There have been many memorable moments provided by the NFL on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps the most unlikely was when a rookie quarterback from Abilene Christian, Clint Longley, came off the bench in 1974 to lead the Dallas Cowboys over the Washington Redskins.
When those teams play again Thursday on FOX, Longley can’t help but come to mind. And the quarterback who created such a stirring victory remains "retired from life" decades later.
Back in 1974, Longley had yet to see the field as the Cowboys’ starter was Roger Staubach, a Dallas legend.
However, the Redskins knocked Staubach out of the game with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter. Onto the field came the rattlesnake-hunting rookie, who was looking at a 16-3 deficit.
"I was afraid they weren’t going to send me in," Longley said at the time, "but I was all they had left."
Tom Landry made the only call he could. "Get in," the legendary Dallas coach told Longley. "Good luck."
Longley managed to bring the Cowboys to within 23-17. Meanwhile, Staubach was ready to return to the game.
"Landry probably said something like, ‘Roger, we’ve got some momentum going here and we don’t want you to screw it up,’ " Staubach told the Dallas Morning News in 1994.
Per the Morning News:
Longley and (Drew) Pearson made up a pass play in the huddle, a variation on something the Cowboys called "Lee 16."
"It was a post route and he was supposed to come back over the middle," Landry told reporters. "But he was able to split the two defenders and he was gone. It was a good move on his part. Longley moved away from their rush and slid outside. The pass was perfectly thrown. We caught them flat-footed."
Fifty yards later and after a PAT, the Cowboys had a 24-23 lead that stood through the remaining 28 seconds. Longley went 11-of-20 for 203 yards in relief.
"I don’t have very much to say," Redskins coach George Allen told reporters. "It was probably the toughest loss we ever had."
Of course, there wasn’t a happy ending to the Clint Longley story in Dallas.
Two years later, Staubach remained entrenched as Dallas quarterback, and Danny White was in camp battling Longley for the backup role.
Longley reportedly wasn’t taking well to the prospect of being a third-stringer. At one practice, Pearson, oddly enough, dropped a pass and Longley badmouthed him. Staubach told Longley that he was getting tired of him talking about people behind their backs and stated, “Somebody is gonna knock those Bugs Bunny teeth of yours in.”
“Are you going to be the one?” Longley asked. Staubach replied, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.”
That scrap didn’t get far as assistant coach Dan Reeves broke it up. But days later at another practice, Longley sucker-punched Staubach, opening a nine-stitch gash.
That ended Longley’s time in Dallas and sent his career, um, spiraling, to San Diego, Toronto, St. Louis and finally the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Longley’s moment had come and gone — quickly — and since that time he has been reclusive while living in Texas.
gallery: Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving games by the numbers