From the ’66 Cowboys to the ’13 Broncos: ‘It’s fun to see greatness’

The leading scorer (non-kicker category) for the explosive Broncos offense through four games is wide receiver Wes Welker, who has caught six touchdown passes from Peyton Manning.

The leading scorer (non-kicker category) for the only team to score more points than the Broncos through four games, the 1966 Dallas Cowboys, was a 22-year-old halfback named Dan Reeves, who would be named head coach of the Broncos 15 years later. Reeves scored eight touchdowns on the ground and another eight through the air that year.

In fact, Reeves scored so often that when he failed to register a touchdown in the Cowboys’ sixth game, against Cleveland, his father called to see what was wrong.

Reeves was part of a cast that featured bigger names like Don Meredith at quarterback, Bullet Bob Hayes at wideout and Don Perkins at fullback.

The Cowboys scored 183 points in the first four games of the ’66 season, including a 52-7 victory over the New York Giants and a 56-7 demolition of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Broncos scored 179 in their first four games this year, good for second all time, including lopsided victories over the Giants and Eagles.

While the Broncos’ explosive offense is built on Manning’s precision passing to an array of potent weapons, the Cowboys’ early-season dominance was based more on the element of surprise.

In an effort to jump start an offense that had ranged from bad (12th of 14 teams in 1964) to mediocre (seventh in ’65), Cowboys coach Tom Landry moved Pro Bowl safety Mel Renfro to running back in the 1966 training camp. Renfro, who had been a two-way player in college, tore it up during the exhibition season, but was injured in the first regular-season game, against the Giants.

Reeves’ work on special teams had earned him a roster spot the previous year, as an undrafted rookie free agent. When Renfro went down, Landry sent in Reeves to replace him. The former running quarterback at the University of South Carolina caught six passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns in that first game. The Cowboys blew out the Giants and Renfro went back to defense. Reeves finished sixth in the NFL in rushing that year.

“Probably nobody was more surprised than I was, because I’d been a quarterback through high school, through college,” Reeves told us on the radio show yesterday, by telephone from his home in Atlanta. “Came to the Cowboys, they switched me over to running back. Made the team basically on special teams my first year. Then I got an opportunity because Mel Renfro got injured. And the offense was really set to take advantage of that position and what they would do with Bob Hayes.

“I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t a great player, but I was a beneficiary of being around some great people who had a great offense. Down on the goal line, we had some great plays that took advantage of a guy that would keep his pads down, and I could do that, and run through a little bitty hole. So I scored some touchdowns that way and then was able to catch some passes to get in the end zone, too.

“We had a really good offense, but that was really unusual, sort of like everybody doing the spread attack now, and the shotgun and doing like no-huddle and so forth. It was just unique and people weren’t ready to defense that and we just had some unbelievable scores early in the season.”

By the fifth week, word had gotten out about Landry’s new multiple-set offense. When the Cowboys arrived in St. Louis, the Cardinals were ready.

“They were really a good defensive team,” Reeves said. “You’re talking about (safety) Larry Wilson, (defensive end) Joe Robb. They had some outstanding players and that was our biggest rivalry at that time; the St. Louis Cardinals were really playing good football. And plus, they were able to see us on film, and I think that makes a lot of difference.”

The Cardinals battled the Cowboys to a 10-10 tie that day. After scoring at least 47 points in three of their first four games, the Cowboys would exceed 31 only once in the last 10, although they still finished first in scoring that year.

Reeves keeps in regular contact with about a dozen members of those Cowboys teams of the ’60s. In fact, he’ll see a bunch of them, along with some former Green Bay Packers, in Dallas on Dec. 12 at a reunion of surviving participants in the Ice Bowl, the immortal NFC championship game contested in frigid conditions in Green Bay the following season.

“I have 10 or 12 guys that we’ve stayed in touch — Leroy Jordan, Walt Garrison, Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley,” Reeves said. “Back then was a little different. Guys are changing (teams) now because of free agency. (Back then) you really stayed. I mean, we lost to the Packers in the NFC championship game in ’66 and ’67. In ’68 and ’69 we lost the (conference semifinals) to Cleveland both times. Got in the Super Bowl in ’70 and lost on a last-second field goal (to the Baltimore Colts), and then finally won it in ’71 against Miami. So that whole team stayed together and suffered through all those things and basically it was the same team from 1966 until 1971.”

Although Reeves’ playing career continued through 1972, he never equaled the numbers he put up in 1966.

When the Broncos travel to Dallas this weekend, the Cowboys of 47 years ago will be fading in the rearview mirror in the race for gaudiest scoring totals. The biggest points producer through five games is the 2000 St. Louis Rams, the Greatest Show on Turf, which had just been handed from Dick Vermeil to Mike Martz. The Rams scored 217 points in their first five games that year, including a 41-36 victory over the Broncos in the opener.

The Broncos would need 38 points in Dallas to equal the Rams’ mark. Reeves doesn’t plan to miss it.

“The Broncos are just a great team to watch,” he said. “It’s like watching somebody carve, or paint a picture or something. I mean, he’s just picking people apart.

“When you’re coaching, you’d like to give your team the best chance with the best play call you possibly can. But what I think (Manning) does so well is he takes them out of a bad play and puts them into a good play. Whether it be run or pass, and he doesn’t seem to discriminate, doesn’t make any difference where he throws it or runs it. They’re just an awesome offensive team to watch right now. And they’re fun to watch. I mean, it’s fun to see greatness.”

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: