It can take a spell to get all the bugs out of a computer, but Head Programmer Tom Landry has finally got his Dallas Cowboys printing out to perfection. At least there wasn't any evidence of a breakdown on Sunday in New Orleans, where the Cowboys demolished the Miami Dolphins 24-3 on the Poly-Turf in Tulane Stadium. In the process, they were all but unstoppable on the ground, with celebrated nonstop, nontalker Duane Thomas, Walt Garrison and Calvin Hill amassing most of a Super Bowl-record 252 yards rushing and, once Roger Staubach got his receivers sorted out, overwhelming through the air as well.
In 60 minutes they made just one mistake and this was only their second turnover in three playoff games. It came in the closing moments when Hill fumbled on a dive from the Miami one that would have given the Cowboys a needless fourth touchdown.
Miami, on the other hand, made three mistakes, all to its enduring sorrow. In the first period Larry Csonka, the burly running back who had not fumbled all season, lost touch with the ball on the Dallas 46, and Linebacker Chuck Howley recovered for the Cowboys. Twelve plays later Mike Clark kicked a nine-yard field goal that gave Dallas a lead it never relinquished.
The Cowboys got their first touchdown on their own hook, a seven-yard Staubach-to-Lance Alworth pass completing a 76-yard second-period drive. With the score now 10-0 and less than two minutes before halftime, Miami finally made a threatening gesture, driving to the Dallas 24 on Bob Griese's passes to Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield. But the Dolphins had to settle for a 31-yard Garo Yepremian field goal when War-field failed to hang on to a tipped Griese pass on the Dallas two. Still, there was the appearance of a contest as late as halftime. But not for long. The Cowboys wrapped it all up early in the third quarter, driving 71 yards in eight plays, Thomas going in from three yards out to make the score 17-3.
In truth, the outcome had been signed, sealed and delivered long before—in point of fact, before the opening kick-off. So well had Landry—and the computers he uses to analyze opposing offenses and defenses—dissected the Dolphins in the days leading up to the Super Bowl that in only one small respect did he have to adjust his game plan. The Miami linebackers covered the Dallas running backs man for man on first-down passes, so Landry, who picks the plays for Staubach, reverted to his more usual practice of calling runs on that down.
Going into the game, the Cowboys had expected to run up the middle, throw to their backs and seal off the most shark-like Dolphin, Middle Linebacker Nick Buoniconti. They did all of those things just about as the computer and Landry had predicted they could.
The Cowboys had expected to shackle Csonka and Kiick, the formidable running backs, to deny Warfield, the nonpareil wide receiver, his favorite inside routes and to harry Griese on the pass plays, and they did all those things, too. Their 10-3 halftime lead was fashioned by Staubach implementing Landry's calls by whipsawing the Dolphin defense with quick, short passes, quick striking runs over the center or the left side of the out-manned Dolphin line and, on rare occasions, by throwing a long pass or hot-footing it on a scramble.
The Dolphins, naturally, realigned their defenses at halftime to stop the Dallas ground attack up the middle, and Landry, just as naturally, guessed they would do that and struck elsewhere. Said Dave Manders, the Dallas center who played a big part in neutralizing Buoniconti: "We figured at the half they would adjust to stop the inside stuff, so we swept in the second half with quick pitchouts wide."
The Cowboys prepared themselves for this game with the precision that is their mark. The Dolphins, in their first Super Bowl, were being true to their nature, too. Someone asked Head Coach Don Shula if his club was relaxed, and Shula, who has matured socially as well as professionally during his two years in Miami, smiled. "They are individuals," he said. "The ones who are always relaxed before a game are relaxed and the ones who are always tense and serious are tense and serious. I think it is a mistake to ask a club to be either one way or the other. What you want the players to do is be themselves and I think our players have been themselves this week."
"The Dolphins are a well-coached young football team," Dallas Player-Coach Dan Reeves said before the game. "That makes it fairly easy to prepare for them. Because they are disciplined and well coached, you know exactly what they are going to do. They are not going to come up and play a defense you haven't seen. They could come up with a new defense, I suppose, but they are basically a young team and they can't play a lot of changeups. With an in-experienced club, the only way to play good football is to do the same thing over and over again. You can't give them more offense or defense than they can handle.
"We aren't necessarily planning to attack the Miami defense specifically," Reeves explained. "We're attacking a defense we have seen a lot of other teams play."
However, Miami did present one thorny problem in the person of Buoniconti, who, though comparatively small for his position, is inordinately quick and intelligent. So the Dallas strategists concentrated on neutralizing him.
The Dolphins usually play what is called an odd line—a defensive setup that puts a lineman head on against the opposing center—in this case, Manders. Since Manders has the responsibility for blocking the middle linebacker on most running plays, this, in effect, frees Buoniconti, allowing him to roam and fill whatever hole materializes.
The blocking the Cowboys planned to use to clear the way to Buoniconti was called do-dad blocking by Vince Lombardi when the Packers used it to break Jim Taylor or Paul Hornung on power sweeps or cutbacks. In the modern, more sophisticated nomenclature of the Cowboys, it is referred to as slip-wedge blocking.
