No, really. They stopped church.
Jesse Holley was at the Nike store inside a mall in Dallas trying to buy a pair of sneakers when he felt a man staring at him. Eventually, the man walked up to the then-Cowboys wide receiver and put Holley's face with the name he saw on television two days earlier.
"He goes, 'You held up church,'" Holley remembered the other day. "Now, how did I hold up church? He said, 'Our pastor is a huge Cowboys fan, and he said he would not leave out of his office until he saw the end result of the game. We kept going into the pastor, 'It's time to go. It's time to go.' He would tell the congregation to sing another song, sing another praise of worship song. Then all of a sudden, we hear yelling from his office, and we all rushed in and he's jumping around and praising God with you as you were making this play.' I fell out laughing."
Holley's 77-yard reception in overtime set up Dan Bailey's game-winning field goal in the Cowboys' 27-24 win at Candlestick Park against the 49ers that day in 2011, but that victory in their final visit to the stadium was as memorable as any the Cowboys have had in years because of all the storylines.
Early in the game, 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith hammered Tony Romo. Still, the Cowboys quarterback remained on the field through the first half. At halftime, he had X-rays.
Not until 37 seconds remained in the third quarter did Romo return. The medical staff wanted him to wait for the pain-killing medicine to take effect.
"That's one of my favorite games for him," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "I can still see him kind of jogging back out of the tunnel where so many great football players have played in that stadium. Just to see him come back in, I don't think any of us envisioned that. Then that long pass to Jesse Holley, of all people, I think it just showed what Tony was all about."
In the fourth quarter and overtime, Romo completed 12 of 15 passes for 201 yards to lead a 10-point comeback and ultimately the three-point win.
Romo's parents, Ramiro and Joan, were in the stands at Candlestick. When they noticed their son was not on the field in the third quarter, they spoke to stadium security, who escorted them to the field.
"Then all of a sudden, here comes Tony out on the field," Ramiro Romo said. "Somehow, some way, he finagled his way back in the game. Joan and I are like, "Oh, my gosh. He must be OK.' So we stand there and we can tell he was kind of in pain. Well, we're down on the field and we might as well wait here. Tony comes toward us on the way to the locker room and says, 'Mom, don't hug me.' I said, 'What's wrong?' And he said he broke a rib and it was hard to breathe."
After the game, Romo needed help turning down the collar of his dress shirt. He struggled carrying his bag to the team buses.
A day later, Ramiro and Joan went to Napa, California, with family for a little vacation when Ramiro received a call from his mother. He knew about the broken rib. He didn't know about the punctured lung.
Romo never missed a game. He played with a Kevlar vest for extra protection and took pain-killing injections for a number of games that season.
"There's a tremendous amount of pride in your son for putting himself in harm's way with an injury that really was unbeknownst to him," Ramiro said. "I don't think he knew he punctured a lung, either. But to be able to suck it up, help the team, I can't tell you how proud I am of him and what he did for the organization in that particular game. We're definitely proud of him but at the same time very scared."
Garrett's first win
Jason Garrett earned the full-time coaching job by leading the Cowboys to a 5-3 finish after replacing Wade Phillips in the middle of the 2010 season, while Romo was out with a broken collarbone. The Cowboys lost their 2011 season opener on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets the week before flying to San Francisco.
Looking for inspiration, Garrett told the Cowboys in his Saturday night speech that California was the "land of opportunity." With starters Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman out, Alan Ball started at corner and intercepted a pass. Undrafted free agent Kevin Kowalski was playing on the offensive line after an injury. Receiver Miles Austin had three touchdowns in the game but hurt his hamstring. Jon Kitna threw a touchdown pass while filling in for Romo. Then there was Holley, who had previously been working security and selling cell phones.
Maybe somewhere Garrett has a game ball from this first win as the full-time coach, but the day stands out in his memory.
