KYDC ’92: Cowboys Might Have Been the Hardest-Working Team

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

Jimmy Johnson during one of the off-season programs he ran in 1992.

The Dallas Cowboys were getting ready to start training camp twenty-five years ago. By then, the team had already completed three “quarterback camps,” which were not limited to quarterbacks.

According to the late Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys had the toughest off-season program of any team in the NFL.

On July 17, 1992, he wrote:

There’s his famous “quarterback camps,” another misnomer. At least three of those, with all hands commanded on deck. And there’s a rookie camp and the one legit (by NFL rules) mini-camp and what not. Possibly one-third of the off-season spent in structured, supervised workouts. Plus daily “volunteer’ sessions in the weight rooms and such.

“I don’t know what all other teams do,’ he said. “Some don’t even see their players from the end of the season to the start of training camp. I would say (he paused for proper understatement) we were one of the extremes.

“We have 100 percent player participation in our off-season program,’ he said proudly, “and that’s unheard of in the NFL.

“We have it for two reasons. First, we demand it, even though it’s voluntary.” Another pause, to let the grins subside. “And also because the players are excited about the team. They’re enthusiastic about it.’

Well, maybe. But Johnson’s modus operandi is that his players except it or traveling papers. They might as well enthuse-and-bear it if they like their current address. Benefits of work

It wasn’t always thus. Tom Landry had the reputation of a stern foreman, but he made no such off-season demands. One can remember when Hollywood Henderson refused to participate in off-season exercise because he wasn’t getting paid for it. Johnson does provide token money — $200 weekly for at least nine weeks.

“Our first year, players did not accept it enthusiastically. They were not used to it,” said Johnson. Of course, most of those players are now gone. The newcomers seem to accept, in some degree of grace, their year-round responsibility.

“Last year we were the least penalized team in the league,’ said the coach. “And that comes from conditioning and discipline.

“We didn’t have a lot of injuries. That also comes from conditioning. I like to think of us as a “physical’ team, and we’ll be even more physical this year.’

Those off-season exercises, of course, are without pads. Today there will be that extra 40 pounds luggage, plus serious contact between hulks. All this conducted on a hot grassy plain, occasionally and mercifully swept by breezes. Of course, should any of the wealthy young men complain of brutality, Johnson could always load them in a pickup and, within a few Austin blocks, show them laborers in blazing noonday sun, laying a tar roof, and for minimum wages.

***

Also in the news on July 17, 1992…

The Cowboys helped their secondary by signing safety Ray Horton, who had been with the Cowboys since 1989. The team was also expected to sign safety James Washington, cornerback Garry Lewis, and linebacker Vinson Smith. However, the team lost running back Ricky Blake for at least five games because he failed pre-season physicals.

So what happened?…

  • Horton started seven games in 1992, which was his final season as a pro. He had two interceptions along with a touchdown during his final season.
  • Smith started 13 games with Dallas in 1992 before being traded to Chicago after the season.
  • The Cowboys traded Lewis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in August 1992. The Cowboys obtained an eighth-round pick and selected defensive back Dave Thomas with it.
  • Blake never played in the NFL after failing the physical.

KYDC ’92: America’s Team II

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

If you wanted an America’s Team t-shirt in 1992, it might look like this one.

The Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s was so popular that sales of Cowboys merchandise represented 25% of all NFL merchandise. The team’s weekly magazine, Dallas Cowboys Weekly, once had more than 100,000 subscribers.

Then the 1980s happened. Between the 1982 playoffs and the 1991 playoffs, Dallas had not won a single playoff game. Everyone one was well aware of the 1-15 season in 1989 and the rows of empty seats at Texas Stadium. Subscriptions to Dallas Cowboys Weekly fell below 30,000.

Even the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders suffered. In the early 1980s, nearly 1,000 women would try out for the squad. By the end of the decade, the team had only about 250 auditioning.

