The year was 1965. The New York Giants and Chicago Bears were no longer the powers they once were. The Cleveland Browns were the defending league champs, while the Baltimore Colts and Green Bay Packers retooled.
One team that lay in wait was the Dallas Cowboys, who, under the guidance of Tom Landry, had logged in five straight losing seasons since joining the NFL as an expansion team in 1960. That was about to end.
In Week 1 of the 1965 season, Dallas would host the New York Giants, who were coming off their worst season since 1947, winning just two games in 1964.
The Giants had some recognizable faces on coach Allie Sherman’s roster, such as Rosey Brown, Jimmy Patton, Jim Katcavage, Spider Lockhart, Del Shofner, Aaron Thomas, Dick Lynch, Homer Jones, Joe Morrison, Ernie Key, Greg Larson and Pete Case. They were an aging team with little juice left but still dangerous enough to beat you.
They also featured their top draft pick, running back Tucker Frederickson, and quarterback Earl Morrall, whom the Giants had brought in to replace the retired Y.A. Tittle.
Dallas had been slowly building a dynasty: quarterback Don Meredith; wide receiver Bob Hayes; tackle Ralph Neely; defensive linemen Bob Lilly and Jethro Pugh; linebackers Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan; and defensive backs Cornell Green and Mel Renfro. They were ready to compete.
In the opener against his old team, Landry’s crew led, 17-0, at halftime on a Danny Villanueva field goal and touchdown runs by Perry Lee Dunn and Dan Reeves (yes, that Dan Reeves).
The Giants never recovered. Dunn would score again in the third quarter, and Meredith connected with Hayes for a 45-yard touchdown strike in the fourth.
The Giants did not score on offense. Their only points came when Katcavage caught Meredith in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter.
The final: 31-2.
Both teams would go on to 7-7 records and tie for second place in the Eastern Conference. Dallas had the tiebreaker advantage, having beaten the Giants twice during the season (they also won, 38-20, in the season finale at Yankee Stadium).
Neither team qualified for the playoffs. Back then, only the two division champions faced off in the NFL Championship Game. In 1965, that was Cleveland from the East and Green Bay from the West. Green Bay won, 23-12.
Dallas did get to play another game. It was called the Playoff Bowl and took place one week after the championship game in Miami. It pitted the two second-place finishers — Dallas and Baltimore — in a meaningless game. Baltimore won, 35-3.
The Playoff Bowl, also known as the “Runner-Up Bowl,” was held from 1960-69 and was eventually named in honor of the late NFL Commissioner Bert Bell.
The Giants never played in the Playoff Bowl. The Cowboys played three times and won once. Dallas would go on to record 20 consecutive winning seasons, appearing in the postseason 18 times over that span and winning five NFC titles and two Super Bowls.
The Giants, who had last qualified for the postseason in 1963, wouldn’t return until 1981, defeating the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season to gain a playoff berth.
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