Manders and All-Pro Guard John Niland were given the responsibility for making the technique work. "We plan to run over the middle on them when they are in an odd line," Niland explained before the game. "The backs are the key in the way they run. They have to make a good fake to the right, to take Buoniconti a step or two in that direction, then cut back over the middle. Manders and I will contain the man playing over the center's head—wedge him—then one of us will slide off and take Buoniconti in the direction he has started to go. If we can seal off Buoniconti, Thomas or Hill or Garrison should have running room and all they need is a crack. If the Dolphins go out of the odd line into a four-three, with no one over the center, we'll go off tackle."
If Buoniconti presented a special problem to Dallas, All-Pro Tackle Bob Lilly presented just as much of a challenge to Miami. Ed Khayat, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, expatiated on that prior to the game. "When you're getting ready to play Dallas, you spend about half your time trying to figure out how you're going to handle Lilly," he said. "And if you put as many men on him as you should, they have a lot of people who'll eat you alive."
The Cowboys planned to make minor adjustments in their defense to handle Miami's most potent threat, the Griese-to-Warfield deep pass. But they anticipated no difficulty in reading the Dolphin offense, which they felt was predictable. "When they are going to run," Jordan explained, "the wide receiver is six or seven yards closer in than he is when they are going to pass. This gives him a better opportunity to block on the end or the linebacker." This is especially true when Csonka carries the ball. His favorite drive is back to the weak side and Warfield will close in, since he is a strong blocker.
"When he does that, we'll be in the backfield before he can throw the block," Jordan said. Howley is extremely fast coming in from weakside linebacker. On the other side, Cornell Green can come quick from a position close to the line, and he's a big, strong safety who won't be overmatched by Csonka or Kiick. Of course, they might pass against that kind of defense, but a lot of their inside routes would be closed off so we know the pass will have to go to the outside and the cornerbacks can shut that off. We also want to confuse Griese with a lot of different looks. Under the kind of pressure our defensive line can put on him, he won't have much time to recognize what is happening."
In the Cowboys' third-quarter drive, Landry's meticulous preparation and his one halftime adjustment worked to perfection. The slip-wedge block sealed off Buoniconti, and Thomas sliced back off the right side for 23 yards to set up a first down on the Miami 22.
"Landry is the quietest guy in the world when he's losing, but if he beats you he gigs you a little bit," Reeves had said, and now Landry, winning, gigged the Dolphins with a flanker reverse by Bob Hayes good for 16 yards and a first down at the Miami six. Thomas made his touchdown two plays later and the score was 17-3.
Early in the fourth period, in the first of two drives the Dolphins managed in the second half, the Cowboys' intimate knowledge of Miami's attack patterns again paid off. Miami had reached its own 49, with third and four coming up. Twice before, with third down and comparable yardage, Griese had thrown to Kiick, completing the pass both times, but not for enough yardage to make the first down. So, sure enough, Griese called the same play and the Dolphins made their second mistake of the game. Howley was lying in wait for the ball. He picked it off in front of the flabbergasted Kiick and ran 41 yards to the Miami nine.
"We'd been faking at cutting off that pattern all day," Howley said. This time it was no fake.
Howley wasn't tackled at the nine; he just stumbled and fell. "Please don't mention that," he said. "I'm embarrassed."
His pratfall made no real difference. From the nine, Staubach took the Cowboys to a touchdown in three plays. A seven-yard pass to Tight End Mike Ditka made the score 24-3 and the Miami fans, who have a tradition of waving white handkerchiefs every time their heroes score, used them to wipe away the tears. They had the opportunity to shed a few more on the last Miami march, which came to a dolorous end on the Dallas 16, Griese fumbling the snap from center and Cowboy End Larry Cole recovering.
Then the Cowboys mounted their final drive and this time Landry, like a gambler playing on house money, started drawing to inside straights—and filling them. It wasn't really necessary. The Cowboys were moving the ball well following their original strategy, but what happened next underlined the extraordinary firepower they have when they care to call on it.
They had reached the Miami 20 on routine plays. There, with fourth down and a short one, Landry sent in his field-goal team for a 27-yard chip shot. But Reeves, the holder, jumped up and ran seven yards to the Dolphin 13 for a first down.
Safety Dick Anderson diagnosed the next play and dropped Hill for a five-yard loss on an attempted sweep. At this point, the officials stopped the clock for the two-minute warning and Staubach trotted over to the sideline to confer with Landry. When he came back, he gigged the Dolphins, calling a tight-end around to Ditka, who trundled to the one-yard line, where he was overhauled by Defensive Tackle Manny Fernandez.
From the one, Hill tried his dive and made his fumble, Fernandez recovering the ball for Miami on the four but to no avail, as the clock ran out a few plays later.
Later, in the quiet, dispirited Dolphin dressing room, Griese was asked for perhaps the 40th time if he had felt frustrated during the game. He sighed and said, "A number of times, my man, a number of times."
"The way I see it," Staubach was saying at about the same time in the Dallas dressing room, "was that in today's game my people were doing a lot of things right and maybe Griese's were doing a lot of things wrong."
Which is what the manager of the Cowboys' computer company had once told Cowboy President Tex Schramm, only he put it more vividly. Speaking of the value of computers, he said, "You put garbage in, you get garbage out."
There is no garbage on the Dallas Cowboys. Not anymore.