The 1992 Cowboys were, according to some sports books, 4-to-1 favorites to win Super Bowl XXVII. The only team with better odds were the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins.

So the promise of the return to the good-old-days led Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw on July 5, 1992 to write a column entitled American’s Team II: Cowboys on Track to Regain Popularity of Super Bowl Era. Excerpts are below:

You can see it from the mailboxes in foreign countries to the sports books in Las Vegas to the cheerleader tryouts in Dallas. And you can hear it in NFL offices around the league.

“America’s Team’ is coming back.

To be sure, the Cowboys have not made it all the way back. One playoff victory, even if it was the franchise’s first since the 1982 season, does not equal the five Super Bowl trips the Cowboys made during the 1970s. And off the field, the club is not yet approaching the levels of devotion it attained in its prime.

But there are signs it’s moving back in that direction.

The team has regained its esteem with the television networks, as evidenced by the Monday night opener with Washington and the maximum three Monday Night Football appearances the club will make next season. The pre-season will include a trip to Tokyo to play the Oilers as the league hopes to cash in on the Cowboys’ international appeal.

“When we were down, there weren’t a lot of expectations or commitments,’ said coach Jimmy Johnson. “Without question, everybody’s attitude has made a 180-degree turn. Whereas the first year here (1989), it was almost a feeling of sympathy and the second year it was one of being somewhat skeptical, just hoping for a few wins, now the feeling is one of high expectations. The fans expect us not just to win but win big.’

That fan enthusiasm has translated into attendance records at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys’ average home crowd of 62,738 in 1991 was their largest since 1983. And they enter the 1992 season with a team-record 15-game streak of home crowds in excess of 60,000. During their Super Bowl era, Dallas’ longest streak of 60,000-plus was 11 games.

“That’s made possible by the great fan base we’ve had in the past,’ said owner Jerry Jones. “I think that, combined with the excitement of watching this team being rebuilt, has driven up the attendance. Even our first year, one of the promising things was there was no apathy from the fans. There was criticism, but it was done with interest in the team. And that’s a lot better than apathy.”

“With success in 1992, we can create more interest in our team than we could if it had not had success. The past success of the Dallas Cowboys is going to help us on the field,’ Jones said. “When a player puts on the Cowboys uniform or when you go to work for the organization, you’ve challenged yourself. The expectations automatically are high, and I really think that’s a plus.

“I would rather have people taking shots at me. I’d rather be trying to survive that kind of challenge than trying to prove you’re worthy.”

KYDC ’92: Perfect Attendance at Quarterback School

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

The Dallas Cowboys held quarterback school starting on June 15, 1992. The camp had perfect attendance.

Dallas Cowboys news was difficult to find in 1992. I’ve noted that before.

The news on June 16, 1992? The Cowboys had perfect attendance at quarterback school, thanks largely to high expectations for the team.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said his players’ 100-percent participation in yesterday’s start of a voluntary quarterback school at Valley Ranch is a first.

Johnson and others, including quarterback Troy Aikman, said the reason for the enthusiasm is the promise of where they believe the 1992 Cowboys could finish: first.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had 100-percent participation in a voluntary camp,” said Johnson after supervising the opening of the five-day session. “The weight room is as full as it’s ever been. Everyone is involved, including some of the unsigned veterans who are not on the field but are attending meetings.”

Why the perfect attendance?

“They all know we’ll have an outstanding team,” Johnson said.

Johnson has rarely been hesitant about issuing such confident statements. Shortly after the 11-5 Cowboys lost in the second round of the National Football League playoffs last year, Johnson made noise about reaching the National Football Conference championship game this year.

Usually less vocal is Aikman, who this year sees the Cowboys as being Super Bowl-caliber.

“I’m not predicting it,” the fourth-year quarterback said. “What I do believe is that this team now has the talent and the confidence to play with any team in the league. And that means we have as good a chance as anybody to make it to the Super Bowl.”

