1990 Review: Cowboys Win Opener, but Then Struggle
The Cowboys might have been optimistic entering the 1990 season, but struggles during the preseason didn’t give fans or the press much hope. The team was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (the cover read: CRUNCH! Troy Aikman and the Cowboys Get Hammered Again) in an article by Peter King. Mind you, the story focused on Dallas losses in preseason, but the story still made the cover of SI.
Since breaking camp in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 10, the Cowboys have stumbled in back-to-back preseason losses on the West Coast—28-16 to the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago and 16-14 to the Los Angeles Raiders last Saturday—and made it eminently clear that they are staring at another bleak season. Not as bleak as last fall, certainly, it only because their speed has improved dramatically. However, this looks like a 3-13 club, maybe 4-12.
The season started better than most would have expected, but after four games, the team stood at 1-3.
Week 1: Dallas 14, San Diego 14
In the team’s opener on September 9, the team accomplished matched its win total from 1989 with a 17-14 victory over San Diego. It broke a 14-game home losing streak that dated back to September 1988 and gave the team its first winning record (um, yes, 1-0) since 1987. The Cowboys opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman to former Bear Dennis McKinnon in what turned out to be McKinnon’s only touchdown with the Cowboys. San Diego came back to take a 14-7 lead, but a one-yard touchdown run by Aikman gave the Cowboys the win. Dan Henning’s decision to go for a fake punt with about six minutes remaining and the Chargers leading 14-10 helped in the Dallas win.
In Emmitt Smith’s first NFL game, the team’s leading rusher was… fullback Tommie Agee, of course. Agee had 59 yards on 13 carries. Smith had two yards on two carries.
Week 2: N.Y. Giants 28, Dallas 7
Although the Cowboys kept the game close against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants, thanks to a 90-yard kickoff return by rookie Alexander Wright, the Cowboys were no match in the end. Wright struggled as a receiver, dropping several passes. The other big-name rookie, Smith, had only 11 rushing yards in his first NFL start.
Week 3: Washington 19, Dallas 15
The Cowboys watched Chip Lohmiller kick four field goals during the first three quarters, followed by an interception return for a TD by Darrell Green. Smith scored his first NFL touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was all but over at that point.
Week 4: N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 17
Playing the Giants for the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys were still no match. Smith’s second career TD cut the New York lead to 17-10, but the Giants pulled away from there.
Aikman found a target in the second loss to the Giants. After completing a total of eight passes to new tight end Jay Novacek in the first three games of the season, Aikman hit Novacek on nine passes for 85 yards and a TD against the Giants.
It was certainly helpful that Aikman was finding a security blanket, especially by the time the Cowboys faced the Giants on September 30. Five days earlier, the Cowboys gave up their backup plan at QB by trading Steve Walsh to the Saints for first-round and third-round picks in 1991, plus a conditional pick in 1992.
The result: Dallas packaged the first-round pick (#14 overall) in a deal with New England that gave the Cowboys the #1 pick overall, with which the Cowboys took Russell Maryland. With the third-round pick (#70 overall), the Cowboys took tackle Erik Williams.