Super Bowl X Memories: The Blocked Punt
After a fast start in which the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers combined to score 17 points in the game’s first 16 minutes of action, Super Bowl X had evolved into a bitter defensive struggle, where emotion was seemingly paramount and field position at a premium. Now, with more than three minutes elapsed on the fourth quarter clock and Dallas holding to a 10-7 lead, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach exited the playing surface after being sacked by L.C. Greenwood on third-down.
Staubach, a picture of poise only two weeks before when he thrashed the Rams in the NFC Championship Game, was growing frustrated at the Cowboys’ inability to probe the mighty Steel Curtain defense. The opportunities were there, Staubach felt, but the offense’s execution was sorely lacking.
The most recent drive was a perfect example of this. On first-down, backed up on their own 19-yard line, head coach Tom Landry called for the old flea-flicker in the hope that Pittsburgh’s secondary would be caught napping. Staubach handed off to Preston Pearson who lateraled back to the quarterback. But defensive lineman Steve Furness, in the game as a replacement to the injured Joe Greene, sniffed out the trick play and dropped Staubach for a one-yard loss.
“We thought that one would work for us,” said Staubach of the flea-flicker attempt, “but they weren’t in the defense we thought they’d be.”
After Doug Dennison was stopped for a short gain on second-down, the Cowboys’ third-down attempt ultimately blew up in the face of a superior Steeler pass-rush. Needing ten yards, Staubach espied Pearson slipping open downfield against the coverage of linebacker Andy Russell. As he set to throw to his open target, Staubach was crunched by Greenwood at the 16-yard line, bringing about not only a punt, but what would be remembered as the turning point of the game.
Rookie Mitch Hoopes stood on his own 1-yard line awaiting the snap from fellow rookie Kyle Davis. That’s when the Steelers stacked ten men on the line of scrimmage in an attempt to block the kick. Dallas took a moment to adjust their blocking formula, before giving the signal for Davis to go ahead and begin the play.
When he did, Pittsburgh’s backup fullback Reggie Harrison rushed in between center and left guard, ran over rookie blocker Rolly Woolsey with a forearm to the chin, reached out and blocked the punt off the foot of Hoopes. Even had he sensed the pressure, Hoopes had no chance to run away from this catastrophe. The blocking – or lack thereof – had allowed a rusher to sneak through in the very worst place – right up the middle, leaving the punter with no other choice but to pray that his kick got through. Which, for Hoopes, it did not. The ball caromed through the Dallas end-zone for a safety, trimming the Cowboys’ lead to 10-9, and turning the game’s momentum in favor of Pittsburgh.
“I don’t know where the ball hit me,” Harrison said afterwards. “I thought I blocked it with my arms but my tongue is split down the middle and I think it hit me in the mouth. It didn’t hurt much.” He opened his mouth wide, showing a pink tongue with a red stripe down the middle.
“We just missed the block,” explained Landry. “It’s usually a case of the center worrying so much about making a good snap that he fails to brush his man enough. From what I could see, there was no blocking pattern at all and nobody touched Harrison. The defense was set. There are three or four different ways to block the ten-man rush, according to the call. But either the call was not made or somebody didn’t get it.”
Minutes later, Roy Gerela’s short field goal put the Steelers in front to stay.