Good morning, it’s Friday, November 23, 2018. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving. It was a good day for football, especially for Dallas fans. The Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins, which is not an unusual Thanksgiving Day occurrence: The ’Skins have played the Cowboys nine times on turkey day, the first game 50 years ago, and have won exactly once in those five decades.
It’s still a rivalry, but nothing like it was in the 1970s when George Allen coached the Redskins and Roger Staubach played quarterback for the Cowboys. Allen had come to Washington from the Los Angeles Rams in 1971, bringing with him an affinity for seasoned players and an abiding hatred of the Dallas Cowboys. Many of Allen’s imports came from the Rams. Together with other grizzled veterans they became known as “The Over-the-Hill Gang.”
They weren’t over the hill, although Staubach could make any opponent look old. He was a tough customer. Forty years ago today, in fact, Staubach put on a clinic against Washington, leading the Cowboys to a 37-10 win during a brilliant season that ended with an epic Super Bowl date with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There was little Staubach couldn’t do, on or off the football field. He broke records at the U.S. Naval Academy, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1963 and leading the Middies to a 9-1 season and a Cotton Bowl bid. After leaving the academy, he fulfilled his service commitment as a naval officer, which included a stint in Vietnam. Mustering out five years later, he showed up in the summer of 1969 at the training facility of the Cowboys, who’d had the foresight to choose him in the 10th round of the NFL draft years earlier.
As a 27-year-old rookie, Staubach made the team and proceeded to carve out a Hall of Fame career. He also earned money in commercial real estate in Dallas, raised millions of dollars for the United Way, and rebuffed efforts by the Texas GOP to run for Senate. Last week, Staubach was awarded the Presidential Medal Freedom award.
“Captain Comeback” tormented many teams in his career, not just Washington; most notably (1972) and the Fran Tarkenton-led Minnesota Vikings (1975) that gave rise to the phrase “Hail Mary pass.”
But the phrase could have been used the season before, on Thanksgiving Day 1974, when Staubach was on the bench nursing a concussion. I’ll have more on the “Clint Longley Game” in a moment. First, I’d direct you to our , which aggregates an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. We also offer an array original material from our own reporters and contributors this morning, including the following:
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Is Gavin Newsom on a Fast Track to a 2020 Bid? Bill Whalen that the newly elected California governor is cut from the same cloth as Democrats’ successful presidential candidates in the modern era.
Renegotiated NAFTA Will Entrench Big Tech Censorship. Adam Candeub that free speech on social networks, discussion boards, and other user-generated platforms will be curtailed under a provision of the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Thanksgiving’s Meaning: 1789, 1863, 1942, 2018. Myra Adams has this holiday .
The Weapon That Saved Dunkirk. In RealClearHistory, Steve Feinstein England‘s decision to preserve its Spitfire fighter planes early World War II, then using them to enable the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Only Black Friday Guide You Need. Kirk Miller has this in RealClearLife.
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It’s hard to imagine this now, but in the mid-1970s, Washington, D.C., had a small-town feel to it. And though partisan politics was very much a part of the landscape, Democrats and Republicans in the capital put their rivalry on hold twice a year when the Redskins played the Cowboys. It was “Dallas Week,” and the city took its cue from its madcap coach. Fans talked up the looming battle in their offices. Traffic in the city and its suburbs was all but nonexistent during the games.
The 1974 Redskins were very good, while the Cowboys were uncharacteristically mediocre. In the lead-up to the Thanksgiving Day game, Washington stood atop the division with a record of 8-3, while Dallas was only 6-5. Staubach was carrying the team, but the Cowboys didn’t have quite enough talent around him. Moreover, Craig Morton, the solid player whom Staubach had beaten out for the starting QB job, had been granted a trade, meaning that if Staubach went down, the Cowboys would be in trouble.
Knowing this, , George Allen promised $200 to whoever who could knock Staubach out of the game. Today, with our increased knowledge of the long-term effects of concussions, such a move could get a coach fired, and possibly banned from the sport. And what player would risk such a sanction for 200 bucks? Well, the salaries were different then, too. So was the nature of rivalries. Before the game, Washington defensive lineman Diron Talbert explained his team’s attitude toward Staubach.
“If you knock him out, you’ve got that rookie facing you,” Talbert said. “That’s one of our goals. If we do that, it’s great. He [Staubach] is all they have.”
Talbert, who was raised in Texas and played college football for the UT Longhorns, was old-school that way. He was also one of the “Ramskins” brought to D.C. by Allen.
But in football, as in life, we must be careful what we wish for.
In the third quarter, with Washington holding a commanding 16-3 lead, Staubach was indeed knocked out of the game. And who was this rookie whom Talbert had alluded to? Few Redskins fans had ever heard his name. After the game, few could forget it.
Clint Longley had come from a school called Abilene Christian. But if Longley had gone to a small college, he had a big arm, and a bigger heart. “I was afraid they weren’t going to send me in,” he quipped after the game. “But I was all they had left.”
Longley immediately began carving up Washington’s defense, giving Dallas a 17-16 lead until Washington woke up and scored a go-ahead touchdown. A blocked field goal by Dallas prevented the lead from becoming insurmountable, but as Longley was leading his team to a winning drive, disaster struck: Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson fumbled with 2 minutes and 29 seconds remaining.
All that did was make Longley’s heroics even more storybook. Getting the ball back with 1:45 left on the clock and no timeouts, he calmly went back into the huddle. How poised was the rookie who’d never before played in an NFL game? When All-Pro fullback Walt Garrison — a man so tough — brought in a play from coach Tom Landry and started to explain it to Longley, the young QB snapped, “Shut up, Walt!”
On fourth down and four yards to go as the clocked ticked down, Longley threw for six yards to “, another world-class Cowboys’ athlete. This left the ball at midfield. With 35 seconds to go, Longley went back and heaved the ball nearly 60 yards in the air, a perfect strike, catching Drew Pearson in midstride. Touchdown, Cowboys! Misery, Redskins.
Longley never did much in the NFL after that, but in the euphoria of the winning locker room, he made a statement that always stuck with me. It should be a mantra of all professionals who await their big moment — whatever their profession. “Well, after all,” he said, “this is what I’ve been training for.”
Carl M. Cannon Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics (Twitter)
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter .