Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham recalls his glimpse into the NFL’s future in the 1979 Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys.
With the additions of Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill since their last Super Bowl game against the Steelers in 1976, the Cowboys became the forerunner for the Greatest Show on Turf with empty passing sets. Forty years later, all the NFL teams are doing on offense what the Cowboys did back in 1978.
That Super Bowl game is our final stop in the “5 Games” tour with Jack Ham, a 35-31 victory over the Cowboys. The first Super Bowl meeting between the two teams was a defensive battle. The rematch was all about offense.
“I have to give the Cowboys a lot of credit on offense,” Ham recalled. “At times they had every receiver up at the line of scrimmage. It was like a five-receiver set with one of those receivers Tony Dorsett. They had a lot of speed right up on the line of scrimmage. Then the movement they had with the formations…they tried to force teams to check out of it and go to a three-deep zone – then attack that zone. They thought it would be too complicated for you to match up in man-to-man.
“But with two weeks to prepare, we were able to go through all the tapes and try to match up one-on one so we could play man or zone against their offense. The Cowboys were one of the first teams to spread people out and attack their defense. For the most part they were very successful — and they were successful in the beginning of that (Super Bowl) game as well. It was a problem for us but Bud Carson thought we could handle that on defense and not make the mental mistakes that a lot of teams did against that Cowboys offense.”
Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns for the Cowboys and the game came down to a final on-side kick in the closing seconds. The Cowboys recovered one onside kick moments earlier in a frantic 14-point fourth-quarter comeback and lined up for another one with 22 seconds left. Ham wasn’t on the hands team all season – but he was on the field for that final kickoff.
“Chuck Noll told me to get out there for Gerry Mullins, who fumbled the ball on the previous kick,” Ham said. “So I’m now out there where you’d think people are going to kick it – again – so I had to cut off tape and pads and whatever else I had on because I did not want to have any of that stuff on me in case that onside kick came to me.
“Fortunately, they tried to dribble it straight forward and Rocky Bleier fell on it. You talk about an anxious time for our football team – but also an anxious moments for Jack Ham as well because I did not expect to be on the onside kick team with 22 seconds left in the game.”
Ham also talked about the impact of fellow outside linebacker Andy Russell (“the glue, the calming effect for our team) and the best defense he ever played on – the 1976 unit (“At that point we had matured and were playing at the top of our game”), the rivalry that brewed with the Cowboys in the 1970s (“It was almost like Oakland for us because we were playing them in big games”), and also the Jackie Smith dropped pass in the end zone.
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