1991 Review: Thank You, Steve Beuerlein

Steve Beuerlein replaced an injured Troy Aikman and helped to lead the Cowboys to five straight victories.

Between 1960 and week 9 of the 1986 season, the Cowboys won 72.3% of their games. During week 9 that season, Danny White broke his wrist, which precipitated the franchise’s collapse. We would be hard-pressed to find another single game that marked such a dramatic turning point.

Five years later, another game had a similar effect, only from a much more positive perspective. On November 24, 1991, the 6-5 Cowboys traveled to Washington to face the 11-0 Redskins. Dallas jumped out to a 14-7 lead thanks to an Emmitt Smith touchdown and a Hail Mary from Troy Aikman to Alvin Harper at the end of the first half.

On the opening series of the second half, though, the Cowboys lost Aikman with an injured knee. Most fans had to remember the end of the 1990 season in which the team failed to make the playoffs thanks to another Aikman injury. The 1991 season was different, thanks to Steve Beuerlein.

The veteran quarterback picked up from the Raiders just before the season began wasn’t especially flashy against the Redskins or any other team in 1991. Against the Redskins, he completed only 7 of 12 passes for 109 yards. However, he came through when it mattered most, hitting Michael Irvin on a 24-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter give Dallas a 21-7 lead. The Cowboys held on to win, 24-21.

Consider this:

Between 1980 and week 9 of the 1986 season, the Cowboys went 67-30 during the regular season and 5-5 in the playoffs.

Between week 9 of the 1986 season and week 12 of the 1991 season, the Cowboys went 25-57 with no playoff appearances.

Between week 12 of the 1991 season and the end of the 1996 season, the Cowboys went 64-21 with a 12-3 playoff record.

Hard to say whether the Cowboys accomplish this if Aikman hadn’t been hurt, and I can recall debating this several times during the 1990s on the old ESPN boards. I still believe Beuerlein’s presence in the latter part of the 1991 season was vital in the team’s progression.

Here is a video focusing on the Beuerlein story in 1991:

  • Tim Truemper

    I always thought Steve Beurlein was a very good QB. Living here in Carolina Panthers country, I got to see him alot. Before dallas acquired him, and before Troy was in the league, I used to think of him as one of those players Dallas should try to get. His Pro Football Reference page shows he was not active for 1990–maybe that is why Oakland got rid of him to Dallas–any body know?

  • Jason Neighbors

    Did he hold out in 1990 or something like that?

  • Matt, I’m curious to know what it is that makes you think that the Cowboys wouldn’t have had similar or better results if Aikman hadn’t been injured?

    Do you think they just needed a little change of pace at that point?

    Was it that they needed a little more leadership at the QB position and Aikman was still lacking in that department?

    I agree that Beurlein was a capable field general but I wasn’t involved in the old debates so I was just wondering what your justification was.

  • He held out for much of the season and fell out of favor with Al Davis. Given that the Raiders made the AFC title game in 1990 without him, his value decreased considerably.

  • Up to that point, I think everyone expected Aikman to lead the Cowboys to wins the same way that Marino and Elway led their teams. In other words, Aikman would have to put up stats for the team to be successful. What Beuerlein showed, I think, was that the team had pieces in place to be successful with a QB who was efficient in using his weapons but who did not have to throw the ball 50 times a game for the team to win. Consider this: In 1992, the highest number of passes that Aikman threw in a game was 38, and that was in a 31-7 loss to Philadelphia. In his 12 games in 1991, Aikman threw the ball 39 or more times in four games, and the team went 1-3 during those games. The Cowboys played in some tight games under Beuerlein, but Dallas never relied on Beuerlein to try to take the game over through the air. He made big plays to Irvin and Novacek at the right time, and Emmitt showed that he could carry the team on his back at other times. I’m not sure the team would have taken quite the same approach in the final four games in 1991, and given that he was basically a .500 QB at that point, I don’t think the results would be better.

  • Point taken, you’re probably right in that if Aikman hadn’t gone down, they probably would have maintained those same expectations and essentially forced him to throw the ball as many times as needed to win games when it probably wasn’t the best thing for the team. Beurlein didn’t lower the expectation to win but changed the direction of the team and probably allowed a lot of people up top to shift their focus as well. You could very well be correct in that if he hadn’t gone down, we might not have had so many wonderful years in the 90’s.

  • What a great walk down memory lane. I’d forgotten all about Steve Beuerlein’s contribution that season. It’s nice to remember the little known and forgotten happenings that come up year after year.

    Beuerlein is one of those quarterbacks that probably could have had a much better career if he’d hooked up with a franchise that would’ve given him a chance to be their main guy for the long haul. I’m not saying he could’ve been an Aikman, Marino, or Manning. I’m saying he could’ve been a Steve Grogan, Steve Bartkowski, Ken Anderson, or Brian Sipe… instead of just one of the best journeyman quarterbacks of his era.