Though I am the resident Dallas Cowboys historian for WFAA's online football operation, even I must brush up on my history to ensure I have my facts straight and I'm not penning a collection of unintentional revisionist history.
While emceeing a legends event recently that featured Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro, three-time All Pro John Niland, and two-time Super Bowl champion linebacker D.D. Lewis, I had the occasion to meet Ryan Bush, author of The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Rookies, the Shotgun, and a Hail Mary Vaulted the 1975 Dallas Cowboys into the Super Bowl.
The premise of the book intrigued me because 1975 is arguably the most overachieving season in Cowboys history. Dallas finished 8-6 and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Moreover, warhorses who had transformed the Cowboys from "Next Year's Champions" to Super Bowl VI champions had retired by the conclusion of that season, notably defensive tackle Bob Lilly and fullback Walt Garrison. '
75 was to be a rebuilding year for the Cowboys, and their 12 draft picks from that season, including first-round linebackers Randy White and Thomas Henderson along with third-round linebacker Bob Bruenig and tackle Pat Donovan, were going to gain valuable experience they could parlay into postseason success a couple seasons down the road.
Instead, the brilliance of the Dallas scouting department and head coach Tom Landry turned the franchise's 16th season into a reloading year and had enough firepower to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. So, I had to see how Bush chronicled it, and pardon my indulgence as I present a review.
What Dirty Dozen lacks in first-hand interviews, it makes up for in the author's meticulous research of the '75 campaign and all of the prefacing moments therein. Bush scours the archives from the Dallas Morning News to Sports Illustrated to even Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq, and the Future of the Dollar to find whatever piece of historical detail relevant to painting the picture of a recession in the middle of a decade in an oil state and how the men who wore the Blue Star provided diversion, encouragement, and excitement in a season where, like the economy, they were predicted to be mediocre at best.
Raise your hand if you knew Drew Pearson, the receiving hero of the Hail Mary, didn't receive a single target until the final drive of the 1975 NFC Divisional playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings. Pearson was frustrated that afternoon between not being able to help his team to victory to also being snubbed as an All Pro selection. However, he didn't check out of the ballgame.
Pearson collaborated with quarterback Roger Staubach on what routes he had been getting open on all game. On a crucial fourth-and-17 at their own 25-yard line, Pearson got open on a comeback route and made a toe-tapping catch along the right sideline for 25 yards that unto itself would have been a miraculous grab for the undrafted rookie receiver from Tulsa in 1973. However, Pearson made that 50-yard touchdown reception to give the Cowboys the upset over the home team and a berth to the NFC Championship game, their fifth appearance in the game's six-season history.
Bush captures the admiration and appreciation of Cowboys fans waiting at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for the Cowboys to arrive back from the upset, as well as comparing the the win to Staubach's first ever playoff miracle, the '72 Divisional playoffs where Captain Comeback worked his craft against the San Francisco 49ers.
Would they have another letdown the following week like they did in Washington? Bush digs into the annals to summon Coach Landry's acknowledgement of such a comparison as well as why history would be different.
One of the lighthearted moments Bush captures that heralds the simplicity of the times was a letter Mike Pruitt wrote to Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm during the 1975 preseason. The Purdue Boilermaker running back gave his vitals and his 40-time stated he never settles "for second-best at anything." The letter and Schramm's reply that the Cowboys will be "watching and waiting" appeared in the Dallas Cowboys Weekly, the prototype to today's DC Star Magazine.
Bush does an excellent job presenting how obsessed Schramm was with promoting the franchise that would soon become "America's Team" in the advent of the 1979 season. Bush spins a tale with the warp and woof of historical accounts to present the side of Schramm intent on drawing fans to the hallowed grounds of Texas Stadium while also putting them on television's biggest stages.
And while today's Cowboys fans are familiar with Jerry Jones' proclivity for Johnny Walker Blue, Bush reminds fans the man who preceded Jerry enjoyed a glass or two just as much, but the choice of alcohol was Scotch.
The epilogue to Bush's work reads like a longer version of the end credits of American Graffiti. A paragraph is devoted to the final summation of each member of the Dirty Dozen as well as a few select Cowboys veterans.
Dirty Dozen is a 30-chapter reminder of that will forever encapsulate the improbable heroics of the 1975 Dallas Cowboys, whose success was buttressed by 12 rookies who instantly transformed a has-been into a renewed up-and-comer.
What's your favorite book about the Dallas Cowboys? Share your picks with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.