Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that establishes, continues or changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1972: Cowboys Rally in 4th Quarter
NFC Division Playoff: Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers
Dallas coach Tom Landry summarized his team's third playoff clash with the 49ers in three years this way. "We've been up and down, and San Francisco has been up and down. I would say the talent on the respective teams is about the same, so there you have it. We feel we'll win, but anything can happen."
Since the Cowboys had won the previous two postseason meetings, 49ers QB John Bro­die said, "If the law of averages has anything to do with it, we'll be in."
The big question mark for Dallas was whether All-Pro DT Bob Lilly would play. He suffered muscle spasms in his lower back three days before the game and was hospitalized. He didn't fly with the team to San Francisco but left the hospital and the traction he was in the night before the game.
The 49ers had drubbed the Cowboys 31-10 in San Francisco Week 11.

John Brodie calls signals.
49ers Start Fast
Vic Washington electrified the crowd and stunned the Cowboys by taking the opening kickoff and returning it 97y for a touchdown. He muffed the ball briefly, picked it up on the bounce, ran up the middle to the 25, then cut to his left and continued merrily down the side­line for the first kickoff return touchdown against Dallas since 1966. Bruce Gossett added the PAT. 49ers 7 Cowboys 0 (14:43)
With RB Calvin Hill ripping off sizeable gainers, the Cowboys moved close enough on their first possession for Tony Fritsch to kick a 37y field goal. 49ers 7 Cowboys 3
The 49ers responded with two touchdown drives, both culminating in 1y plunges by Larry Schreiber to take a 21-3 lead.
The first march started from the SF six after Dallas P Marv Bateman rocketed a 59y punt with an unsportsmanlike penalty tacked onto the return. The big gainer was a pass from Bro­die to WR Gene Washington, who caught it at the 50 and gained 13y before S Cliff Harris hauled him down from behind. Washington had beaten Charlie Waters on the pass, but the Dallas safety-turned-cornerback got even a couple of plays later when a 49ers dipsy-doo failed. A double reverse wound up with the ball in Brodie's hands. He fired toward the end zone, but Waters intercepted on the one.
The Cowboys moved to their 22 before QB Craig Morton fumbled when hit from behind by DT Charlie Krueger, and DE Tommy Hart recovered for the 49ers on the 15. On first-and-goal from the four, Brodie handed off to RB Larry Schreiber four straight times, with the final run going over from the one. 49ers 14 Cowboys 3 (12:30 left in second quarter)

L-R: Vic Washington, Calvin Hill, Tony Fritsch, Larry Schreiber
Three minutes later, the 49ers were on the board again. Morton was hit by Cedrick Hard­man as he threw, and LB Skip Vanderbunt picked off the wobbly pass at the Dallas 32.
A 10y pass from Brodie to WR Preston Riley preceded a 19y aerial to Gene Washington, who made a fine catch in front of S Ray Renfro to put the ball at the two. It took Schreiber only two cracks up the middle to push into the end zone. 49ers 21 Cowboys 3
Cowboys Close Gap before Halftime
The Dallas offense needed to respond, and they did. Harris returned the kickoff 33y and a 17y pass from Morton to WR Billy Parks set up Fritsch's 45y field goal. 49ers 21 Cowboys 6 (7:09)
With their Doomsday Defense finally corraling the 49ers, the Cowboys soon had the ball back. This time Dallas didn't have to settle for a field goal. The touchdown came on a 23y pass down the middle to WR Lance Alworth, who caught the ball at the 14 in front of LB Jimmy Johnson, slipped, but regained his footing and sprinted to the end zone. 49ers 21 Cowboys 13 at the half.

L-R: Roger Staubach; Billy Parks, Lance Alworth
49ers Extend Their Lead
The 49ers missed a scoring opportunity early in the third quarter after a 23y Brodie-to-Riley pass moved them into Dallas territory. Jethro Pugh tossed Schreiber for a 2y loss to force a 40y field goal try by Gossett that was wide left.
Then lightning struck the Cowboys. Jim McCann angled a punt out of bounds at the Dallas five. On the next play, Hill fumbled and DB Windlan Hall recovered for the 49ers at the one. Schreiber smashed over right guard for the touchdown. 49ers 28 Cowboys 13 (5:00)
Cowboy woes continued when WR Bob Hayes dropped a Morton pass at the two. The next time Dallas got the ball, Landry inserted Staubach at quarterback. Roger had separated his shoulder in the preseason and thrown only 20 passes all season. Staubach said he became inspired after Morton gave him a hug and said, "I have confidence in you. You can win it in some way."
But the move didn't pay off right away. As Roger scrambled out of the pocket, DT Bob Hos­kins hit him, forcing a fumble that LB Dave Wilcox recovered at the Dallas 31 on the last play of the third quarter.
However, the Dallas defense forced a field goal try from the 32 that missed. The 49er faithful were not disturbed, although a few boos were heard.

