Colts, Cowboys First Shared A National Stage Nearly 40 Years Ago
INDIANAPOLIS – The story has been chronicled often – first the day it happened, a day in Miami that 40 years later remains one of the biggest games in the history of the Colts.
In the years since, the story has grown more legendary.
Jim O'Brien, then a rookie kicker for the then-Baltimore Colts, first told it nearly four decades ago, moments after he joined, forever and somewhat remarkably, the list of never-to-be-forgotten players in one of the NFL's storied franchises.
The story began with a dream. It ended with one, too.
O'Brien's dream, as he told AOL Fanhouse last January, involved a game-winning field goal at the Orange Bowl in Miami on January 17, 1971 in a game between the Colts and Dallas Cowboys – the current versions of which will play Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
While Sunday's game is big for each team, the 1971 game had somewhat higher stakes:
A Super Bowl championship.
But while O'Brien's dream very definitely told him there would be a game-winning field goal in Super Bowl V, it left out a relatively pertinent detail.
"I wasn't sure who kicked it," O'Brien said last January. "It could just as easily have been (Cowboys kicker Mike) Clark."
It wasn't, and nearly 40 years later, O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds remaining – a kick that gave the Colts a 16-13 victory and their first Super Bowl title – remains a memorable moment in not only franchise history, but NFL history as well.
O'Brien's leaping celebration and the scene of Cowboys defensive tackle Bob Lilly hurling his helmet in frustration remain an NFL Films staple 40 years later.
In the four decades since, only two more Super Bowls have been decided by game-winning field goals in the final 10 seconds – Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII, won by Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri as a member of the New England Patriots.
But for much of that day, Super Bowl V hardly seemed destined to be too memorable.
The Colts, who two seasons early had lost to the New York Jets, 16-7, in Super Bowl III, and Cowboys – who were making their first of a record eight appearances in the game – played a close game, but it wasn't anywhere near a picturesque one.
The teams combined for so many mistakes SIllustrated writer Tex Maule called the game the "Blunder Bowl," and wrote that the Colts won "not so much by design, but by default."
The Colts committed seven turnovers – four lost fumbles and three interceptions. They also had an extra point blocked.
They stayed in the game because Dallas committed four turnovers, and even the Colts' first touchdown came in strange circumstances. After Dallas took a 6-0 lead, Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas threw deep to wide receiver Ed Hinton on 3rd-and-10 from the Colts 25.
The pass sailed high. Hinton brushed it with his fingers, then officials ruled that a Cowboys defender – perhaps Mel Renfro – touched the ball before Colts tight end John Mackey caught it and scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass.
"I wasn't the primary receiver," Maule quoted Mackey as saying. "My job was to go deep to clear the zone and Hinton cuts in under me. It's what we call an individual to the flanker."
A fumble by Unitas set up a 28-yard Cowboys drive that finished with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton to running back Duane Thomas, and a series later, a rib injury forced Unitas from the game.
Earl Morrall, who quarterbacked the Colts to the Super Bowl two seasons before and two seasons later would help the Miami Dolphins to a 17-0 season, drove the Colts quickly to the Dallas 2, but Baltimore failed to score just before halftime and Dallas led, 13-6, entering the second half.
"It was really a physical game," Bill McGrane quoted Morrall as saying in the book, "The Super Bowl," published by Simon & Schuster. "I mean, people were flying around out there."
Others involved remembered a bit differently.
"I was actually embarrassed to come back out of the locker room (after halftime)," McGrane quoted Colts offensive tackle Bob Vogel as saying.
A Dallas turnover deep in Baltimore territory kept the Colts within a touchdown in the third quarter, and the Colts squandered one more chance to tie early in the fourth quarter. Hinton, after a pass from running back Sam Havrilak, was stripped of the ball by Cowboys defensive back Cornell Green. The ball bounced through the end zone, giving Dallas possession at the 20 and giving the Colts their seventh turnover.
"I was thinking, 'Six, six, six,'' McGrane quoted Hinton as saying. "Then, I felt something from behind and it wasn't a tackle. All of a sudden, the ball wasn't there anymore and I'm thinking, 'What in the world?''
Mistakes remained the rule, and after Colts safety Rick Volk intercepted Morton, Baltimore running back Tom Nowatzke's two-yard run made it 13-12, Dallas.
O'Brien's point-after tied the game with 7:35 remaining.
The Cowboys had possession at the Colts 48 just inside the two-minute warning, but a sack and a penalty pushed Dallas to its 27. Colts linebacker Mike Curtis intercepted a deflected pass and returned it to the Dallas 28, after which two runs by Colts running back Norm Bulaich moved the ball to he Dallas 25.
This was in the era in which the goal posts were on the goal line rather than the end line, so when O'Brien lined up to kick from the 32, it set the stage for a 32-yard field goal. According to Maule, "O'Brien caught it firmly and it stayed inside the right post by a good six feet."
Volk said afterward the Colts' Super Bowl experience from two years previous helped the Colts that day in Miami.
"Going to the game the second time took away some of the awe," he said. "I think we were able to focus better. There was no way we were going to let ourselves get beat again."
O'Brien, for his part, said the experience that helped him on the game-winner had nothing to do with two years before and everything to do with the missed extra point early in the game.
"The first kick was a big lesson for me, and I wasn't nearly as nervous for that last one," O'Brien said last January. "My thoughts on the PAT, for whatever reason, were all over the board. But I was, as they say, in the zone for that (last) one. I don't even remember seeing Earl hold the ball.
"I don't remember seeing the ground. I don't even remember hearing any noise. Everything just went quiet."
Not for long, because seconds later, the ball went through, and at the end of a game many considered ugly, the Colts at last had a very beautiful victory.