Throwback Thursday: Cole’s Late TD Allows Cowboys To Slip Past Redskins 29-20
On a crisp, windy Thanksgiving Day afternoon in 1968, the Washington Redskins were in Dallas and the Cotton Bowl was the place to be. Hopes were high for the hometown Cowboys, who entered this holiday matinee with a 9-2 mark and their sights firmly set on a third consecutive berth in the NFL Championship Game. But first they had to shake off a lingering bug which had threatened to derail all of their lofty ambitions, when a pair of home losses versus Green Bay and the New York Giants at near midseason brought them back down to earth – and nearer the clutches of the chasing pack.
Since then Dallas had responded with a two-game winning streak, yet they still had to prove to the loyal locals that they could win in their own stadium. There to greet them in Dallas before a sellout crowd was a Redskins squad which Tom Landry’s team had trampled by a 44-24 score only 11 days before at the old D.C. Stadium.
As befitted their status as 21-point favorites, the Cowboys jumped out early and threatened to bury the Redskins before halftime. Defensive tackle Bob Lilly set up Dallas’ initial score when he dislodged the ball from the arm of Washington runner Bob Brunet. Moments after George Andrie’s recovery at the Redskin 16-yard line, Mike Clark booted an 18-yard field goal.
But Brunet’s bad day was only beginning. He ran into Lilly again during second quarter action, and the ball was seen rolling on the grass yet again, leading to a Mel Renfro recovery and another Dallas score, a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Craig Baynham.
Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith was knocked from the game later in the frame due to crunching blows by defensive linemen Spain Musgrove and Danny Crane just after releasing a pass that was penalized for intentional grounding. But replacement Craig Morton put to rest the feeling of unrest inside the Cotton Bowl, tossing to Lance Rentzel for 41 yards on his very first pass attempt. Two plays later, Don Perkins scored from four yards out on a run off right guard to give Dallas a 17-0 advantage with 1:39 remaining in the second quarter. (Meredith would return for Dallas’ next drive.)
That’s when Washington’s own replacement quarterback, Jim Ninowski, provided his own brand of magic, guiding a scoring march which provided the Redskins with a glimmer of hope going into the halftime break. Starting in place of Sonny Jurgensen, who was out with the flu, Ninowski began the march with a scrambling 13-yard completion to Brunet. A 15-yard penalty on Jethro Pugh for roughing-the-passer advanced the ball to the Dallas 29-yard line. From there, Ninowski found an open Charley Taylor streaking through the defense with an accurate throw that allowed Taylor to outrun Dallas cornerback Cornell Green for a touchdown.
Penalties were a critical component of this late-November battle, though it bears noting that the officials showed no partiality in rewarding infractions. Each team was slapped with nine penalties for the game, a marvelous and fearful balancing act which Washington head coach Otto Graham refused to acknowledge during the action.
Frustrated at a season gone wrong for the 4-7 Redskins and at having to coach for his job on the holiday stage, Graham was seen berating officials on numerous occasions with a curious usage of metaphors that surely melted any and all nearby microphones. Once, in the third quarter, Graham became so outraged when a fumble by Baynham on a kickoff return was awarded to Dallas’ Malcolm Walker instead of Washington’s Pete Larson that Graham picked up a yellow penalty flag and hurled it at the official.
The 15-yard walk-off did not lead to a Dallas score, but it did allow Cowboy punter Ron Widby to pin Washington on its own 7-yard line with a nifty boot moments later. After a Redskin penalty negated a 40-yard pass completion to Taylor, Pugh sacked Ninowksi in the end-zone for a safety, giving Dallas a 19-7 lead.
Washington appeared to be folding its tents for good later in the quarter when a slew of offensive penalties had them staring at a second-and-48. But a 56-yard bomb to tight end Jerry Smith changed everything, sparking another Redskins touchdown drive and creating a sense of alarm among certain Cowboy players.
With the lead quickly evaporating, members of the Cowboys’ offensive huddle began bickering among themselves before their next possession, drawing lots to determine which particular one would tell the quarterback how to reverse their fortunes. Ultimately, they all decided to chime in, which caused quite a shouting match when Meredith arrived moments later with the play-call from the sideline.
Order was ultimately restored, but only after Meredith used a few choice words of his own to put the soldiers back in their place. Not that the home crowd cared a bit, as they continued to chant “We Want Morton! We Want Morton!”
Their cries grew even louder when Meredith was intercepted by safety Brig Owens on the first play of the fourth quarter, a turnover which allowed Washington to go in front 20-19 on a Ninowski-to-Pat Richter touchdown play. Behind for the first time in the game, Meredith rallied the Cowboys with a 22-yard rollout pass to Bob Hayes, putting Clark in position for a 25-yard field goal to give Dallas a 22-20 advantage.
With the game in the balance, it was the Dallas defense which rose up to deliver the knockout blow. On first-down from the Washington 12-yard line, Andrie broke through the line to put a knock on Ninowski and cause an incompletion. Still a bit woozy, the Redskin signal-caller badly overthrew his second-down attempt to running back Pete Larson.
On third-down it was Pugh who pummeled Ninowski, causing the ball to pop up and allowing Larry Cole to pluck it out of the air and bull his way through for a five -yard touchdown. Ninowski was so wiped out after the play that he never knew the ball hadn’t hit the ground, and even complained to the referee that it was not a fumble.
“You’re right,” said the ref. “It’s an interception and a touchdown.”
On a collective note, their 29-20 victory gave Dallas the season sweep of the Redskins for the very first time, and cemented them as Capitol Division champions for 1968. And for Larry Cole, it was his second touchdown against the Redskins in as many years, having recovered and returned a fumble 21 yards for a score in a 1967 meeting.