In other news…

  • Backup QB Steve Beuerlein was fine after he checked himself into a hospital, complaining of nausea and dizziness.
  • Nate Newton had weighed as much as 400 pounds during the offseason but was down to 329 at the start of quarterback school.
  • Jimmy Johnson called rookie receiver Jimmy Smith an “excellent receiver,” while Alvin Harper had been the best off-season performer.

KYDC ’92: What Tecmo Super Bowl Got So Wrong

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

Alexander Wright was S L O W in Tecmo Super Bowl but a bit faster in real life. “RS” stands for “running speed,” while “MS” stands for “maximum speed.”

The Dallas defense of the early 1990s was built on speed, but the offense really wasn’t. As great as they were, neither Michael Irvin nor Emmitt Smith were about to win the NFL’s fastest man competition.

But did you know that the Cowboys had the NFL’s fastest man? Yep, on June 7, 1992, the Dallas papers reported that Dallas receiver Alexander Wright had defeated Phoenix wide receiver Randal Hill in a 60-yard dash to win the title as the fastest man in the league. Wright’s time was 6.14. He had previously defeated Dwight Stone of the Steelers and James Williams of the Bills.

The top seed in the competition was former Olympian Willie Gault of the Raiders, but he had been upset by Stone in the semifinals.

Wright was a second-round pick in 1990 out of Auburn. During his first two seasons, he caught 21 passes but had not yet caught a touchdown. His longest reception up to that point was a 53-yard catch against Cincinnati in 1991.

He also made the cut as the third receiver for the Cowboys in Tecmo Super Bowl, which used the team’s 1990 roster. The digital version of Wright was not good. In fact, only one player on the entire roster was slower than Wright, and that was guard Kevin Gogan. The digital player who were faster than Wright? Among others, center Mark Stepnoski, guard Crawford Ker, guard John Gesek, and defensive end Daniel Stubbs.

A player equally as fast as Wright? Try Nate Newton.

***
(This should go without saying, but I am kidding about Tecmo Super Bowl’s ratings, which are not supposed to simulate anything. But while we’re on the subject, Stone had a running speed rating of 31, which was slower than running back Merril Hoge, who was never known for speed in real life. Meanwhile, Gault had a running speed rating of 44 and a maximum speed rating of 63. Those are respectable but could not compare with Bo Jackson’s god-like abilities, and both were on the same team!)

***

Winning the competition proved to be the highlight of Wright’s 1992 season in Dallas. In three games in 1992, he failed to make a catch, and the Cowboys traded him to the Raiders for a conditional pick in the 1993 draft.

Wright wound up as a starter with the Raiders but never caught more than 27 passes in a single season. He might have been best known for one of Chris Berman’s longest nicknames—Alexander “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be” Wright.

Dallas used the pick from the Raiders to take guard Ron Stone, who would probably be just as fast in Tecmo Super Bowl terms.

KYDC ’92: Rookie Chad Hennings Has His First Practice

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

The 1988 draft—the last one conducted while Tom Landry was head coach and Tex Schramm was general manager and president—proved to be significant thanks to the selection of Michael Irvin in the first round and linebacker Ken Norton in the second.

Most of the other picks did not amount to much, but the eleventh round selection of Chad Hennings proved to be helpful.

Hennings played for Air Force and won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in colleget football. But he was committed to four years of service. Dallas drafted him in the eleventh round of the 1988 draft knowing he would not be available for several years.

By 1992, Hennings was a 26-year-old rookie. He was actually allowed to play several years ahead of schedule because the armed services had made cutbacks.

He had his first practice on June 2, 1992, and he had been switched from defensive tackle to defensive end. His comment:

I had a little nervousness about today, but it’s great to be here. This is something I’ve waited four years to do. I can kind of understand all the attention today, and I know there are people making comparisons to Roger Staubach. But it’s a different person, a different time period.

