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Herb Adderley helped frustrated Cowboys earn championship mettle

Former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Herb Adderley passed away on Friday and he leaves behind a legacy of being championship winner for two storied franchises.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Nov. 1, 1970, file photo, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Herb Adderley (26) returns an interception in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Dallas. (AP Photo/File)

DALLAS — One of the key elements for any Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl team is to have the aid of an experienced, proven veteran who instills a championship mindset on a young team yet to win it all.

In 1992, defensive end Charles Haley was that man when the Cowboys traded for him. The two-time Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers helped the '90s Cowboys become the dynasty of the decade, winning three Super Bowls in four seasons.

In 1970, cornerback Herb Adderley became the first in that mold when the Cowboys traded for the Green Bay Packers’ star, who won five NFL championships under coach Vince Lombardi, including the first two AFL-NFL World Championships, later known as Super Bowls.

Aside from having a four-time All-Pro who could help the Cowboys defense learn how to carry themselves like champions, Adderley's presence allowed the Cowboys to play two of their best veterans and integrate two of their talented, young defensive backs.

Future Hall of Famer Mel Renfro spent the first six seasons of his career playing safety for the Cowboys, and 1969 was his best season at the back end with 10 interceptions and his first career All-Pro. 

However, the Cowboys drafted a talented Clemson defensive back in the third round in Charlie Waters, and an undrafted free agent safety from Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Arkansas named Cliff Harris, was always turning heads in training camp. Dallas also had Cornell Green playing cornerback.

When the Cowboys traded for Adderley, they were able to move the former Packer to left cornerback, replacing Green, who then went to play strong safety, starting all 14 games. Renfro slid down to the right side to play cornerback, while Harris and Waters split time at free safety, eventually becoming a dynamic duo in later versions of the Doomsday Defense.

What Adderley noticed when he got to the Cowboys was too much thinking on the field and not enough reacting. Players were anxious about making the wrong move and getting excoriated in front of the whole team in a film session with Coach Tom Landry the next day.

"Herb got my attention when he said, 'It doesn't have to be this way,'" Renfro said in "Landry's Boys" by Peter Golenbock. "He came in like he had been there forever and said, 'Get off your butts and stop crying in your soup. Let's go out and kick some butt.'"

Adderley was the missing connection the Cowboys needed to get over the hump. Incidentally, Adderley and the Packers had been responsible for stifling the young Cowboys in the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games, but Dallas was having trouble getting past the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Divisional playoffs, essentially the quarterfinal round of the playoff format we know today.

"His leadership was pretty quick," Renfro said. "When he started talking, guys started standing at attention. Their antennae went up, almost immediately. His presence, just the way he carried himself, the way he talked, he always talked with confidence. Herb was so fiery, and he had such confidence. He had come up under those Lombardi days where winning wasn't everything, it was the only thing. And that's what he instilled in us: 'Guys, you can win, and you're going to win. We're going to win.' And that was all there was to it."

Dallas didn't win it the first year with Adderley, falling 16-13 to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. However, the Cowboys made a switch at quarterback in 1971, going with Roger Staubach over Craig Morton after a 4-3 start. The Cowboys won their next 10 games, including Super Bowl VI, when they clobbered the Miami Dolphins 24-3.

Though Cowboys history can't be written without the contributions of Adderley, who provided nine interceptions and a fumble recovery in his 39 games with Dallas, 33 of which he started, the 1960s All-Decade member always viewed himself as a Packer.

"I'm the only man with a Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring who doesn't wear it," Adderley is quoted as saying "I'm a Green Bay Packer."

Adderley, who passed away Friday, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

Do you remember Herb Adderley’s time with the Cowboys? Share your favorites with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.