Thursday, June 8, 2017

Finally—Herb Adderley: Cementing the Dallas Secondary.

By T.J. Troup
Today is Herb Adderley's birthday and an it is an appropriate time to herald his career. Joining Green Bay in 1961 he contributed as a special teams player, and substituted late in blowout victories as a flank however, he did not start 14 games at left corner (hopefully the Packer organization will correct this error in the literature). The win over the Lions on Thanksgiving was his only extended time as a left corner, and his interception in the game was sure a value contribution. Hank Gremminger was the starter all 14 games that season.

Without doubt Adderley was by far the best left corner in the NFL from 62-69; though there were other men who played the position well. For his efforts he was voted second-best behind Dick"Night Train" Lane for the NFL 50th anniversary team voted on in 1969. Stories about why Adderley left Green Bay vary, yet he was traded to Dallas right before the season of 1970. Playing in the Super Bowl was nothing new for Herb, but losing an error-plagued game was.

Tom Landry had coached the Cowboys for eleven years entering the 1971 season, and he himself had played left corner during his NFL career. The early years in Cowboy history were not filled with airtight pass defense and the only reliable player was right cornerback Don Bishop.

Mel Renfro joined the Cowboys in 1964 and earned a Pro Bowl berth at right safety (free), and with help from left corner Cornell Green team pass defense improved. Dallas was winning and making the playoffs, yet the Silver Trophy eluded them.

Landry has shifted personnel in the secondary when  Adderley joined the team. Green moved to left safety (strong), and Renfro (who led the league in interceptions in 1969) moved to right corner. The right safety post is shared by two rookies in 1970—Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris. Though both men demonstrated they were "legitimate" but both would likely agree they had much to learn.

Tom Landry not only believed in a gap control defense,  with what he calls the "Flex" for the defensive line. The complexities of the defense for the front seven has been discussed many times, but what coverages does Tom want to align in?  He prefered man coverage over zone, he had the personnel to return to the Super Bowl entering 1971.

Seven weeks into the season the Cowboys were 4-3, and just might be the best 4-3 team in league history. Talent abounds; how can they possibly lose three times?

Film evaluation shows that starting right safety Charlie Waters is out of position or takes the wrong angle in both pursuit and pass coverage. The pathetic Buffalo Bills score 37 points Opening day, and Charlie Harraway has the longest run of the season against Dallas in the home loss to the rival Redskins. Cliff Harris replaces Waters as the starter, and though he does not have a strong season; he at least is not out of position.

Renfro and Green are proven durable starters, yet the key figure is Adderley. He plays well the first half of the season though he Cowboys defensive passer rating is a lackluster 60.5. The defensive passer rating is only a tool to evaluate team pass defense, yet does help explain the improvement the second half of the campaign. Adderley's savvy, combined with his physical gifts limits opposing passers from throwing in his territory. The Cowboys finished the regular season strong with seven straight victories, and the defensive passer rating is an improved 52.4. Overall the defense allows just seven offensive touchdowns during the win streak. Film study shows an occasional blown coverage, and one of the defensive backs getting "beat", but those seven wins have the Cowboys confident entering the playoffs. Cowboys records reported that Adderly didn't allow a touchdown pass in 1971.

Beating the Vikings in Minnesota in December during the first few years of the Bud Grant era was a real challenge, yet the 20-12 win set up a home NFC title game clash with a new rival; the San Francisco 49ers. The impressive 14-3 win takes Dallas back to the Super Bowl. Adderley played extremely well in both games, he now has the opportunity to add to his ring collection.

The Miami Dolphins may have captured the imagination of fans across America, and Dallas had never won a Super Bowl, yet this team is by far the best in Cowboy history. The dominant and decisive victory caps a season in which everyone wondered what is wrong with the Cowboys?

Adderley and his cohorts allowed just 45 completions out of 91 attempts for just 528 yards (only one completion over 40 yards) in the playoffs. Just one touchdown pass was thrown against them, and they pilfered 8 passes. An air-tight defensive passer rating of 34.5.

Eleven years and six championships for Herb. Though Adderley will lose his job during the 1972 season, and his career end in the preseason of 1973 when he was trying to catch on with the Rams. For today let us celebrate this gifted tough left corner and his Hall of Fame career.


  1. Great stuff as always, Coach! The secondary may not have been quite as strong but the 1968 Cowboys were also a powerhouse to rival the '71 edition. A Cowboys-Colts NFL Championship game may have been one for the ages.

  2. John Steele: we made the change as per your information.

  3. TJ, where do you rank him among the all time corner men? Against guys like Deion, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Haynes, Willie Brown, Albert Lewis, and Dick Lane.

    1. thank you for asking Alen; each man has strengths and also areas where they were not quite as strong. also, a question that seems to evade folks when evaluating...was the corner more zone or man? your list is a strong one....would include Mel B. along with Haynes, Night Train with Herb A. in any top 8 list...JJ was a dr. z fav...and did work on his career when he came up for consideration. Brown classic bump and run, was not asked to support the run very often. Albert L. is the most under appreciated corner EVER...pleasantly surprised to see him on your list. Deion would make everyone's team as a cover corner only(these days against a slot receiver). I named my all-time secondary in '98 on Steve Sabol's NFL films presents show "father figures". you might enjoy watching it. all the best.

  4. I like to chart the old games because i'm only 26 so I like to see what these great players really did on the field. Albert Lewis was very impressive. Forgot Roger Werhli, he was really impressive. Saw a full game of Roger against Dallas on youtube in 1970 and he was unbelievable.

  5. I couldn't find your segment anywhere on youtube TJ. Out of curiosity who made your all time secondary and why?

    1. corners were richard "night train" lane and rod woodson, safeties emblem tunnell & ronnie lott....criteria is simple ....had to be outstanding in both run support and pass defense; especially the interception. are you interested in having my email address?

  6. Rod Woodson blitzed a lot i noticed in my film study and tackled well. He seemed to lose his concentration and get beat deep though, which I found troubling. I saw a lot of Ronnie Lott too, I thought he was more impressive at corner. in the early 80s. I've seen probably about 50 full games of Lott on youtube.

    Would love to have your email. Been reading your work for about 2 years and wish I found you sooner.

  7. Great article on Adderly, one of my favorite corners. I believe if he had started the 1972 NFC Championship Game instead of Charlie Waters, the Cowboys would have done better, but admittedly, the team had a major letdown, after that great come from behind win vs San Francisco...