territory that resulted in an incompletion, drawing the ire of his head coach.
“I let Thomas Henderson talk me into that pass,” said Hoopes. “He told me he was wide-open. But it was a sucker play. [Bill] Bradley was 25 yards upfield waiting for the play. Coach Landry grabbed me by the arm when I came off the field and told me never to do that again unless he called for it. He doesn’t like those plays even when they work because it means there was a breakdown somewhere. That’s the last time I’ll ever listen to Thomas Henderson.”
When he wasn’t digging into his bag of tricks, Hoopes was underwhelming his audience with his inconsistent kicking foot. During his junior and senior seasons in college, Hoopes posted punting averages of 43.9 and 41.8. That average dropped to 39.5 as a rookie in the NFL.
Hoopes struggled with the technical nuances of punting at the professional level. His angled kicks were erratic at times, and he struggled to maintain distance while adhering to the plan of putting extra loft on the ball to help the downfield coverage. The fact that he had to play two games in the swirling confines of Shea Stadium only helped to drag his average down even more.
(If it was any consolation, Hoopes’ average mirrored exactly that of Carrell, who spent 1975 the season as the Los Angeles punter.)
Hoopes’ rookie season was capped by a special teams disaster in Super Bowl X. With Dallas clinging to a 10-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh’s Reggie Harrison broke through the Dallas front and blocked Hoopes’ punt out of the back of the end-zone. The play proved to be the turning point in the NFL’s bicentennial championship game, as the Steelers rallied for a 21-17 victory.