Reminiscing about the Cowboys
The Browns-Dallas Cowboys game Sunday in Cleveland will be just another game on the schedule for the Browns as they skip merrily along on their journey of futility.
But for those who have lived long enough to enjoy most of the highs and lows of this franchise since its birth in 1946, a Browns-Cowboys game is more than just another game on the schedule.
These teams were big – and sometimes bitter – rivals for 10 seasons before the merger of the National Football League and American Football League in 1970. The Browns won 11 of the first 12 games after the Cowboys entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1960.
As the NFL grew from a 13-team, two-conference league in 1960 to a 16-team league with two conferences and four divisions in 1969, the Cowboys slowly became a franchise that eventually won five Super Bowls. The best the Browns could do was win the 1964 NFL title and come close to a couple of Super Bowls.
The Browns still own a 17-13 edge in the series, which is played only every four years now. The Cowboys have won 12 of the last 18 meetings, including the last three straight since the resurrection in 1999. But one game stood out above all the rest in the historic lore of this rivalry.
It was a 1968 playoff game that produced one of the great game-story newspaper leads (arguably the greatest) of all time. Dallas Morning News beat writer Gary Cartwright penned it after the highly favored 12-2 Cowboys were victimized by the 10-4 Browns, 31-20.
After veteran Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith threw three interceptions in the Eastern Conference championship loss, Cartwright echoed the great Grantland Rice’s famous lead of the Notre Dame backfield after the Fighting Irish upset Army, 13-7, on Oct. 18, 1924.
The inspired and probably upset Cartwright was moved to lead his game story thusly: “Outlined against a gray December sky, the Four Horsemen rode again: Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith.”
Here is what Rice wrote. “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Cowley, Miller and Layden.” There was more flowery prose in that wonderful lead paragraph, but that was the gist of it.
The Browns and Cowboys were tied, 10-10, at the half. On the first play of the second half, Meredith threw a pass right into the hands of Browns outside linebacker Dale Lindsey, who returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
Three plays later, Cleveland cornerback Ben Davis picked Meredith again at the Dallas 36. Leroy Kelly romped 35 yards for the second score two plays later. In less than a minute, the Browns moved to an insurmountable 24-10 lead.
Meredith was removed following the second pick – it was his third of the game – and replaced by Craig Morton. He never played another regular-season down in the NFL, retiring at the age of 30 after the season. He later gained fame as a TV broadcaster (Dandy Don on Monday Night Football) and actor (Police Story, among others).
The last time the Browns knocked off the Cowboys was way back on Dec.. 10, 1994 when Bill Belichick coached them to a 19-14 road victory. You have to go back to Dec. 4, 1988 to enjoy the Browns’ last home victory over the Cowboys (24-21).
That, of course, was then and this is now. And the now is a lot scarier, the Cowboys riding in with a six-game winning streak after dropping the season opener to the New York Giants by a point.
These are the relatively new-look Dallas Cowboys, not the Tony Romo-Dez Bryant, pass-happy Cowboys who achieved mediocrity the past several seasons. The oft-injured Romo, the most overrated quarterback in the NFL, has been sidelined since suffering a back fracture in an exhibition game. He has not been missed.
Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round selection (the Browns passed on him to take Cody Kessler in round three) in the last college draft, has stepped right in and performed like a seasoned veteran. He has been tasked with not screwing up a terrific offense and has complied to near perfection.
It doesn’t hurt to operate behind maybe the best offensive line in the league and have the luxury of handing off to – and throwing passes to – a fellow rookie at running back who is leading the league in rushing. Not to mention quality receivers.
Browns fans know all about Ezekiel Elliott after watching him run roughshod in the Big Ten for Ohio State for two seasons. They know he is as complete a package as you’ll find in a running back. He is powerful, fast, quick, a willing and very strong blocker and has soft hands for catching passes.
He has run for 799 yards, an average of 114 yards a game, is on pace to rush for 1,825 yards and is a good bet to wind up as offensive rookie for the year. In a recent four-game stretch, he ran for 140, 138, 134 and 157 yards. One can only imagine how the porous Cleveland run game will fare against this tackle-breaking machine.
Prescott completes 65% of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions while operating an offense that averages three touchdowns a game. He is also a dangerous threat when he tucks the ball and runs, adding four touchdowns to his total.
He recently welcomed wideout Bryant back to his arsenal. The veteran Pro Bowler, who missed three games earlier in the season with a hairline fracture in his left knee, returned last week and scored a touchdown in the victory over Philadelphia.
Add possession receiver Cole Beasley, tight end Jason Witten and Terrance Williams to the overall offensive package, which controls the ball for 33 minutes a game, and you understand why Chris Jones has punted only 22 times this season.
It’s on defense where the Cowboys are somewhat vulnerable against some teams (the Browns aren’t one of them). Because they are relatively stingy against the run game (94 yards a game), most teams throw against the Dallas secondary, which yields a 67% completion rate and 264 yards a game and has only four picks.
That falls perfectly into the Browns’ attack mode recently. Because they have been unable to run the ball successfully lately, coach Hue Jackson calls a pass play more than 70% of the time.
With Cody Kessler at quarterback for the Browns Sunday, the Dallas secondary will be kept busy unless its pass rush, which has sacked opposing quarterbacks only 14 times, comes alive against a less-than-mediocre Cleveland offensive line.
On paper, this one figures to be a blowout. And, of course, it will be as the Cowboys send the winless Browns to their ninth straight loss this season, tying the 1975 team for futility at the beginning of a season. The Browns that season went on to win three of the next five games.
That won’t happen this season with this group as the nadir for embarrassingly bad football looms in the not-so-distant future. Elliott romps for 162 yards and scores twice, Prescott throws two touchdown passes and runs for another and the Dallas defense sacks Kessler and his slow release four times and picks off a pair of passes. The Browns are never in the game after the opening kickoff. Make it:
Cowboys 45, Browns 7