- The Washington Times - Monday, November 19, 2001

As the final 30 seconds began to vanish, the football sailed through the evening air at Texas Stadium into the arms of Dallas Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson, who had gotten behind the Washington Redskins' secondary. Pearson raced into the end zone to complete a 50-yard touchdown play and, just like that, Thanksgiving dinner was spoiled for thousands of football fans in the District and environs.
The date was Nov. 28, 1974. Twenty-seven years later, many Redskins fans still cannot bear to hear the name of the Cowboys' obscure rookie quarterback who threw the pass: Clint Longley.
This was during the George Allen era, when the Redskins had emerged from decades of mediocrity to become one of the NFL's strongest teams. They ended a 26-year postseason drought in Allen's first year, 1971, and went to Super Bowl VII the following season. There was a slight dropoff in '73, but the team remained a winner.
Now, in '74, the Redskins were 8-3 as they traveled to Irving, Texas, for the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving game. One more victory and another playoff berth would be theirs. Since they had beaten the Cowboys 28-21 two weeks earlier at RFK Stadium, it seemed highly possible.
Nowhere in sports, in those years, was there a more ferocious rivalry. After Washington thrashed Dallas 26-3 in the 1972 NFC Championship game, it didn't matter to some whether the Redskins defeated Miami in the Super Bowl (they didn't). At least twice each season, new intensity surfaced at Redskin Park during "Dallas Week." The paranoiac Allen looked for Cowboys spies behind every tree, and the mere thought of Dallas coach Tom Landry standing stoically on the sideline wearing his trademark brown fedora was enough to make the blood of Washington fans boil. Many a sweatshirt in these parts bore this message: "I root for two teams the Redskins and whoever the Cowboys are playing."
Next to Landry, Redskins partisans most disliked Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach. A former Heisman Trophy winner at Navy, the clean-living Staubach was considered a "goody-goody" type by those who preferred Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen, the Redskins' hard-living veteran quarterbacks. And Roger the Dodger's scrambling tactics infuriated fans almost as much as they did defenders. First you had him, then you didn't, and six more points went up on the board for the 'Boys.
But as Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert noted in what proved a highly ironic statement, "If you knock him out, you've got that rookie facing you. That's one of our goals. If we do that, it's great. He's all they have."
Be careful what you wish for …
With 9:57 remaining in the third quarter and the Redskins leading 16-3, Washington lineman Dave Robinson did indeed put Staubach out of the game with a vicious tackle. And now here came Longley, a rookie from Abilene Christian making his first appearance in a regular-season game. This posed immediate problems for the Redskins' defense, which had been designed to stop Staubach's scrambles. Longley, aka "the Mad Bomber," was totally different. His style was to stand back in the pocket and let fly.
"I was a little bit scared," Longley said of being summoned so abruptly. If so, it didn't show. His short day's work produced 11 completions in 20 attempts for 203 yards and two touchdowns. The first was a 35-yarder to Billy Joe Dupree that brought the Cowboys within 16-10 late in the third period. But the Redskins still led 23-17 when Dallas began its final possession with 1:45 left to play in the game and no timeouts remaining.
In the huddle, Longley had been doing his best Alfred E. Neuman act ("What, me worry?"). All the plays were coming in from the bench, and as veteran fullback Walt Garrison was relaying one, the kid quarterback snapped, "Shut up. I know the play."
Said guard Blaine Nigh of Longley: "He's an ice-water kind of guy, sort of a flake. With five minutes to go, all of us are fired up on the sideline, just bursting to get out there and score. But Clint says, 'It's too early to score.' That's cool, isn't it?"
Depends.
On fourth and 6 from the Cowboys' 44, Longley hit Bob Hayes for six yards and a disputed first down to keep the drive going. On the next play, he fired a pass to Pearson, but the NFL's leading receiver could not hold it.
Now, on second down with barely more than half a minute left, the Redskins were in their prevent defense, with safety Mike Bass and nickel back Ken Stone covering the dangerous Pearson.
Taking the snap, Longley scurried to the safety of the pocket, aimed and fired. Or maybe he just fired. Seconds later, Redskins rooters everywhere were choking on their chips and heading for the bathroom.
"They were doubling me," Pearson said. "I gave [Bass and Stone] a little inside move, got behind Ken, and Clint got it to me [with 28 seconds on the clock]. It's real sweet. There are no words to describe it."
When Efren Herrerra kicked the extra point to win the game 24-23, Redskins fans had plenty of words to describe it none of them printable.
As it turned out, the result didn't matter that much. The Redskins clinched their playoff spot by beating the Los Angeles Rams 23-17 the following week and crushed the Chicago Bears 42-0 in Week 14 to finish the regular season 10-4. But for the third time in four years, they lost in the first round of the playoffs, this time to the Rams 19-10 in the Coliseum.
And Clint Longley? He remained on the Cowboys' roster through the 1975 season, played for San Diego in '76, went to Canada in '77 and did nothing else notable. He didn't have to. His name became instant anathema to any Washingtonian old enough to remember a Thanksgiving when no Redskin fan felt at all thankful.
Turkey? Stuffing? Sweet potatoes? No thanks, not that day.


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