DALLAS -- With the current Cowboys sitting at home and seemingly on permanent hiatus from any real playoff success, let alone a Super Bowl run, Monday proved to be a day of reflection.
Call it a day of remembrance if you will -- not just for the life and legacy of the great Martin Luther King Jr. who broke down barriers to racial equality -- but also for a Cowboys franchise celebrating a breakthrough of its own 40 years ago to the day.
Hall of Famers Roger Staubach, Mel Renfro and Bob Lilly and other members of the Cowboys' first Super Bowl title team gathered at the Studio Movie Grill to celebrate the anniversary of their 24-3 victory against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI on Jan. 16, 1972.
This was the first of two titles in the 1970s for the Cowboys to go along with five Super Bowl appearances in the decade. It was the season and the team that began the America's Team phenomenon.
Monday night was a walk down memory lane for these old Cowboys, whose season was chronicled by former Associated Press sportswriter Jaime Aron in a book aptly titled Breakthrough Boys.
Before the breakthough, those Cowboys were not unlike the current star-crossed bunch as they were considered talented underachievers -- on a grander scale.
The Cowboys enjoyed success from 1966-1970 with a record of 52-13-2. But they were labeled as a team that couldn't get over the hump, next year's champions or simply "losers" by NFL Films because of two NFL title-game losses to the Green Bay Packers and two division title-game losses to the Cleveland Browns.
A 16-13 loss in Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts in 1971 when the Cowboys couldn't take advantage of seven turnovers fit the label.
You think Tony Romo has people questioning his ability to win the big one when he hasn't even had an opportunity; consider an entire team that didn't get it done when it mattered most.
That team was not without its share of controversy that would even make Dez Bryant look like a choir boy. Receiver Lance Rentzel was traded following the 1970 season after being arrested on an indecent exposure charge involving a 10-year-old girl in University Park.
Disgruntled star running back Duane Thomas was traded to the New England Patriots before the 1971 season because of a contract dispute. He was sent back immediately after getting in a dispute with the Patriots. Upon his return, Thomas refused to speak to any Cowboys players, coaches or management.
The locker room was also divided over quarterback controversy due to coach Tom Landry's decision to alternate Craig Morton and Staubach. The Cowboys started 4-3, but Landry's decision to make Staubach the full-time starter changed the course of history. The Cowboys won 10 straight, including the blowout victory against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl.
But this breakthrough was not just about Staubach beginning his journey to the Hall of Fame; it was about a team refusing to be defined by its past.
Lilly said the Cowboys were determined to win the Super Bowl and prove they weren't losers.
Safety Cliff Harris said it was because of leaders like Lilly, linebacker Lee Roy Jordan and safety Mel Renfro -- guys who wanted to remove the bitter taste of failure.
"The motiviating force was to win a Super Bowl and overcome the stigma of not being able to win the big one," Harris said. "We had desire and leadership. The foundation was a strength of leadership."
When talk turned to the current Cowboys and their inability to finish strong, they said the team needs stronger leadership.
"They don't have the leadership we had on our team," Lilly said. "But you have to earn that."
Said Jordan: "It's a problem. You don't know where to point the fingers, at the coach or the players. I think we've got to divide up the blame and take it to the next level."
But Jordan said it starts with the players in the locker room. They have to hold each other accountable. He said that's what they did in 1971 with a players' only meeting. He said he would like linebacker DeMarcus Ware to the do the same because he is not getting a lot of help on the pass rush.
The message from the old Cowboys to the current group was one of hope and inspiration. Former running back Dan Reeves said they should keep persevering as the team did in 1971.
Staubach went a step further and said the pieces are pretty much in place for a turnaround -- save for some secondary help on defense.
Most importantly Staubach said coach Jason Garrett has the Cowboys going in the right direction and they have the right quarterback in place in Tony Romo.
"Tony Romo is right up there with the best," Staubach said. "He is not a problem. He is a solution."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.