Super Bowl VI rematch: '71 Cowboys among greatest teams ever


To celebrate Super Bowl 50, NFL Media's Elliot Harrison is looking back at each of the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule in 2015, revisiting the clashes of the past as former Super Sunday opponents square off once again.

This Sunday's rematch: Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET.

Reunites the combatants from: Super Bowl VI (Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3).

What makes a team the best in franchise history? Usually, we consider the group that owned the best record, especially if it won a championship. Yet, picking the premier team in a celebrated organization's history is trickier than that.

Does who the team beat matter? Well ... does the fact that the 2014 Patriots beat the Seahawks, the strongest outfit Bill Belichick has faced in the Super Bowl, put last year's club atop New England's list? How about how many Hall of Famers are on a team, like the 1967 Packers versus the 2010 Packers -- who might only end up with a couple in Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson? Or, how about how dominant a team is when it wins it all, like the 1985 Bears, who destroyed everyone in the postseason? That club belongs amongst the greatest teams of all time.

If ever there was a team that not only belongs in the discussion of the best in franchise history, but NFL history, it's the 1971 Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys drowned the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI in unprecedented -- and since unmatched -- fashion, not even allowing their opponent to reach the end zone. The 24-3 blowout was the firebird on the hood of a Trans Am, the symbol of a fast finish to what would be the transcendent season for one of the league's most accomplished organizations.

Tom Landry's second squad post-NFL merger won its last 10 games in a row. The defense allowed a scant 18 points total in the postseason. That's second among all 49 Super Bowl-winning teams, behind only those aforementioned '85 Bears coached by Mike Ditka.

Speaking of, Ditka was one of eight Hall of Fame players on the '71 Cowboys. Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes, Lance Alworth, Rayfield Wright, Forrest Gregg, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro and Herb Adderley are all enshrined in Canton. And that's not even including GM Tex Shramm, Landry and defensive assistant Ernie Stautner, who is in as a player.

Dan Reeves was also among the championship group, becoming an assistant coach for the Cowboys the following year and later a head coach for three other NFL organizations. Reeves took four teams to the Super Bowl, while Ditka and Gregg would become Cowboys assistants under Landry before guiding the Bears and Bengals to the Super Bowl years later. Leadership was everywhere to be found on this Dallas team.

All that, and the '71 Cowboys don't even get the due in their own city.

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When fans discuss the great Dallas teams, the '92 Cowboys of Jimmy Johnson are almost always mentioned first, with Landry's '77 group a close second. But top to bottom, you can't beat the '71 team that put a beatdown on Don Shula's Dolphins. Perhaps, even 44 years after the fact, it's time they get some respect.

Miami managed three points. The offense generated all of 185 yards, while turning the football over three times. The Dallas defense didn't quit. Simply put, the Dolphins got Doomsday'd, while their quarterback got Lilly'd.

Pictured in time will always be Lilly's sack of another Hall of Famer, Bob Griese, for a 29-yard loss. The Hall of Everything defensive tackle was the topflight player at his position during that era. Adderley was considered the premier corner, but his own Cowboy teammates will tell you that Renfro was better.

How many teams have both starting corners enshrined in Canton? (Answer: one -- the 1971 Cowboys.)

The rest of the back seven was almost equally as stout. Middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan is in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. Ditto safety Cliff Harris. His partner, Cornell Green, made five Pro Bowls, including that season. And weak-side linebacker Chuck Howley, by many of his peers' standards, should have received a gold jacket long ago.

It was this unit that made the powerhouse Dolphins look pedestrian. Well, as pedestrian as a dolphin can be. Keep in mind that Shula and Co. would go on to have a perfect team the following season and repeat in 1973. They won 32 of 34 games. Needless to say, no team hammered them like Dallas in Super Bowl VI.

It started with the fact that Miami struggled to stop the Cowboys' diversified ground attack. Duane Thomas was arguably the fastest big back in the NFL at that time, and had it not been for an attitude problem, who knows where his career could've gone? Thomas averaged 4.5 yards per carry in '71, rattling the Dolphins for 95 yards at 5 yards a pop in the big game. Fullback Walt Garrison plowed his way for 74 more. All told, Dallas' ground game ran up 252 yards on a Miami defense that had allowed just 12.4 points per game.

Clearly the passing game was not needed as much in this blowout, although Ditka and Alworth caught touchdown passes from Staubach (who earned game MVP honors). Alworth's came early in the second quarter near the flag, 10 yards from Staubach. And when it was time for Dallas to close the door in the fourth, Staubach put the ball on No. 89 (Ditka) in the end zone. Da touchdown.

Staubach ... Alworth ... Ditka ... How many Super Bowl teams can claim their starting quarterback, both wide receivers and tight end are all in the Hall of Fame? (Answer: one -- the 1971 Cowboys.)

No matter the extreme number of legendary players, or the fact Dallas delivered the last loss to the only undefeated team in league history, the '71 Cowboys are never mentioned among the greatest in history. It could be due to both the sluggish start and the quarterback roulette, making their 11-3 regular-season record just a shade less impressive than the '77 team's 12-2 mark, or Troy Aikman and friends going 13-3 in '92.

Today, the hottest team in the NFL generally wins it all. The 2012 Ravens or the 2007 Giants (who beat the only other undefeated regular-season club in the Super Bowl era) are prime examples. Yet, neither ran roughshod over their opponents in the postseason like the '71 Cowboys.

If all things sporting truly come down to It's not how you start, it's how you finish, then how can this elite Landry team be overlooked any longer?

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.



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