Saturday, December 23, 2006

Super Bowl winners endured tumultuous seasons, Thomas says

Terrell Owens' tumultuous season is just what the Cowboys need to win a Super Bowl. Who says? Duane Thomas says. Sort of.

Duane Thomas might have had nothing to say during the Cowboys' Super Bowl ride back in 1971, but he has plenty to say 35 years later. He's one of three former Cowboys whom NFL Films selected to help guide viewers through a season that was capped with a 24-3 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.

For their effort, the `71 Cowboys have been ranked as the 15th-best Super Bowl team by a panel of experts commissioned by NFL Films for its extraordinary America's Game series, which is counting down the top 20 Super Bowl champions weekly on the NFL Network.

There are three Cowboys Super Bowl teams among the top 20. The `71 Cowboys are the first to be profiled. Still to come are the `77 Cowboys, winners of Super Bowl XII, and the `92 Cowboys champions of Super Bowl XXVII.

The 60-minute, `71 Cowboys installment is next up on Friday, Jan. 5 at 7:30 p.m. CST on the NFL Network, which unfortunately is little more than a rumor in most Dallas-Fort Worth homes. If you have a friend with a satellite dish, that day would be as good a day as any to invite yourself over for at least an hour. The series counts down on Fridays before culminating with a two-hour special on the Saturday night before Super Bowl XLI.

I watched the `71 and `92 shows the other day. Perhaps because the `92 Cowboys remain focused in the rearview mirror and their stars are omnipresent, their stories fresh, the `71 Cowboys, who performed way before my time, proved far more fascinating.

To tell their tale, NFL Films selected Hall of Famers Bob Lilly and Roger Staubach as well as Thomas, whom the Cowboys traded to the New England Patriots before the season. Alas, they were forced to take Thomas back as damaged goods by commissioner Pete Rozelle following his creative differences with the Patriots.

In protest of what he believed was the Cowboys' money-pinching ways, Thomas stopped talking during the `71 season. That was not only to the media but to his teammates and other Cowboys personnel as well. An immensely talented running back, ballyhooed by some as a "young Jim Brown," he led the NFL in touchdowns that season, which happened to be his second and final one with the team.

In addition to a sphinx-like running back, NFL Films captures the turmoil caused by Tom Landry's reluctance to decide between quarterbacks Staubach and Craig Morton, a waffling unanimously criticized by Staubach, Lilly and Thomas.

Whether it was because of such controversies or in spite of them, Thomas argues that all five Cowboys Super Bowl champions were flavored with tumult.

In `77, he points out, there were issues with Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson. In `92 and `93 there was the Jerry Jones-Jimmy Johnson power struggle. In `95, there were questions about the ability of Barry Switzer to lead the team.

Hence, though he never addresses the issue, from the Thomas Tumult Theory, we might conclude that Owens' soap-opera season is just the spice needed to bring a sixth Super Bowl title to Dallas.

Steve Sabol, mastermind of NFL Films, assures that spliced into the `71 Cowboys segment, as well as the 19 others, is "footage never seen before."

He credits that to his father, Ed, the founder of NFL Films who insisted that not a frame of film should ever be thrown out. "In the early 1970s, we got a citation from the health department because we stored too many old cans of film near the cafeteria. There was some kind of problem with the chemicals."

To tell the tale of the `77 Cowboys, NFL Films has Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson and Charlie Waters. The `92 Cowboys features Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Ken Norton Jr.

Sabol says former 49er Joe Montana is the lone player or coach who declined to work on the project.