By Zane Miller
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith entered the 1968 season with a significant amount of positive momentum. After taking over the starting quarterback role for the struggling Cowboys franchise in 1963, Meredith had led the team to postseason appearances in each of the last three seasons, to go along with a second-team All-Pro selection in 1966. The bad news for Meredith would be that the 1968 season would be his final year in the NFL. However, the good news is that he finished his career with one of his best seasons as a pro.
Meredith claimed his best game of the season on September 29th on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. As the Eagles headed into the contest with an 0-2 record after going 6-7-1 the previous year, Meredith and the Cowboys would tear them up through the air as he threw for five touchdowns and 231 yards in the 45-13 victory, including 31 unanswered points scored in the second half alone. With the decisive win, the Cowboys advanced to 3-0 and would eventually finish with a 12-2 record, with Meredith starting for 11 of those victories.
At the end of the season, Meredith took the third spot in touchdowns in a tie with New York Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton who also had 21 on the season. In addition, he also threw for exactly 2,500 yards to put himself in fourth in that category, only 55 behind third-place Tarkenton.
As the Cowboys easily claimed the Capitol Division title for a second straight year, they would travel to take on the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs on December 21st. While this matchup seemed to bode well for the Cowboys, as they had defeated the Browns 52-14 in the first round of the playoffs a year earlier, this time around would not go as smoothly, particularly for Meredith.
Although the Cowboys would take advantage of an early defensive touchdown to keep the game close, as the teams were tied 10-10 at halftime, Cleveland would jump ahead in the third quarter with a pair of touchdowns and would not look back from there. Dallas scored an offensive touchdown of their own in the fourth quarter, but it would not be enough as the Browns advanced to the NFL Championship Game with the 31-20 victory.
While the final score suggests at least an average performance on offense by the losing side, this is misleading as Meredith had one of the worst games of his NFL career, completing only three passes for 42 yards and no touchdowns, topped off with three interceptions before being replaced by backup Craig Morton. Fortunately for Meredith, however, he would get one more chance to end his playing career on a high note in the consolation Playoff Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings.
As the teams met in Miami for the January 5th, 1969, matchup, the Cowboys were able to overcome a 13-10 halftime deficit with a second half shutout, allowing their offense just enough room to claim the eventual game-winning touchdown for a 17-13 triumph. Although Meredith played only the first half, by design as Cowboys head coach Tom Landry opted to have Morton (who would be the team’s starter in 1969) start the second half, he would still pass for one touchdown as he found wide receiver Bob Hayes for a 55-yard touchdown pass. This, along with 243 passing yards, earned him the game’s MVP honors.
Following his retirement after the Playoff Bowl, Meredith quickly found work as a color commentator for ABC’s Monday night games, calling the first-ever Monday Night Football contest in 1970 and holding the position through the end of 1984. In addition, his #17 jersey was added to the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor in 1976.
With all the statistics in mind, I grade Meredith’s 1968 season at an A. While the ugly first round playoff loss does hold the season back a bit, finishing top-five in both passing touchdowns and passing yards should place any quarterback in A territory.
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