I’ve got to prove myself is what it boils down to. I’ve got a long way to go.

Hennings only played in eight games in 1992 and continued to play sparingly during the early 1990s. He became a regular starter in 1996 and continued to play through the 2000 season, but he had injury problems that forced him to retire.

***

Former New York Giants head coach Bill Parcells had open heart surgery on June 2. It was his third heart surgery in a six-month period.

Of course, Parcells would recover and became the Cowboys’ head coach eleven years later.

KYDC ’92: Jerry and Stephen Jones Take on More Personnel Responsibilities

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

Jerry Jones, right, added to his personnel responsibilities in 1992 after firing Bob Ackles and making other moves in the scouting department.

Ever wonder why Stephen Jones is so involved with player contracts?

Well, I didn’t, but I know now.

After the Cowboys fired Bob Ackles, the person who assumed the main responsibility for handling player contracts was Jerry Jones’s son. At the time, Stephen was 27 years old.

Of course, Jerry had the final say in all contract matters, so perhaps it just made sense that his son would handle the contracts. Apparently, Ackles had basically been a “mouthpiece” for Jerry.

According to Stephen:

The only major change is who will be doing the speaking for (Jerry)

At the time of this news, Dallas still had twelve veterans who were unsigned. These players included Michael Irvin, Bill Bates, Ray Horton, Jim Jeffcoat, Ken Norton, Jay Novacek, Mark Stepnoski, Tony Tolbert and James Washington. In other words, some big names.

Fortunately, the league was a year away from full-blow free agency, so the Cowboys were not in immediate danger of losing any of these stars.

So the shakeup in scouting and personnel was a big deal 25 years ago today, but it’s hard to tell whether it really mattered. Jimmy Johnson and his assistants were heavily involved in the scouting process, and Jerry had the final word on contracts anyway.

How Jerry and Stephen handled the salary cap a few years later became a big concern, and the team’s scouting after Johnson’s departure was usually poor.

Know Your 1992 Dallas Cowboys: So Long, Bob Ackles

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

 

Bob Ackles held the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup in 1985. He did not stay in Dallas long enough to hold the Lombardi Trophy.

News about the Cowboys twenty-five years ago focused heavily on scouting.

First, the Cowboys went after Larry Lacewell to become the head of player personnel.

Six hours after Lacewell officially joined the Cowboys, Jerry Jones fired director of player personnel Bob Ackles.

Ackles joined the Cowboys in 1986, so he was there during the worst of times. He was director player personnel when the franchise’s hopes rested on players such as Hershel Walker, Steve Pelleur, Danny Noonan, and so forth.

But he was also there when the Cowboys drafted the core of what became the dynasty of the 1990s. Ackles was partially responsible for contract negotiations, scouting, and talent acquisition.

Of course, almost nobody remembers him for playing a role in building the core of the team that would win the Super Bowl in eight months.

Ackles later became a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame in honor of his contributions to the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. After his firing by Jones, Ackles returned to the Lions and remained here until his death in 2008.

 

Know Your 1992 Dallas Cowboys: Team Recruits Scout Larry Lacewell

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

Twenty-five years ago, the Cowboys were talking to Larry Lacewell, defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee, to become director of scouting.

On May 19, 1992…

The Dallas Cowboys were building a dynasty during the early 1990s, so scouting was critical. Jimmy Johnson received much credit for spotting talent, but others were obviously very involved.

Anyone remember who was the director of scouting in the early 1990s?

Several would probably say Larry Lacewell, who served from 1992 to 2004. In fact, on May 19, 1992, reports surfaced that the team was recruiting Lacewell, who had been the head coach at Arkansas State and who was serving as defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. He had worked with Johnson at Oklahoma State.

Before Lacewell was Dick Mansperger, who had been with the Cowboys from 1972 to 1976, then with the Seahawks from 1976 to 1983, then again with the Cowboys. The reason Mansperger left was “uncertainty of the future of the NFL draft and the pros’ relations with the colleges.”