Staubach passes under pressure from Cedrick Hardman (86) and Charlie Krueger (70).
Staubach Leads Comeback
Staubach had not been faring better than Morton. The 49ers front wall, led by Tommy Hart, Cedrick Hardman, and Charlie Krueger, had pressured him badly, sacking him four times.
Hill broke loose for 48y before Bill Belk brought him down from behind. That led to a 27y Fritsch field goal to cut the margin to 28-16 with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Neither team could move the ball for the next five minutes, and it appeared that Brodie was finally going to beat the Cowboys in a playoff game. The Cowboys took over on their 45 after a punt with 1:53 on the clock.
On the Mutual Radio Network broadcast of the game, Al Wester turned to his partner Mon­ty Stickles and asked: "1:53 on the clock, Monty. Are they home free?"
"Not really," replied Stickles. "There's still enough time. You saw what happened earlier to­day between the Oarkland Raiders and the Steelers." He was referring to the "Immaculate Reception" by Franco Harris in the last 10 seconds of the earlier playoff game that day.
Staubach suddenly caught fire. He threw to FB Walt Garrison for 8y. Then he hit Parks on successive plays for 19 and then 20 and a touchdown. 49ers 28 Cowboys 23
Called "Harpo" because his frizzy hair reminded teammates of one of the Marx Brothers, Parks was an unlikely hero candidate. "It bothered Billy that football was so important," said Staubach. "He resisted the notion that football was meaningful, and to him, it wasn't." He once refused to play, claiming a sore knee, but the real reason was that he was upset his friend and teammate Tody Smith had been deactivated that week. Rabidly anti-war dur­ing the conflict in Vietnam, Parks threatened to sit out another game when Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird visited. "Billy beat to his own drummer," said Staubach. "When Billy was out there, he played hard, but football wasn't his deal. He could take it or leave it."
Cowboys Recover Onside Kick
Everyone in the stadium and watching on television knew the Cowboys would try an onside kick. All the 49ers had to do to preserve the victory was recover the kickoff and run out the clock. So they deployed their "hands team" with backs and receivers on the front line.
As Fritsch, a former auto mechanic and soccer player from Austria, approached the ball, he brought his right foot behind his left foot, much like a basketball player using his arm for a behind-the-back pass and kicked the ball straight ahead on the Astroturf. The hard grounder bounced in and out of the hands of Preston Riley, and veteran all-pro Mel Renfro recovered on the 50 with a minute and a half left in the game.
On first down, Staubach couldn't find an open receiver and ran down the middle for 21y to the 29. Then Roger found Parks on a sideline toss for 19y to the 10. LB Frank Nunley blitzed on the next play, leaving WR Ron Sellers one-on-one with rookie S Windlan Hall. Staubach hit Sellers over the middle for the go-ahead touchdown. Cowboys 30 49ers 28 (0:52)
"It was a turn in pattern," said the elated Sellers. "I asked for that play in the huddle, and Roger agreed to try it. I'm sure glad he did. It was the biggest catch of my life."
Staubach: "In the huddle, Sellers told me he was open in the middle because they were protecting on the outside. However, I called a sideline pass to Parks on the play and told Ron I'd be watching him down the middle. The 49er linebackers blitzed on the play, and I saw Ron was open on the inside. So I flipped it to him."
The 49ers still had a chance since Dallas scored so quickly, and all they needed was a field goal. Brodie had stolen the final regular season game from Minnesota the previous Saturday, and Niner fans hoped he could do it again and get his team within field goal range.
But a 23y pass to Riley to the Dallas 32 was nullified by a holding penalty. Several plays later, Charlie Waters intercepted Brodie's fourth-down pass to seal the victory.

L-R: Preston Riley; Mel Renfro; Ron Sellers catches the winning TD pass in front of Windlan Hall
More than one writer has proclaimed Saturday, December 23, 1972, as the greatest day in NFL history. Earlier that day, the Steelers beat the other Bay Area team, the Raiders, on the "Immaculate Reception."
Usually stoic Tom Landry was emotional, calling the game "the best comeback we've ever made." He said, "Before the game, I told our players to go all-out for 60 minutes. With two minutes left, it looked kind of bad, but there was always hope. Those guys hung in there tough. It's tough to come back like that. This is just about our greatest victory since we won the Super Bowl. You can be in that situation 100 times and probably win one of them."
49ers Coach Dick Nolan: "We moved the ball well enough to win. But the key situation did us in. You saw the kickoff fumble and the holding penalty. It was just a situation that happens. Like that last play when the holding penalty took us out of field goal range. And if we had held onto that kickoff, we would have had them."
Brodie lost his third consecutive playoff game to the Cowboys. "I give them credit, but I can't believe it. We had it. There was no way to lose it, but somehow it slipped away."
Veteran 49er DT Krueger: "We played 'em a helluva game. I'm proud to be a member of this team, and I can honestly say they were fortunate to win. We got some breaks, so did they. We'd turned the corner on Dallas. We can play 'em to a standstill anythime from now on."
A Cowboy’s Life: A Memoir, Bob Lilly with Kristine Setting Clark (2008)
The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America, Joe Nick Patoski (2013)
The NFL’s Greatest Day: Roger Staubach, Franco Harris and the Story of Immaculate Saturday (Kindle), Brad Schultz (2019)