Super Bowl X Memories: Roger Staubach’s Big Mistake
The shadows were lengthening at the sold-out Orange Bowl, and the odds of an upset victory in Super Bowl X were fast piling up against the Dallas Cowboys. After leading for more than thirty minutes of action, an unfortunate sequence of events early in the fourth quarter had the Cowboys trailing 12-10.
After a blocked punt by Reggie Harrison off the foot of Mitch Hoopes resulted in a Pittsburgh safety, the Steelers parlayed good field position from the free kick into a short field goal from Roy Gerela to grab their first lead of the day.
But with 8:32 remaining, the Cowboys regained possession at their own 15-yard line with an opportunity to go back in front. That’s when Roger Staubach made a critical error in judgment, extending the Cowboys’ late-game slide in Miami.
The mistake happened on a first-down play that Tom Landry thought was perfectly suited for success. The Dallas head coach, using the same exact play that worked for a touchdown earlier, ordered his quarterback to execute a play-fake to running back Preston Pearson, before stepping up and firing a pass over the middle to wide receiver Drew Pearson. There was no relation between the two Pearsons, nor was there any relation between Drew’s first-quarter touchdown play and the outcome to follow.
Staubach, after faking to Pearson, was awarded a clean pocket by his offensive line from which to throw. After spotting Drew Pearson coming across the field at the 26-yard line, Staubach delivered a strong throw over the middle. But this time the Steelers were waiting. Safety Mike Wagner stepped in front of the receiver to make the interception, and returned the theft all the way to the Dallas 6-yard line.
Afterwards, Staubach gave all the credit to the Pittsburgh secondary for anticipating the play.
“Both their safeties are supposed to kick out on deep coverage while Pearson comes across under them,” Staubach explained. “But Wagner didn’t kick. He read the play or he took a big chance. He came right in front of the receiver and picked it off.”
The Cowboys defense held the Steelers out of the end-zone. But damage still had been done. With 6:37 remaining, Roy Gerela booted a chip-shot field goal through to give Pittsburgh a 15-10 advantage.