Dallas Cowboys: The 5 Best NFL Playoff Moments in Cowboys History

Stephen UrbaniakCorrespondent IJune 2, 2011

Dallas Cowboys: The 5 Best NFL Playoff Moments in Cowboys History

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    28 Jan 1996:  Running back Emmitt Smith #22 of the Dallas Cowboys is congratulated by teammates, including wide receiver Michael Irvin #88 and quarterback Troy Aikman #8, after scoring his second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl X
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    When one thinks of the most successful teams in football, whether you love them or hate them, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the most successful teams in the modern era of the NFL

    Founded in 1960, the Cowboys have been highly successful, led by iconic NFL legends such as Tom Landry, Tex Schramm, Bob Lilly, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.  There have been a lot of stars, past and present, to don the blue and silver star on their helmets it would take up a lot of space just to name them all.

    The Cowboys are currently tied for the second-most Super Bowl championships with the San Francisco 49ers with five apiece, and they trail the Pittsburgh Steelers who have an NFL-record six Lombardi Trophies.  The Cowboys have been to an NFL-record 14 NFC championship games in their history, having an all-time mark of 8-6 in those contests.

    The Cowboys are the only team in the league to have 20-plus seasons with at least 10 victories in the regular season, and they were the first team to win three Super Bowls in four years, a feat only matched by the New England Patriots.

    Here are five of many winning Dallas Cowboys playoff moments in franchise history.

5. 1975 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Roger Staubach's Hail Mary TD to Drew Pearson

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    The 1975 divisional playoffs pitted the No. 1-seeded Minnesota Vikings led by quarterback Fran Tarkenton, and the NFC Wild Card Cowboys led by Roger "the Dodger" Staubach.

    The game had been tight until the Vikings had taken the lead on running back Brent McClanahan's one-yard touchdown run to put the home team up 14-10. 

    The young Cowboys, led by Staubach, weren't going to go away without another one of "Captain Comeback's" thrilling finishes.  With 1:51 left in the game, Staubach converted the 4th-and-16 to Pearson, but the conversion was ruled incomplete as referees and replays confirmed that Pearson had indeed been forced out of bounds by Minnesota CB Nate Wright.

    Staubach then went back to the work and would be involved in one of the most controversial, yet breathtaking moments in all of football. 

    'With only 24 ticks remaining on the clock, Staubach then lofted a desperation pass in the direction of Pearson, which the receiver was barely able to come down with for the game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass, which drew the ire of almost everyone on the Vikings sideline, including Tarkenton, who afterward learned that his father had died of a heart attack while watching the game.

    After the game, Staubach coined the phrase "Hail Mary," which would be used all the way to the present day in last-gasp situations.

    The Cowboys shocked the favored Vikings 17-14, and would go on to defeat the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC title the very next week and lose their first of two Super Bowls in the 1970s to Chuck Noll's Pittsburgh Steelers.

4. 1972 NFC Divisional Playoffs: "Captain Comeback" Shocks 49ers

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    Thanks to SportsThenAndNow.com for the photo!
    Thanks to SportsThenAndNow.com for the photo!

    The 1972 playoffs featured the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys in a bid to defend their Super Bowl championship.  The Cowboys had fallen behind to the San Francisco 49ers 28-13.

    Starting quarterback Craig Morton was pulled out of the game by coach Tom Landry in favor of backup Roger Staubach.  The legend of "Captain Comeback" had begun as Staubach immediately went to work with less than two minutes in the game.

    After a TD pass to Billy Parks, Staubach drove the Cowboys into position for Ron Sellers' game-winning 10-yard reception to score 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and snatch a win from the jaws of defeat.

    After the game, Roger Staubach eventually replaced Morton at the helm of the team and would go on to play until after the 1979 season.

    The Cowboys would win this game 30-28 and would unfortunately fall short of defending their championship as they were dismantled in the NFC championship game by a score of 26-3 courtesy of the hated Washington Redskins.

3. Super Bowl XXX: Larry Brown Denies Steelers Comeback Hopes

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    Thanks to Netbrawl.com for the photo!
    Thanks to Netbrawl.com for the photo!

    After falling one game short of appearing in (and winning) four straight Super Bowls, the Cowboys rebounded and appeared in a franchise-record eighth Super Bowl after the 1995 season.

    With the Steelers only behind 20-17 and driving to go a perfect 3-0 against "America's team" in the Super Bowl, already having won two Super Bowls in the 1970s against Dallas, all seemed to be perfect for Pittsburgh to win the game.

    Enter Larry Brown, who was the first cornerback in the history of the Super Bowl to be named Super Bowl MVP. 

    His two critical interceptions of Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell proved to be the exclamation point that enabled the Cowboys to capture the team's fifth overall championship and third in four years. 

    The Cowboys would beat the Steelers 27-17 and break a streak of futility dating back to the 1970s against Pittsburgh in the big game, having lost two contests by scores of 21-17 and 35-31. 

    The Steelers would get the last laugh though, as they lead the Cowboys in all-time Super Bowl wins with six after winning Super Bowls XL and XLIII.

2. 1991 NFC Wild Card Round: Cowboys Claim First Playoff Win Since 1982

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    Thanks to KnowYourDallasCowboys.com for the photo!
    Thanks to KnowYourDallasCowboys.com for the photo!

    The Cowboys are known for success in the playoffs.  Since 1960, they have won 32 playoff games and won five of eight Super Bowls that they have played in.

    After the 1982 strike-shortened season, in which the playoffs were called "The Super Bowl tournament," the Cowboys did not win a playoff game in nine years.

    In this December game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, the Cowboys were coming off a 1-15 season and a lot of people had not expected them to do much of anything.  Led by a young Troy Aikman the Cowboys went into Soldier Field and beat the favored Bears by a score of 17-14 to earn their first playoff win since that 1982 season.

    The win in 1991 set the stage for the Cowboys to rise from the ashes of the 1970s and 1980s to become the most dominant team of the 1990s.  Led by the Triplets (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin), the Cowboys would go on the very next year to set a franchise record for wins in a season en route to easily demolishing the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.

1. 2009 NFC Wild Card Round: Cowboys Stomp Eagles 34-14, End 13-Year Drought

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 09:  Running back Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2010 NFC wild-card playoff game at Cowboys Stadium on January 9, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Cowboys were mired in a 13-year playoff losing drought, that had seemed like an eternity to Cowboys players and fans everywhere.

    They had been in the playoffs in the past decade, but could not win when the pressure was on.  Then-coach Wade Phillips was 0-4 in the tournament, and current starting quarterback Tony Romo was 0-2.  There was criticism abound as the Cowboys entered this wild-card matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    From the embarrassing loss in 1998 during the downside of the Triplets, to Tony Romo's last-second interception that cost the top-seeded Cowboys a shot at the NFC title and the Super Bowl, there had been too many times that the Cowboys had made the playoffs, but were "one and done."

    Keyed by Felix Jones' franchise playoff record 76-yard touchdown run and a stifling effort by the defense, who channeled their inner Doomsday, the Cowboys stomped the Eagles en route to their long elusive, first playoff win since December 28, 1996.

    The Cowboys had ended the 2009 season with consecutive shutouts of these same Eagles and the Washington Redskins.  The red-hot Cowboys would go on to Minnesota the very next week and be cooled off by the Vikings and slammed back to earth by a score of 34-3.

    There are many more moments in Cowboys history I just hand-picked a few that stood out.