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Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson reflects on Thanksgiving Day blunder: ‘I outsmarted myself’

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Nearly 30 years later, Jimmie Johnson is still getting a little cold as he reflects on the epic mistake during the Thanksgiving ice storm that cost the Dallas Cowboys the game.

Yes, it was Cowboys defenseman Leon Lett sliding across an icy field at Texas Stadium trying to win back a blocked field goal in the closing seconds of a game against the Miami Dolphins.

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No, the 6-foot-6-inch Lett was not eligible to try to retrieve the ball after teammate Jimmy Jones blocked the try from 41 yards, effectively giving the Cowboys a 14-13 victory.

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After Lett spun and ran for over 20 yards to ruin the game by making contact with the soccer ball, the Dolphins recovered at the 1-yard line, allowing Pete Stojanovic to score a second chance with a field goal that lifted Miami to 16. -14 wins on November 25, 1993.

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Talk about wild finishing.

“It was crazy,” Johnson mused this week for USA TODAY Sports. “How many times does it snow this way in Dallas on Thanksgiving? So Joe Avezzano (special teams coach) came up to me because it was snowing and we had an ice field and he said, “What do you think about this idea: what if we take one of our big guys and put him in middle? We could block the low kick on ice and snow.

“Well, Leon has never worked in special teams before. We first included him in the lineup to block field goals. In a way, I blame myself, the coaches, for putting him in this squad because he didn’t do it before. I don’t blame Leon. I blame us as coaches. I outwitted myself in this.”

Everything worked out. As Johnson has repeatedly stressed, the failure at Turkey Day was the last time he lost a game as Cowboys coach. Dallas led after Thanksgiving and took the Super Bowl crown again. He eloped the following spring following an epic breakup with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

“As devastated as I was after that Thanksgiving loss, losing like we did, it’s a great memory because that was the last time I lost in Dallas,” Johnson said. “You know me: I’m going to give it a positive spin. After that, I won every game.”

MORE: Here are the most famous NFL snow games.

Johnson reflects on the Thanksgiving defeat and many other moments of his illustrious career in his recently released memoir Swagger, written with Dave Hyde, an award-winning columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He details his time with the Cowboys and his other NFL work coaching the Miami Dolphins, detailing his journey through the varsity ranks, including major accomplishments in winning a national championship at the University of Miami.

And he talks about personal issues, including a failed marriage and his son Chad’s struggle with substance abuse.

“At first I didn’t want to write a book,” said Johnson, who worked as a studio analyst for Fox NFL’s Sunday pregame show for many years. “My good friend and agent Nick Christine kept telling me, ‘You need to write a book and tell a real story. So Nick and Dave Hyde convinced me to do it. Once I got into it, I enjoyed it.

“Now some of the hardships and problems, for example with my family, it was a little difficult to tell these stories, but it’s all there in the book.”

Johnson, 79, was the first coach to win both a college national championship and a Super Bowl (an award that has since been shared by Barry Switzer and Pete Carroll). And he’s inducted into the Halls of Fame of both college and pro football…provided a lot of material.

“A lot of people in Dallas go to the Jerry Jones office,” he said. “Survivor fans want to visit the Survivor pages. (University of Miami) people go to UM. And football people – coaches and grandmasters – want to move on to talent assessment. There’s a little bit for everyone.”

There is also a chapter in which Johnson talks about today’s NFL. Which tells us: given the physically demanding training that was part of Johnson’s style—his intense workouts, even at the end of the season, included a grueling “medium workout”—how would he handle the role of an NFL coach in the era of contact training? been significantly reduced in the name of player safety?

“Obviously that would have been very frustrating for me because we had very physical teams and very physical practices,” Johnson said. “I will have to adapt. But I think as long as a coach has the trust and respect of his players and he works as hard, if not harder, than they do, then they will understand that he is doing everything he can to make them better players and get them. best contract.

Of course, with two Super Bowl rings and a national champion ring, Johnson thinks he’ll grab the attention of his players.

“When you throw away those rings,” he said, “it gives you authority.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jimmie Johnson reflects on the Cowboys’ epic Thanksgiving mistake in 1993.


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