Like many other Americans, one of my most cherished Thanksgiving traditions is watching football.
And what happened 40 years ago is as vivid in my memory as anything that happened five minutes ago — because it was the fulfillment of every young boy's fantasy, and I was a young boy.
The Dallas Cowboys have been playing home football games on Thanksgiving since the '60s. On this day in 1974, they had been doing it for less than a decade. In 1974, they had a really special matchup planned — with the Washington Redskins, a rival and the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl two years earlier.
There have been some great games played on Thanksgiving, but none had such an improbable story line.
The Cowboys were losing to the Redskins, 16–3, when quarterback Roger Staubach was knocked out of the game in the third quarter, and Clint Longley, a rookie, was summoned off the bench to fill in.
That particular Thanksgiving, my parents had invited some friends of theirs to come to our house in the country. They came, along with their son who was a few years older than I was. After we all ate dinner, the men gathered in front of the TV to watch the Cowboys and Redskins. I wasn't a Cowboys fan, but I was a Staubach fan as was our visitors' son.
However, when Staubach was knocked from the game and an unknown rookie was called in to run the offense, we lost interest and excused ourselves. I think we went outside to shoot some baskets, but we were soon drawn back inside by the sound of our fathers whooping. Clint Longley was leading a comeback.
He threw a 35–yard TD pass to tight end Billy Joe Dupree to cut the deficit to six points, then Walt Garrison's one–yard TD run gave the Cowboys a one–point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Ex–Cowboy Duane Thomas scored his second touchdown of the game, giving the Redskins the lead again, then Longley connected with Drew Pearson for a 50–yard TD pass to win the game.
It was probably the best Thanksgiving a rookie quarterback ever had.
I got my bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas, and I got my master's degree in journalism from the University of North Texas. Most of my adult life has been dedicated to writing and editing. Most recently I have taught writing (news and developmental) as an adjunct journalism professor at Richland College, where I advise the student newspaper staff. Go, Thunderducks!