Lacewell remained with the Cowboys through thick and thin during the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s. He retired after the 2003 season, when Dallas made the playoffs after recording a 10-6 record.

Beuerlein and others file an antitrust lawsuit

The Cowboys may not have made the playoffs in 1991 if it weren’t for quarterback Steve Beuerlein.

He made news in other ways during the offseason in 1992. He sued the league for antitrust violations. Others involved in the suit were Marcus Allen and Freeman McNeil.

Beuerlein’s beef was with the Los Angeles Raiders, not the Cowboys. Raiders owner Al Davis had prevented Beuerlein from leaving the team before finally trading the quarterback to Dallas for a fourth-round pick in August 1991.

Beuerlein’s comment:

I never said anything at the time because it just would have made my situation worse. But I didn’t want to just sit back and let that team and its owner (Al Davis) walk away free after treating a player like that. It wasn’t fair and this is my attempt to take a stand against it.

Full free agency began in 1993, and Beuerlein left the Cowboys to join the Cardinals in April 1993.

In other news…

Michael Jordan won his third NBA Most Valuable Player award after leading the Chicago Bulls to a 67-15 record.

Know Your 1992 Dallas Cowboys: Former Backup Babe Laufenberg Joins World League

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

By 1992, most fans had forgotten all about Babe Laufenberg.

Not much news about the Cowboys on May 12, 1992, so today’s post is about a former backup.

The Cowboys might have made the playoffs in 1990 if Troy Aikman had remained healthy during the last two games against the Eagles and Falcons. The team might have had a chance if Dallas had kept a quality backup.

Instead, Dallas traded Steve Walsh, leaving Babe Laufenberg as the backup. He completed on 23 of 60 passes with six interceptions and one touchdown during losses to both Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Twenty-five years ago today, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Laufenberg, who was the backup quarterback on the Ohio Glory of the World League. Thus, he was the backup for the worst football team in the worst professional football league.

The story:

It’s Year 9 in the professional football career of Babe Laufenberg and he is in a familiar position: sitting.

He has been remarkably consistent over the years, sitting for the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys, watching as some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks marched those teams up and down football fields, such passers as Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien and Troy Aikman.

In eight NFL seasons, Laufenberg played in 16 games.

But now he sits for the woeful Ohio Glory of the World League, an expansion team in a league that commands about as much attention as rudeness in New York.

He sits in such places as Barcelona and Montreal and San Antonio. Most recently, he sat in Columbus, Ohio, watching Pat O’Hara, who was a backup quarterback at USC, lead the Glory to their first victory of the season after six dismal losses, a 20-17 thriller over the Frankfurt Galaxy.

Laufenberg, 32, is the backup quarterback for the worst football team in the worst pro football league on the planet.

And this World League, is it, oh, different from the NFL?

“Well,” Laufenberg said, “let me say this: The football is still oblong.”

Things weren’t supposed to happen this way for the talented, 6-foot-3, 218-pound Laufenberg when he left Crespi High in Encino in 1978.

He accepted a scholarship to Stanford but immediately encountered a problem: a better quarterback on his team. It was the start of a trend.

At Stanford, the other guy was John Elway.

So, after sitting in Palo Alto for a year, Laufenberg transferred to Pierce College and played at the Woodland Hills school for a season. Then he transferred to Indiana, and in two seasons as the starter he set school records for yards passing in a season and completions in a career, 361; season, 217, and game, 34.

It was a brief, stand-up stint in Laufenberg’s career. He was about to sit again.

He was drafted by the Redskins on the sixth round in 1983. In two years, he had no game action. Not a single snap. His second season, he was on injured reserve for the entire season.

The Redskins released Laufenberg in 1985. That, too, was the start of a trend.

The Chargers signed him in 1985 and cut him the same year.

