In college, Jerry Tubbs never lost a game.
Playing for Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, Tubbs was a big-time inside linebacker on three undefeated teams (1954-56).
This came during Wilkinson’s historic 47-0 run (1953-57) — still an NCAA Division I record.
“I was in the middle of the streak. We went 31-0,” Tubbs said. “To be able to say you never lost a game in college.....well, that’s my greatest claim.
“I was one lucky guy.”
However, Tubbs’ luck quickly ran amok in the NFL.
He was taken by the Chicago Cardinals in the first round of the ’57 draft — 10th overall. Suddenly, he found himself on a perennial loser, playing out of position (outside — not inside), then eventually benched, then cut near the end of his second season.
Although he landed on his feet in San Francisco, where he quickly elevated his pro game, he concluded that it might be time to find a job in the real world.
It was after the ’59 season. He was about to turn 25.
“Coca-Cola had this job opening for a district manager in Arkansas,” said Tubbs, whose idle thoughts became real concerns of 49ers coach Red Hickey.
“Jerry, I’ve got to know,” Hickey told him. “We like you. We want you. But if you’re going to retire, then I’m going to put you on that ‘Dallas Cowboys’ expansion list.”
The color ran out of Jerry’s face.
“I knew an expansion team wasn’t going to win,” Tubbs said. “But I was being honest. I told Red Hickey, ‘Coach, I can’t really tell you what I’m going to do yet.’ And so, he put me on the list.”
As it turned out, Tubbs would spend the next 29 years in Dallas — as a player, then a player-coach, then a fulltime assistant.
Playing/working for Tom Landry would prove to be heaven on earth — but Tubbs had no idea of that in 1960.
He never lost a game in college. Now he would be joining an expansion team that wouldn’t win a game all season. The ’60 Cowboys ended up 0-11-1.
“It looked like we were never going to win a game,” Tubbs recalled.
The closest they came was a 31-31 tie at New York in the next-to-last game of that inaugural season.
Little Eddie LeBaron picked apart a championship-tested Giants defense and snapped the Dallas losing streak at 10. But the non-winning streak would grow to 12 with a season-ending loss at Detroit.
“But I have to tell you, it felt like we won the world championship — when we tied New York,” Tubbs said. “Of course, we didn’t hit the jackpot until the start of ’61.”
“The Jackpot” came Sept. 17, 1961, against a veteran Steelers team led the legendary Bobby Layne; Hall of Fame fullback John Henry Johnson, and a grizzled defense featuring future Cowboys coach Ernie Stautner.
On this day, the Cowboys would finally achieve a regular-season victory, but not without some smoke and mirrors.
They would need to score 10 points in the final 56 seconds.
They would need help from the most unlikely hero on the team: Rookie kicker Allen Green, who was playing in his first NFL game.
But it all came together for a Cotton Bowl crowd of 23,500.
The Star-Telegram reported in its Sept. 18, 1961, editions:
“Rookie Allen Green, a pressure-resistant Rebel from Mississippi, kicked a 27-yard field goal in the last second of the game to give the incredible Cowboys a 27-24 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Cotton Bowl Sunday.”
We’ve tried to track him down. No one seems to know where he went, and few remember from where he came.
Allen Green had a knack for game-winning field goals at Ole Miss, according to his 1962 Post Cereal football card. (Post Cereal, however, didn’t get the memo that Green would be out of the league after the ’61 season — never to return again.)
Read the cereal card: “Al’s three-pointer in the last seconds of the 1958 season gave Ole Miss a 10-7 victory over Arkansas and his 41-yarder in the final seconds gained a 6-6 tie with LSU.....a specialist on last-second victories.”
Actually, Green’s right foot accounted for half of the 4-9-1 Cowboys’ four victories in 1961. (Another game-winner came in the final minute at New York 17-16.)
However, Green made only 5 of 15 field-goal attempts while averaging 37.3 yards on 60 punts. It wasn’t enough to keep his job in Dallas — or find another one in the NFL.
“But that was a pretty big kick he had against Pittsburgh,” recalled Tubbs. “It got the monkey off our backs; that’s exactly what it did.”
Unlikely hero. Thrilling comeback. But there was much more to this first-ever victory in franchise history.
“The Cowboys looked like they were fighting a lost cause in the last six minutes,” according to the lone S-T game story on Sept. 18, 1961. “John Sample of the Steelers picked off a Don Meredith pass and raced 39 yards for a touchdown with 5:52 remaining.
The Steelers led 24-17.
Off the bench came LeBaron, who “started throwing his life-saving pitches,” according to the newspaper. The “stubby” LeBaron completed 5 of 8 passes for 75 yards — including a 17-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dick Bielski.
The game was tied 24-24 with 56 seconds left.
This is where Tubbs came in. His INT from the middle- linebacker position made Allen Green’s dramatics possible.
Wrote the Star-Telegram:
“No one dared dream the Cowboys would ever get the ball again. But linebacker Jerry Tubbs apparently wasn’t watching the clock. The old master, Bobby Layne.....erringly threw down the middle and Tubbs stole it on the Dallas 38.”
The Dallas offense was back on the field. LeBaron eventually hit Bill Howton, who scooted out of bounds to stop the clock.
In came Allen Who?
“Winning was such a good feeling that day,” Tubbs recalled. “And it felt good to have had a little bit of something to do with it.”
Wrote the Sept. 8, 1961, S-T: “The Cowboys failed to choke on their 56-second time limitation.....and sent the stunned Steelers reeling back to Pennsylvania.”
Tubbs can’t recall what Landry said or did after the win — or even whether he had a reaction.
“I don’t remember Tom being very animated at all,” he said.
Tubbs, who won All-America honors and finished fourth in the ’56 Heisman Trophy balloting (won by Paul Hornung), was rejuvenated enough by what Landry was doing with the upstart Cowboys to take a flyer on that Coca-Cola job.
Today, Jerry and his wife, Marlene, live in University Park. They recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.
Every morning, Jerry — a native Texan born in Breckenridge 73 years ago — gets up, eats breakfast and makes the one-hour drive to his ranch northeast of McKinney. There, he keeps close to 100 head of cattle.
Don’t tell anybody.....but Jerry is playing hurt right now. He recently cracked a vertebra in his lower back when caught between a pair of 1,500-pound bulls.
“One of ’em whipped around at full speed,” said Tubbs. “But it wasn’t the bull’s fault. It was mine.” Tubbs will forever be linked to Landry.
When Landry was fired, Tubbs was fired.
“I got a few calls from other teams (in 1989), but I wasn’t interested,” said Tubbs, who found what he missed most about football was “getting it right as a team” on Sunday afternoon.
And for that, he has plenty of good memories with the Cowboys: 20 consecutive winning seasons, five Super Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl wins.
But when Tom Landry never worked again in the NFL, Jerry Tubbs never worked again in the NFL. He would have it no other way.