Flashback: Dallas vs Tampa Bay – 1981

As the 2009 season is about to begin I thought I would start a new feature about a popular match-up from the past against who Dallas is playing every week.

The first game this season is against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Playing against Tampa Bay brings back a memory from the 1981 playoffs. It was the divisional round and Tampa Bay was visiting Texas Stadium on a Saturday afternoon. Dallas had won the NFC East with a 12-4 record and Tampa Bay won the NFC Central with a 9-7 record.

In the days before the game there were newspaper articles about how the Tampa defense wanted the Dallas offense to pass on them because they thought they would have the advantage and take control of the game. Think again, because it was the Dallas Doomsday defense who was mad and took control early and never looked back.

Dallas beat Tampa Bay 38-0 with a suffocating defense and overpowering running game. It was the Dallas defense who sacked Tampa Bay QB Doug Williams four times and harassed him plenty of other times during the game, which included four deflected passes. They also added four interceptions on the day. Two by Dennis Thurman, one by Michael Downs and one by Ed Jones. Back in 1981 the Dallas defense was led by Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed Jones, D.D. Lewis, Everson Walls and Dennis Thurman. They all dominated the game and held Tampa Bay to 222 yards of total offense and only 74 yards rushing. The Tampa offense wasn’t anything to ignore back in 1981. They had stars like Doug Williams, James Wilder, Kevin House and Jimmie Giles.

The Dallas offense got off to a slow start in the first quarter before putting things together early in the second quarter with a touchdown pass from Danny White to Tony Hill. Dallas led 10-0 at the half and then exploded in the third quarter with 21 points with rushing touchdowns from Ron Springs, Tony Dorsett and James Jones. They finished the scoring in the forth quarter with another rushing touchdown, this time from Timmy Newsome. Keep in mind that the Tampa Bay defense was ranked number 2 in takeaways in 1981. They had defensive players like Lee Roy Selmon, Hugh Green and David Logan, but they did not create one turnover against the Dallas offense.

The Cowboys cornerback Dennis Thurman said it was their silent defensive leader Randy White who spoke up during the week before the game.

“He said he knew we were ready physically, but he wanted to make sure we were ready mentally,” Thurman said. “Randy doesn’t talk much, so when he does you listen. It was very inspirational. We knew he had a special feeling about this game.”

“We had two weeks to get ready for this game,” White said, “and when you have that long, you get irritated and mad.”

Said coach Tom Landry about the game…

“It was a very good football game for everybody.” Landry said. “We don’t have many of those games, maybe every five or six years.”

This Dallas playoff victory has always stood out as one of my all-time favorite games. It was a great game from beginning to end and I still watch it from time to time because I have it recorded. It would be the last win for the 1981 Dallas Cowboys because a week after beating Tampa Bay they would have to visit San Francisco for the NFC Championship game in what would be one of the most famous endings in NFL history.


You can check out the box score from the game here…


0 replies
  1. Kelly Horn
    Kelly Horn says:

    Great feature Rob! I wasn’t even two years old then but reading those names gave me chills. Danny White, Tom Landry, Randy White. Legends, man.


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