The Redskins signed him again, after Theismann’s leg was broken before a stunned national audience in a Monday night game late in 1985.

Laufenberg was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the time, and watched in a bar as Theismann went down with the injury. He suspected he might get a call from the Redskins. His brother, John, took the call in Los Angeles and eventually got word to Laufenberg.

A quick flight to Los Angeles, where he was met by John, who handed him a clean bag of clothes; another flight to Philadelphia and a late-night drive to Washington brought Laufenberg back into the NFL.

All that effort resulted in another season on the bench. Not a single snap.

In the next five years, Laufenberg went to New Orleans, to Kansas City, back to the Redskins for one game, to San Diego and to Dallas. His best chance at getting to a standing position over time was offered by the Chargers, for whom he started the first six games of the 1988 season. Then, he suffered three broken ribs and never played for San Diego again.

He closed out his NFL career and, he figured, his football career, as the Cowboys’ backup. They released him before the 1991 season, and he found a job that was perfect for his NFL experience, sitting and talking, as the broadcaster for the Cowboys’ flagship radio station in Dallas, KVIL, and as a host of a syndicated TV show for the Cowboys.

“Football was over,” Laufenberg said. “I had my chances. Things didn’t work out real well for me in the NFL, but I never complained. Most guys never get a chance to be on an NFL team for a single game. I hung around for eight years. In San Diego, I had my real chance and I did well. And then I broke some ribs, and when I healed I didn’t have a job. The transition to radio and TV made it easy. I missed football. But not too much.”

More, however, than he knew.

When the new Ohio franchise made Laufenberg the No. 2 overall draft pick during the winter, he packed his bags, kissed his wife, Joan, goodby and headed for Glory. He will earn about $25,000 for the season.

That’s something else different from the NFL.

“At a quick glance, the paycheck looks the same,” Laufenberg said. “But when you look closer you see that there’s a decimal point where the comma used to be. It looks like a huge check, if you use your imagination. Banks, however, don’t have much of an imagination when you go to cash the check.”

At first, Laufenberg said, he was thrilled that his wife had given her blessings to his new endeavor.

“After a few weeks with this team, I realized that she must have been mad at me,” Laufenberg said. “She obviously had checked it out and knew something that I didn’t.”

Know Your 1992 Dallas Cowboys: How Did History Remember the ’92 Draft?

This post is part of the 1992 Season in Review series, marking the 25th anniversary of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl championship season.

Dallas had two picks in the first round of the 1992 draft.

Not much news about the Cowboys on May 10, 1992.

Here’s a question posed by Fort Worth Star Telegram writer Mike Fisher:

Will history remember the Dallas Cowboys’ 1992 draft list as being anything more than really, really long?

If so – if the Cowboys’ 15-man menagerie of Carson-Newman newcomers and Livingstone College candidates and Pomona-Pitzer prospects – it could be instructive for other National Football League teams. Because the Cowboys will have demonstrated that when it comes to drafting, it matters not only what you know, but who you know.

Answer: Not bad.

The Carson-Newman draft pick was Clayton Holmes, who lasted four seasons through 1995. The Pomona-Pitzer pick was a defensive back named Nate Kirtman, who never played a down in the NFL. Livingstone College’s John Terry, a guard, also never played a down in the league.

Dallas had four picks in the first round, and those four picks produced cornerback Kevin Smith, linebacker Robert Jones, receiver Jimmy Smith, and safety Darren Woodson. That’s three starters, and Woodson became a legend.

Smith also became a legend, only it was with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

***

One of Fisher’s predictions:

A prediction: Dallas’ use of the no-huddle offense will, by September, have blossomed into something more than an experiment. . . .

A don’t recall the Cowboys using the no-huddle offense much at all in 1992.

***

Other news from the NFC East: Randall Cunningham looked healthy after missing most of the 1991 season with an injury. He was the league MVP in 1990, but Philadelphia fell to 10-6 and missed the playoffs in 1991.