DALLAS - The Dallas Cowboys will play the Los Angeles Rams Sunday for the first time since 1992, restoring things the way God intended and reactivating old rivalries. After all, aside from Dallas choosing Julius Jones and the St. Louis Rams taking Steven Jackson in the 2004 NFL draft, there weren't very many points of contention.
One of the best memories for Cowboys fans was the 1978 NFC Championship game On Jan. 7, 1979. Dallas was traveling to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to play in their seventh such game since its 1970 inception.
"When you play as many playoff games as we had played, you just know how to prepare," said safety Charlie Waters. "You don't leave anything to doubt. You uncover every stone because you don't know. It's do or die. If you don't win, you're gone. It's horrible. It's a horrible feeling when that happens."
Since 1966, the Rams had played in 11 postseason games to that point. The Cowboys had appeared in 23. Not only did Dallas have twice the playoff experience, but they had also beat Los Angeles earlier that season 27-14 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which played to the advantage of the cutting edge Cowboys scouting department. Each player on the Dallas defense had 30-page printout of the last six games the Rams played along with the last 10 against the Cowboys.
"We would have them broken down categorically in each yardage by down," said Cliff Harris, who played safety from 1970-79. "So, we knew what plays were their primary plays that ran consistently. Because we had their last six games we'd know exactly what to anticipate, and that's where we would design the defense to eliminate the play or the player."
Said Waters: "We definitely would address the problems that we had in the first time we met them. That's just what you do as a coach. You have to get the players to recognize that, hey, if you just done this or play a technique the right way, you'd have been able to take care of this play. And that's how he addressed it."
The player at the point of attack was Rams quarterback Pat Haden. One of the objectives was to stop the 5-11 field general from scrambling.
"He was a smart guy and I liked to think that I knew exactly what he was doing or going to do," said Waters. "But the biggest thing was Randy White was right in his face and about to hit him. As a matter of fact, he knocked him out of the game."
The Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle was a force against the Los Angeles interior line and forced Haden into completing a paltry 7-of-19 for 76 yards and three interceptions. Waters had two that game, one of which came on Haden's last throw as the thumb on his throwing hand slammed into White's silver helmet.
"The biggest difference was the great equalizer with the home-field advantage they had was our defensive line without a doubt," Waters said. "They just could not do anything against us consistently, and especially the passing game. And Pat was only 5-11 and that is a problem. It's hard to see over the defensive line when you're 6-4. It was a detriment and he had had success up until the game against us."
The third round pick from Clemson in the 1970 draft added a fumble recovery and a half sack to go along with his two picks.
"The biggest difference was our defensive line, and I can't say that enough," Waters declared.
After a scoreless first half, running back Tony Dorsett put Dallas on the board early with a 5-yard touchdown as part of a 17-carry, 101-yard effort. The touchdown was setup from Waters' first interception and returned to the Rams' 10-yard line to help the offense establish a 7-0 lead in the third quarter.
On the pick Haden broke his thumb, Waters took that interception to the Los Angeles 20-yard line. Running back Scott Laidlaw caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Roger Staubach, who completed 13-of-25 for 126 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The Rams were finding vim as backup quarterback Vince Ferragamo led Los Angeles inside the Dallas red zone with less than eight minutes to play. However, running back Cullen Bryant, who had a tough 20 carries for 52 yards that afternoon, fumbled on first-and-goal with defensive end Harvey Martin adding a beautiful fumble recovery to his one-sack performance. The Cowboys offense drove 89 yards to cap off the drive with an 11-yard pass to tight end Billy Joe DuPree.
Down 21-0 and the game out of hand, Ferragamo floated a pass into the flat for athletic linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, who galloped 68 yards to put an exclamation point on the Cowboys' statement of a championship game 28-0.
The best part? The Cowboys were wearing their "cursed" blue jerseys in the rout.
"The fans and the opponents and the press made a much bigger deal about that than we did," Waters said. "We didn't feel like there was a jinx at all attached with the blue jerseys, but we sure heard an awful lot about it."
From 1970-80, the Cowboys were 10-8 in jerseys Harris thought were "good looking."
"As far as the luck thing goes, it never bothered me," said Harris. "There's too many other things to worry about than worry about the luck thing."
Though the Cowboys would go on to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII in a rematch with unsuccessful results, Harris would contemplate his football future after the game. Interestingly, it was a hit on a scrambling, scrawny Haden that initiated this rumination.
Said Harris: "He scrambled out to his right and he was running down the sidelines, and, man, I was coming up on him. I was really going to blast him and knock him out of bounds. And I did what I normally don't do because I figured the quarterback couldn't out-maneuver me. So, I didn't slow down. I kept my speed up and I was really going to put it on him. Well, he juked me and broke back inside just enough I did make the tackle on him. But my head hit his body and turned my neck in a way that I had problems of being momentarily paralyzed just not able to move because of my neck. And when I hit Haden, it knocked him down but he got up. And I saw myself in the video getting up rather slowly and I knew at that moment, 'Good gosh. If Pat Haden at quarterback can stun me and almost paralyze me, it's really serious time to think about this game.'"
'79 was Harris' last year, but it was also the year Waters sat out due to an ACL injury against the Seattle Seahawks in preseason. The '78 NFC Championship game was the penultimate game of significance the back end tandem of Charlie and Cliff would play together.
What are your favorite memories from the days the Cowboys played the Los Angeles Rams? (Yes, Dak's first preseason game counts.) Share 'em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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