The Cowboys' season was on the brink. At 5-3 with a 3-2 division record, Dallas could not afford to drop the rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals in their first ever Monday Night Football game at the Cotton Bowl on Nov. 16, 1970.
"We hadn't played well in a couple of games," said former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt. "We played Minnesota up at Minnesota and they absolutely killed us."
The Vikings slaughtered Dallas 54-13 on Oct. 18 and the rival New York Giants edged them 23-20 at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 8. St. Louis bested Dallas 20-7 on Oct. 4 at Busch Stadium. Now, at 6-2, the Cardinals could sweep the Cowboys and take first place in the NFC East while the Cowboys struggled to keep pace with the 6-3 Giants and staying ahead of 4-5 Washington.
"They had [Charley Winner], Jim Hart," Brandt said. "They had a very good offensive team."
It wasn't the offense that put St. Louis on the board early in this Week 9 match-up. Rather, it was the special teams with running back Johnny Roland returning a Ron Widby punt 74 yards for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. But the offense put 10 points on the board with flanker John Gilliam scoring on a 48-yard touchdown run and kicker Jim Bakken sending a 31-yard field goal through the uprights to establish a 17-0 Cardinals lead at the half.
"It seems like just yesterday that took place out there at the Cotton Bowl," Brandt recalled. "I guess we didn't realize how bad that place was until we got beat that bad in it."
The Cowboys were 71-69-6 in the Cotton Bowl, but St. Louis was about to deliver loss 70 in the football palace that is still a featured attraction of Fair Park in Dallas.
Roland rushed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter: one of 10 yards and the other for three. Roy Shivers added his own 29-yard rushing touchdown to put St. Louis up 38-0 and hand the Cowboys their third-worst loss to date in terms of point differential. To date, the 38-0 loss is fifth-worst in point differential.
The worst part of the loss, according to Brandt, was that it came on national television.
Said Brandt: "I think it's embarrassing when you're on national television, and we probably had a real good audience because we did for all of our games, but all of a sudden people in Idaho or Montana are watching us and saying, 'Who are these jokers?' So, it was embarrassing from that standpoint."
Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm, who lusted after making Dallas a household name and nationally recognized franchise, really took the loss on prime time hard.
"Tex was upset if you lost 17-14 or 17-16 because Tex couldn't understand how we couldn't win every game," said Brandt.
Former Dallas quarterback Don Meredith was in attendance as a member of ABC's broadcast crew calling the game. Alongside play-by-play Keith Jackson and fellow commentator Howard Cosell, the nine-year member of the Cowboys sang his now famous rendition of Willie Nelson's 1967 classic "The Party's Over."
Meredith wasn't the only one saying the party was over for the Cowboys.
"I would say that we're now at 5-4 and everybody saying, 'Well, I guess the Cowboys are through for the year,'" said Brandt.
Ostensibly, the Cowboys were done. St. Louis swept Dallas and held the tiebreaker while in atop the division at 7-2. The Giants were 6-3 and ahead of Dallas in the wildcard race. The Cowboys were 5-4 in a 14-game season. To put that in perspective to today's 16-game season, this would be like the Cowboys being 5-5-1 with five games to play while the Cardinals held an 8-3 mark and New York with a 7-4 record.
"St. Louis didn't do well at the end," Brandt remembered. "St. Louis was in the driver's seat, but they kind of petered out there at the end of the season."
The Cardinals managed a 1-3-1 record and the Giants went 3-2. Meanwhile, Dallas never lost another game until the ignominious Super Bowl V.
"We ended up getting there because we played at Cleveland the second to last week of the season," said Brandt. "I think we won 6-2 when [linebacker] Dave Edwards stopped Leroy Kelly going around left end. And then we beat Detroit here in the playoff game when Mel Renfro made an interception to the left of the Detroit bench over on the other side of the field. So, it turned that everything we did pretty much was right except losing in Miami to the Baltimore Colts."
For the former Cowboys scouting caporegime who many believe deserves Hall of Fame consideration, the whole ordeal with the Cardinals on Monday Night Football was a case of spectators overreacting while the personnel within the building kept it together.
"People kind of overreact to wins and losses," Brandt said. "You win won and you're going to be in the Super Bowl. You lose one, you're not going to win one the whole rest of the year."
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