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On This Date in Sports January 15, 1978: Dallas Dominates Denver

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Denver Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. It is the first Super Bowl played in a dome and the first to be played in primetime. The Cowboys' Doomsday Defense dominated Denver, forcing eight turnovers. This led to co-MVPs being chosen for the first time as Harvey Martin and Randy White shared the honor for the Cowboys.

The Denver Broncos were one of the charter franchises in the AFL but had never had any success before or after the merger. In 1977, they made the playoffs for the first time in their 18-year history, led by coach Red Miller after posting a surprising 12-2 record to win the AFC West. In his first season with the Broncos, Miller was named Coach of the Year. Also in his first season with the Broncos was quarterback Craig Morton, named Comeback Player of the Year. Morton, who had once battled Roger Staubach for the starting job in Dallas, revived his career in Denver after two poor seasons with the New York Giants. The true heart of the Broncos' run to the Super Bowl came from their defense, nicknamed the Orange Crush. In the playoffs, the Broncos won a pair of games at Mile High Stadium, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-23 and the reigning champion Oakland Raiders 20-17 to get to the big game.

The Dallas Cowboys, coached by Tom Landry, were making their fourth Super Bowl appearance after winning the NFC East with a record of 12-2. The Cowboys had one of their strongest teams yet, as the draft day trade to get Heisman winner Tony Dorsett helped them become of the top offensive teams in the NFL, along with a defense that already was among the best. By this time, the Cowboys were becoming the most popular team in the NFL, earning the nickname “America’s Team.” In the playoffs, the Cowboys, with the top record in the NFC, beat the Chicago Bears 37-7 in the Divisional Playoffs and the Minnesota Vikings 23-6 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Super Bowl XII matchup of the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos was the first time the opposing teams played each other during the regular season, as the Cowboys beat the Broncos 14-6 in the season's final week at Texas Stadium 14-6. It was a year of change for the Super Bowl, as the kickoff was moved from a late afternoon start to six to get a primetime audience for the first time. It was also the first Super Bowl played in a dome and the fourth in the City of New Orleans.

While a local college student performed the National Anthem, the coin toss was conducted by Red Grange. It was the first time the game officials did not handle the Super Bowl coin toss. The Cowboys, who were six-point favorites, got off to a shaky start as they had three early fumbles. However, they recovered each one preventing an earlier disaster. The same could not be said for Denver, as Randy Hughes picked off Craig Morton to set up the first score of the game, as Tony Dorsett had a three-yard touchdown scamper. Morton was intercepted again on the next Broncos possession, as Aaron Kyle caught a deflection off the hands of Bob Breuing. The damage was lessened as Lyle Alzado forced Dallas to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Efren Herrera. Herrera added a second field goal in the second quarter as both teams played sloppy football. 

The Cowboys could not add to the lead missing three field goal attempts. Following a French-themed halftime show, the Broncos took the opening possession of the second half and finally got on the board with a 47-yard field goal by Jim Turner. The Cowboys responded as Roger Staubach connected with Butch Johnson on a controversial 45-yard touchdown. Johnson made a diving catch but did not maintain possession when hitting the ground as he rolled over the goal line. The definition of not completing the process. The Broncos got right back in the game as Rick Upchurch returned the kick to the Cowboys' 26. On the ensuing drive, Craig Morton nearly threw his fifth interception, leading to his benching. Norris Weese came on in relief and led Denver into the end zone. Rob Lytle had a one-yard touchdown run to make it 20-10 at the end of the third quarter. Denver’s turnover woes continued in the fourth quarter as Weese was stripped by Harvey Martin, setting the Cowboys up at the 29. Just one play was needed to seal the win, as Robert Newhouse, on a fullback option, connected with Golden Richards to make the score 27-10, which would be the final as Dallas won its second Lombardi Trophy.

The numbers could not be any uglier for the Broncos, as they committed a record eight turnovers. Craig Morton had one of the worst games in the history of the Super Bowl, completing just 4-of-15 passes for 39 yards as he had four interceptions and three fumbles, all of which were lost, before being benched in the third quarter. The Cowboys had trouble holding on to the ball but were fortunate, as just two of their six fumbles resulted in turnovers. Roger Staubach finished the game, passing for 183 yards, and completing 17 of 25 passes with one touchdown. With no clear MVP, the press chose Harvey Martin and Rand White to split the award, becoming the first defensive lineman to be named Super Bowl MVP.

With it being the first Super Bowl to be played in primetime, it was also the first Super Bowl to have a lead-out program, which was a Super Bowl-themed episode of “All in the Family.” The Cowboys would return to the Super Bowl a year later, losing a classic battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-31. The Broncos would not return to the big game for another nine years.