We have reached the 40th anniversary of the Clint Longley game – one of the most memorable in Redskins history and perhaps the wildest Thanksgiving game in NFL history.
I’ve told and written about the game so many times over the years that I’m sick of it already. What’s more interesting four decades later is that nobody seems to be able to find the quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber.”
On November 28, 1974 the Redskins went to Texas Stadium for the annual back end of the Turkey Day doubleheader. The rivalry was at its peak with the Skins having knocked off the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game two years earlier. The season before, Ken Houston famously stopped Walt Garrison at the one -yard line to preserve a 14-7 Monday night Redskins victory. Eleven days earlier, the Redskins had beaten the Cowboys in Washington. And a win on this day would make the Redskins 9-3 and a virtual lock for the playoffs and drop the Cowboys to 6-6 and likely out.
Earlier in the season, Dallas had traded quarterback Craig Morton to the Giants after he made it clear he wanted to go to a place where he could play. He’d had enough of playing behind Roger Staubach. That left Longley, a little-known rookie out of Abilene Christian as the only backup quarterback on the Cowboys roster.
A few days before the game, Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert, a Texan who loved stirring things up on Dallas week, uttered words he would later have to eat:
“If Staubach runs, you like to get a good shot at him and knock him out of the game. You try to get a scrambling quarterback to scramble into the arms of somebody who’s going to hurt him. If you knock him out, you’ve got that rookie facing you. That’s one of our goals. If we do that, it’s great. He’s all they have. They have no experienced backup.”
Well, if you haven’t already heard the story a million times, you can probably predict the rest of it goes like this:
Sure enough with the Redskins leading 16-3 in the third quarter, Staubach was knocked cold by Redskins linebacker Dave Robinson. In comes Longley, who promptly threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Billy Joe DuPree to make it 16-10. The following drive, he led the Cowboys to another score with Garrison taking it in from the one to make it 17-16.
There was momentary panic, but the Skins regained the lead in the fourth quarter when Duane Thomas scored on a 19-yard run. The Redskins had a six-point lead with a good defense facing a rookie quarterback seeing his first NFL action. What could go wrong?
It came down to the final minute. The Cowboys had the ball at midfield, trailing 23-17. The Skins brought in their extra defensive back, Ken Stone. He knew the one thing he couldn’t do was let receiver Drew Pearson get behind him. Stone let Pearson get behind him. The Mad Bomber reared back and fired a 50-yard touchdown bomb to Pearson, leaving Stone and everybody else to watch the carnage. Final – Cowboys 24 – Redskins 23.
Though I felt like it, I didn’t smash the 19-inch Zenith in the basement of our house at 8809 Walnut Hill Road. But I did sulk through the turkey and stuffing. The worst Thanksgiving ever.
So you’d think all these years later, the now 62-year-old Longley would be around to tell tales of his one shining moment – in a sort of Rudy Ruettiger kind of way. Nope. Nobody seems to be able to find the Mad Bomber these days – or for that matter the last 30 years or so.
Despite his Thanksgiving heroics, the Cowboys went on to miss the playoffs that year at 8-6. The Redskins got in at 10-4, but were knocked out in the first round by Minnesota.
Longley would return to Dallas in 1975, playing sparingly as Staubach’s backup as the Cowboys went to the Super Bowl and lost to Pittsburgh. In 1976, after the fold up of the World Football League, the Cowboys added Danny White and seemed to be grooming him to be Staubach’s successor. That’s when things started to get nuts for the Mad Bomber.
During training camp, Staubach overheard Longley making a derogatory remark about Pearson, who had dropped one of his passes in practice. Staubach said, “If you keep stabbing people in the back, somebody is going to knock those Bugs Bunny teeth of yours in.”
Longley, who may have been long on arm, but was short on smarts replied to the Naval officer and Vietnam veteran, “Are you going to be the one?”
Staubach said, “Yeah I’d love to.”
They met on a nearby baseball field and as Staubach was turning Longley into a bloody pulp, assistant coach Dan Reeves came in and broke it up.
A short time later, with his bags already packed, Longley did what he figured he needed to do to get out of town. As Staubach was putting on his shoulder pads, Longley pushed into a weight bench. The former Heisman winner needed stitches to close a gash over his eye. All Longley needed was a ride, which Dallas was happy to give him.
The Cowboys were able to deal him to San Diego for a couple of high draft picks, even though the Chargers had a young star at quarterback in future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Dallas would use those picks a year later to trade up with Seattle for the rights to Tony Dorsett. Longley would spend the year at Fouts’ backup and then was released.
He landed in Canada for a couple of years. When I was broadcasting games for the semi-pro San Antonio Charros in the early 80’s, I heard he was in the same league, but never saw him play. After that, nothing. Ten years after he’d seemingly appeared out of nowhere, Clint Longley was nowhere to be found.
A search of the internet shows various articles that have written about him over the years – usually around this time of year – but nobody seems to have found him. One article even mentions a call to his father, who said he rarely heard from his son and refused to give out his number.
Matt Moseley of the Dallas Morning News took a stab at it 10 years ago. He said he’d heard Longley had dabbled in oil, real estate, taxidermy and selling cars in his post-football years. There was even a report that the Mad Bomber had opened a bar in Abilene called Western Swing. He’d built a boxing ring in the middle of it where he would sometimes wrestle black bears.
I do sometimes wonder what he’d say about ruining Thanksgiving 40 years ago, but maybe it’s best we never hear from Clint Longley again and forget that we as Redskin fans ever heard of him. It makes Thanksgiving a lot more pleasant.