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Packers, Steelers bring painful memories for Cowboys

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Barry Horn
January 30, 2011

Of all the football stadiums, in all the towns, in all the NFL, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers come into the Cowboys' home. Haven't those franchises tortured enough the souls of longtime Cowboys fans and former players? Now they get to strut together in the first Super Bowl held in Cowboys Stadium?


If the Cowboys, who failed spectacularly in their quest this season to become the first team to play a Super Bowl on its own turf could not spare themselves such an indignity, couldn't any of the NFL's 29 other franchises step up to help spare them?


The Packers and Steelers, who meet in Sunday's Super Bowl XLV, have combined to deliver four of the most devastatingly memorable season-ending defeats in Cowboys history.


The Packers defeated the Cowboys in the two gut-wrenching NFL championship games leading to the first two Super Bowls. Twice, the Steelers defeated the Cowboys in Super Bowls to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, so named for the Packers coach who won those first two Super Bowls.


All four games were decided by a touchdown or less. All four went down to the wire. All four were chock full of Cowboys would'ves, could'ves and should'ves.


You think losing to an NFC East division rival like the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins on a regular-season Sunday is tough? It's nothing compared to losing multiple championship games to the same team.


"And now, unfortunately the Packers and Steelers will be playing in our house," said Mel Renfro, a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back on the Cowboys roster for both losses to the Packers and the first to the Steelers. "I have to congratulate both teams for a great year.


"But I don't care for either of them," he quickly added.


Renfro, 69, took the gentlemanly approach.


Mike Rhyner, born and raised in Dallas and a Cowboys fan until he began co-hosting one of Dallas' top-rated sports talk radio shows 17 years ago, was less collegial.


"If I was still a diehard, I'd be so ticked off, I couldn't see straight," said Rhyner, who plies his trade in afternoon drive on The Ticket. Only he didn't actually say "ticked" before sprinkling in several other unprintable verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives in reference to the Packers and Steelers.


"Those teams dealt so much misery here back in the day nothing else compares," Rhyner said.


'We never got them'


First, the Packers.


The 1966 NFL championship game played on New Year's Day 1967 in the Cotton Bowl remains the only time a Dallas team has had a chance to win a major sports championship in its home town. The winner would play the AFL champions in a nonsuper afterthought labeled the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game."


Only in hindsight would the game come to be known as Super Bowl I.


In the NFL championship game, the Cowboys had a chance to tie the score late in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Don Meredith's fourth-down, 2-yard pass intended for Bob Hayes was intercepted in the end zone. Final score: Packers 34, Cowboys 27.


The NFL championship game moved to Green Bay 364 days later. The game, played on Dec. 31, 1967, was played in conditions so frigid that it's commonly referred to as the Ice Bowl.


The Cowboys led, 17-14, with 16 seconds remaining when Packers quarterback Bart Starr scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The play capped a 68-yard drive that began with 4:50 left in the game. Final score: Packers 21, Cowboys 17.


"It was the worst loss of them all," Renfro said. "We had the speed, but the field was ice. They pulled the plug on the heaters under the field and on the sideline. The Packers reported it as a malfunction. Very convenient.


"That loss hurt emotionally and physically for quite awhile."


The Packers went on to win their second straight Super Bowl, but their run was over. The victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II would be Lombardi's last game as coach of his aging team.


"In the 1960s when the Cowboys were getting good, Green Bay was the team fans shot at," Rhyner said. "It was the team everybody most wanted to beat. The Cleveland Browns or the Baltimore Colts didn't mean much to us. We wanted Green Bay.


"We never got them."


But while Packers' fortunes hit the skids, the Cowboys were a team on the rise. They finally reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 1970 season. They defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game before losing to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V.


The Cowboys' first Super Bowl championship would come at the end of the 1971 season with a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins. There was still plenty of time for the Cowboys to become to the 1970s what the Packers had been to the 1960s.


"We were all set," said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' front-office executive who gathered the talent for Tom Landry to coach. "But it became the Steelers' decade."


More misery


In the great scheme of NFL lore, the Steelers' Super Bowl success over the Cowboys in the 1970s is more personal than the Packers' success the previous decade.


The Steelers' sweep of the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII would help them to four titles in the decade. The Cowboys would have to make do with two.


The Steelers beat the Cowboy, 21-17, in Super Bowl X played 35 years ago. A pair of Roger Staubach 38-yard would-be touchdown passes to reserve wide receiver Percy Howard on the final two plays proved unsuccessful. The first to Howard, who earlier had caught a touchdown pass, fell incomplete. The second was intercepted.


Three years later, the Steelers beat the Cowboys, 35-31. That's the game in which tight end Jackie Smith famously dropped what appeared to be a certain touchdown pass from Staubach that would have tied the score, 21-21.


And then there was a crucial pass interference call on Cowboys defensive back Benny Barnes on a touchdown drive that put the Steelers up, 28-17. The first official on the scene, the back judge, ruled it an incomplete pass but was overruled by the referee.


"Nothing resonates with me like those plays in that game," said Jim Grayson, 52, a Cowboys fan who grew up in Mesquite, lives in Plano and serves as a Carrollton police lieutenant. "That game put the Steelers No. 1 on my hatred list."


Grayson will be rooting for the Packers at Cowboys Stadium.


To add injury to insult, those two victories over the Cowboys in addition to victories in four of their five other Super Bowl appearances gives the Steelers six championships. More than any other franchise. That's one more than America's Team's five Super Bowl titles. A Pittsburgh victory over the Packers would leave the Cowboys disappearing fast in the rearview mirror.


Sunday's appearance in Cowboys Stadium will be the Steelers' third in a Super Bowl since the Cowboys' last trip 15 seasons back. For older players and longtime Cowboys fans, their team's victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX appears to have taken little sting out of Pittsburgh's success in the new millennium. The Cowboys' 27-17 victory gave them a five championships to four lead before being eclipsed.


Jimmy Johnson, the coach who built the 1995 Cowboys that beat the Steelers, said he never has had "any disdain" for the Steelers or Packers. Why would he? Johnson's Cowboys beat the Packers in their 1993 playoff run to the Super Bowl XXVIII title.


"The only people who might be bitter are people who lost to them," he said.


"No, I'm not bitter," said Renfro. "I just know my history."



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