"Oh, I thought it was an amazing day in so many different ways," Garrett said. "It was a long time ago, but there were a lot of different guys playing, guys in and out of the lineup, guys responding. Jon Kitna played a lot in that game. Tony Romo came back into that game. Our receivers were depleted. Jesse Holley makes the big play at the end of the game, so there were a lot of things that were memorable about that game. We were down late in the ballgame, and our team just fought back. If you remember, we had a disappointing loss the week before against the Jets, and our team just did a really good job responding that week. Different guys in the lineup, and somehow, someway we scratched, we clawed, we found a way to win that game."
Mr. '4th and Long'
Holley earned a spot on the Cowboys' training camp roster in 2009 because he had won a reality show, "4th and Long," run by Michael Irvin. With Dez Bryant out with a bruised thigh, Holley was looking at his first legitimate action as the third receiver.
But then minutes before kickoff, wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said rookie Dwayne Harris would take the role that Holley ran all week in practice.
"It literally crushed my spirit," Holley said. "That entire pregame I was crying, in tears, because I was so upset. I was like, 'Man, what do I have to do to really get these people to see that I can play?"
All it took was a number of mental mistakes by Harris and a hamstring strain suffered by Austin late in the fourth quarter.
Holley pulled in the first two catches of his career on the Cowboys' game-tying drive, then in overtime, he made the game-clinching play.
"The name of the play was Z Poker, and that's not the play Coach Garrett called in," Holley said. "Coach Garrett called in 585 Harvey. I know this because I was standing next to Tony and I could hear the speaker in his helmet and he called 585 Harvey, which is a staple, if you know Coach Garrett's playbook."
Holley broke off the line as if he was blocking on a run, with running back Tashard Choice carrying out the play-fake. As the safety bit, Holley took off down the field.
"I see the safety playing the run and I'm thinking, 'He's not really going to fall for this, is he?'" Holley said. "I see him bite and I'm thinking, 'OK, where is the ball? Where is the ball? Come on ball?' And like out of the shadows of the linemen, you just see the ball coming. This is it. This is it. Somebody asked me, 'Did you think I was going to drop it? ... I wasn't the fastest guy, but I know I was going to catch the damn ball."
Holley caught it at midfield and had an open field in front of him.
"I can just feel me running out of gas," Holley said. "I can hear Donte Whitner. I can hear him breathing as he's running up on me."
Whitner tackled Holley at the 1. On his knees, Holley looked to the heavens. A play later, Bailey kicked the winner.
On the plane ride home, Holley asked Romo why he changed the play.
"He gave me that classic Tony Romo smile with the dimples and said, 'Well, you told me you were ready,'" Holley said. "That was enough for me. I don't need any other explanation."
The rookie kicker
Bailey won the kicking job in training camp largely because the four other veterans failed. For the fourth preseason game, the Cowboys had four kickers on their roster. Dave Rayner missed both of his attempts against the Miami Dolphins. David Buehler missed one of his two attempts.
In Week 2 at San Francisco, Bailey thought he might be the next kicker looking for a job. He pushed a 21-yard attempt wide to the right on the first drive.
"Pretty much everything," Bailey said when asked what went through his mind after the miss. "I felt a little rushed. I guess we just got out there late or something. Just pushed it and I'm thinking, 'Oh, great.' I didn't know because I hadn't been in a lot of games at that point. Obviously, I watched the NFL before and all the games are close, so I figured it would come back to haunt me in a sense."
Punter Mat McBriar and long snapper L.P. Ladouceur consoled Bailey, telling him he would get another chance. With four seconds to play in regulation, Bailey was staring at a 48-yard kick to send the game to overtime. Into the wind, Bailey was true. In overtime, he kicked a 19-yarder to win it.
The next week Bailey, made all six of his field-goal attempts and the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins 18-16. He would go on to make 26 straight attempts. He is now the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
"Looking back now, that's probably the best thing that could've happened to me in a sense," Bailey said. "I mean, obviously, I would've loved to have made it, but to that much of a low and that much of a high in one game really kind of gave me a baseline on how to keep that happy medium."