The Cowboys entered the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit with an 8-2 record and tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East. The Lions were 4-6 and five of their six losses had come in the final minute. The Cowboys were considered Super Bowl contenders in 1981 and they came out in this game ready to hand the Lions their seventh loss. What this game came down too would be the leg of a certain Lions kicker as well as a penalty flag that never fell to the ground.
The Cowboys defense got the game started by forcing Lions running back Billy Sims to fumble at the Lions 39 yard line. Danny White drove the Cowboys offense to the Lions ten yard line and completed the drive with a ten yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson. The Cowboys took a 7-0 lead.
The Lions then drove down to the Cowboys four yard line looking to tie the game, but Billy Sims fumbled again. The Cowboys were able to add a Rafael Septien field goal to take a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Cowboys defense seemed to have their way in the first half as they sacked Lions quarterback Eric Hipple four times. After forcing a Lions punt, Danny White drove the offense 62 yards in five plays to the Lions 12 yard line. From there he found Pearson again for their second touchdown connection and a commanding 17-0 lead on the Lions.
Like in so many of the Lions games in 1981 they would not go away. Eric Hipple got his passing game going as he connected with receiver Eric Hill for 30 yards. Then the Lions caught the Cowboys by surprise by running a reverse to receiver Mark Nichols that gained another 30 yards, which put the ball at the Cowboys three yard line. From there Billy Sims scored with just 15 seconds left in the first half to get the Lions on the scoreboard. The Lions were down by ten points at halftime, 17-7.
The Lions picked up where they left off at the end of the second quarter as the third quarter got under way. Defensive end Al Baker from the Lions intercepted a Danny White pass that came off of Tony Dorsett’s fingertips. The Lions converted the turnover into an Eric Hipple to Mark Nichols six yard touchdown pass. The Cowboys now led only 17-14.
On the next Cowboys drive Danny White threw his second interception as Lions linebacker Gary Cobb stepped in front of Drew Pearson and gave the ball back to the Lions offense. From there that certain Lions kicker tied the game 17-17 with a 37 yard field goal.
The Lions got the ball back and had taken all the momentum from the Cowboys who once led 17-0. They were looking to take their first lead of the game when Eric Hipple found a wide open Billy Sims for a sure touchdown, but Sims dropped the pass with just over seven minutes to play in the game. The Cowboys offense got the ball back and looked to put the Lions away.
Danny White led the Cowboys offense on an 80 yard time consuming drive. White capped off the drive with his third touchdown pass of the game. This time he White found tight end Jay Saldi for a 14 yard score to give the Cowboys the lead back, 24-17 with 2:37 left in the game.
Once again this Lions team would not go away. With the Lions sitting at their own 19 yard line it took them only 20 seconds to answer the Cowboys go ahead score. Eric Hipple found Billy Sims one-on-one against Cowboys linebacker D.D. Lewis as he streaked down the left sideline. Sims caught Hipple’s pass at the Cowboys 40 yard line and scored easily to tie the game 24-24 with just over two minutes remaining.
With the score tied the Cowboys thought that overtime would be the best way to go. It became obvious that the Lions were not thinking about overtime like the Cowboys were. The Cowboys ran three plays and were unable to gain a first down. The Lions used all their timeouts and forced the Cowboys to punt the ball back to the Lions with 1:13 left in the game.
Eric Hipple started the Lions drive at the 18 yard line. Quickly Hipple connected with David Hill on passes of 15 and 30 yards. Then with 25 seconds left he found tight end Ulysses Norris for an 18 yard completion to the Cowboys 30 yard line. With the Lions facing a third down and no timeouts it was thought that Hipple would just spike the ball to stop the clock, but the offense and special teams became confused. In what can only be described as confusion for the Lions as the clock continued to run, that certain Lions kicker came running out onto the field. Eric Hipple looked around not knowing whether to run a play or hold for a field goal attempt. Hipple went to a knee and took the snap from a makeshift offensive line. That certain Lions kicker approached the ball with just four seconds left. His 47 yard field goal attempt sailed up and through the uprights as time expired. The Cowboys just stood there in disbelief as the Lions celebrated their 27-24 victory.
In the newspaper the next morning a picture appeared showing the Lions last second field goal attempt. What was interesting was that the Lions players all had a number listed above them. What was even more interesting was that the numbers totaled 12. The Lions had 12 men on the field on their last second field goal attempt. With all the confusion of the last play for the Lions the officials never saw that they had 12 players on the field and a flag was never thrown. Of course nothing could be done at this point as league officials admitted their mistake. The Lions had the last second field goal to win the game and the Cowboys with the loss had fallen one game back of the Eagles in the NFC East.
I’m sure you are all wondering why I have not mentioned the name of the Lions kicker in this game. There became a connection with the Cowboys and this Lions kicker many years after this game. Because of the way this game ended there were many Cowboys fans who took a disliking to this kicker. He not only beat the Cowboys, but he beat them on a play that should have never happened. But like so many other times, there are opposing players who are disliked until they become a part of your favorite team and help them win. The kicker in this game was Eddie Murray, who became a member of the Cowboys in 1993. Murray kicked the game winning field goal in overtime against the Giants in the final game of the season. The win also earned the Cowboys the NFC East division title and home field advantage in the playoffs. Of course as Cowboys fans know, Eddie Murray went on to collect a Super Bowl Championship that season as he kicked three field goals in Super Bowl XXVIII as the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills. It’s strange how things work out in life. Eddie Murray goes from being disliked by Cowboys fans in 1981 to being loved by Cowboys fans in 1993.
The box score from the Lions game can be seen here.
The video of game winning kick for the Lions can be seen here.