It was Thanksgiving Day in 1981 and the only thing the Cowboys seemed to be thankful for was getting past the 3-9 Chicago Bears with a victory. The win put the Cowboys in first place in the NFC East with a 10-3 record.
The Cowboys were one of the best teams in the NFL in 1981 and the Bears were one of the worst teams. But it didn’t seem that way as this Thanksgiving game started to unfold. Late in the first quarter Danny White led the Cowboys to a 3-0 lead when Rafael Septien kicked a 41 yard field goal.
The Bears tied the game at 3-3 early in the second quarter and then things went bad for the Cowboys. With seven and half minutes to play in the first half Danny White was hit in the back and was lost for the game. In came rarely used backup quarterback Glenn Carano to lead the Cowboys.
“Losing Danny (White),” said coach Tom Landry. “Limited some of the things we could do.”
The score stayed tied at 3-3 until the fourth quarter. The Bears put together a drive after the Cowboys made a mistake when Ron Springs attempted an option pass, which was intercepted in the end zone. With the Bears starting at their own 20 yard line they drove 80 yards in 16 plays. Of the 80 yards, 74 of them were gained rushing the ball in 14 plays. Quarterback Vince Evans finished the drive as he scored from the two yard line. On the extra point Ed Jones penetrated the Bears line to block the kick. The Bears had the lead 9-3 with 13:39 to play in the game.
After the Bears took the lead, Glenn Carano drove the Cowboys 83 yards down to the Bears two yard line. Facing a fourth and goal, Tom Landry decided to go for it instead of attempting a field goal. Carano’s pass to tight end Billy Joe DuPree was knocked down and the Cowboys came away with no points.
The Cowboys defense was able to hold the Bears without a first down and got the ball right back. Once again Carano started to drive the Cowboys deep into Bears territory. Sitting at the six yard line, Ron Springs took the hand-off and ran left towards the end zone. He barely made it into the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. With Septien’s extra point the Cowboys took the lead 10-9.
The Bears got the ball back with only 5:09 left in the game. Facing a 4th and 10 from their own 40 yard line, the Bears had no choice but to go for it. The Cowboys were called for pass interference, which allowed the Bears to continue their drive. They reached the Cowboys 32 yard line where on fourth down they lined up for the game winning field goal. But Bears kicker John Roveto’s attempt sailed wide right and the Cowboys walked away with the victory, 10-9.
The Cowboys defense held the Bears offense to only 272 yards in the game. But it was Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton who gained 179 of those yards rushing as he shredded the Cowboys defense all afternoon. The Cowboys defense did hold Vince Evans to only 60 yards passing.
The Cowboys offense was less than special as Glenn Carano only managed 131 yards passing as he filled in for the injured Danny White. Tony Dorsett rushed for 72 yards.
“Who would’ve thought,” Tony Dorsett said, “that a blocked extra point would be the difference between the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys?”
“Who would’ve thought,” said Ed Jones, the man who blocked the extra point, “we would need that kind of play to win?”
The box score can be seen here.