Present Meets Past In Cowboys’ Preseason-Opening Loss To Rams
The exact meaning of football in August is very largely based on perspective. For some, it’s a time for getting reacquainted with their team. Some use these “meaningless” games to pinpoint progress in particular areas of the roster. For others, it’s a time to reminisce about simpler times. Saturday night’s West Coast marquee was an opportunity for each.
Football’s return to Los Angeles brought a new excitement to a long-frustrated city, as more than 90,000 fans turned out to the Memorial Coliseum to watch the Rams play the Cowboys in the preseason opener. A dramatic second-half comeback sent the Rams home as 28-24 winners and emphatic heroes for everyone wearing blue and gold.
Final outcome aside, Dallas fans found satisfaction in the performance of Dak Prescott. The backup quarterback position had been one of intense discussion on local radio and the social media outlets during the past two weeks in light of the ankle injury that relegated original No. 2 man Kellen Moore to spectator status, and was the primary source of anticipation of fans for the exhibition schedule. Prescott made Jerry Jones’ decision to bypass any and all trade options to fill Moore’s former role look like a smart one, completing 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns in one half of work while staking Dallas to a 24-7 lead.
Perhaps it was due to my contrarian nature, or simply the fact that I spent the past six months working on a book about the Cowboys’ Dirty Dozen rookie class, but this game in front of a sold-out crowd and a national television audience afforded me an opportunity to entertain the parallels between now and then. 41 years ago this past Tuesday the Cowboys opened a preseason slate of six games with a Saturday night affair with the Rams at the Coliseum. With fresh-faced rookies Randy White, Thomas Henderson, Randy Hughes, and others making their first appearance in blue and white, the Cowboys were thoroughly spanked in a dreadful 35-7 loss. The quarterbacking duo of Roger Staubach and Clint Longley failed to register a single blip on the scoreboard, as Dallas’ only points of the evening came on a gift interception run-back. It was a performance that left no doubt as to which was the better team.
Just like last night, home fans walked away from that game feeling as if their team had just won the Super Bowl. And why not? The Rams, after all, were the favorites at the time to represent the NFC in pro football’s ultimate championship game. Los Angeles had been to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and boasted a top-notch defense and a brutally tough running attack. A 28-point thrashing of a respected franchise like the Cowboys appeared to be a clear indicator of how far ahead of the pack Chuck Knox and his Rams really were.
Los Angeles quarterbacks were also a topic of interest in both games. Jared Goff, as this year’s No. 1 overall pick, looked every bit of a rookie in about a quarter of work, throwing an interception and yielding to a pair of Cowboy sacks. On a day of celebration, he was the lone disappointment. Back in the day it was James Harris receiving the critique from the bleachers. Harris had yet to have been forgiven for a late-game blunder in the 1974 playoffs against Minnesota that cost his team a victory. That, and the fact that Harris’ skin color was darker than any other NFL quarterback, made him a polarizing figure at the time. And though Harris played well in that August conquest of Dallas, there were many who doubted his ability, and still others who secretly rooted for his demise.
There were marked differences from last night to that meeting four decades ago. For starters, Dallas’ navy blue jerseys were in stark contrasts to their normal white ones they wore in 1975. As were the attendance totals. Perhaps most noticeable was the dearth of defensive talent on the field. Gone were the Lee Roy Jordans, Mel Renfros, Merlin Olsens, and Jack Youngbloods. In their place were the forget-me-nots of this age, a group of no-names whose only place in the Pro Bowl will be in their own dreams. Tom Landry was missing on the Dallas sideline as well. In his place was “Jerry’s Tom Landry,” a stigma that 50-year old puppetized head coach Jason Garrett will never be able to escape.
The Cowboys and Rams opened the 1975 regular season with a hard-hitting bout at Texas Stadium. There was also a meeting between the two teams later that January at the Coliseum in the NFC Championship Game.
There will be no regular season match in 2016. It seems just as impossible to imagine a playoff game between Dallas and Los Angeles on the other side of New Year’s. But that’s one of the joys of preseason. In August there is always room for football fans to dream about a bright future. Even if they know in their heart of hearts that better days have come… and gone.