1996 Review: Let the Era of Distractions Begin!

The Cowboys' image suffered with a series of incidents during the 1996 offseason. Things didn't get better soon.

The Cowboys had distractions during their Super Bowl years, including Erik Williams missing much of the 1994 season after a car wreck; Williams facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old dancer (later dropped); Leon Lett and Clayton HolmesĀ  facing drug suspensions; and so forth. Still, the talk of the town after Super Bowl XXX was that the Cowboys would go for an unprecedented fourth title in five years. The team had the talent to do so, but then…

On March 3, receiver Michael Irvin was arrested in a hotel room in Irving, and police found cocaine and marijuana in his room. Irvin and teammate Alfredo RobertsĀ  were in the room with two dancers/models (and I’ll let you recall on your own what was going on in the room).

There was news that the Cowboys had rented a house– referred to as the White House– where players could share drugs and women. The Cowboys also decided to sign linebacker Broderick Thomas, who a year earlier faced charges unlawfully carrying a weapon as well as for drunk driving. Sadly: “if this is America’s team, then woe is America.”

The Cowboys continued their string of subpar drafts in 1996 as well, which didn’t help matters. Dallas had five picks in the second and third rounds and did manage to find a quality starter in linebacker Randall Godfrey. However, second-round pick Kavika Pittman only managed 10 total sacks in four years. Center Clay Shiver didn’t make anyone forget about Mark Stepnoski. Stepfret Williams caught 30 passes in 1997, which was his final season in Dallas. The others who played at all played special teams.

Here is the draft summary:

2(37) Kavika Pittman, DE, McNeese State
2(49) Randall Godfrey, LB, Georgia
3(67) Clay Shiver, C, Florida State
3(94) Stepfret Williams, WR, La.-Monroe
3(95) Mike Ulufale, DT, BYU
5(157) Kenneth McDaniel, T, Norfolk State
5(167) Alan Campos, LB, Louisville
6(207) Wendell Davis, DB, Oklahoma
7(243) Ryan Wood, RB, Arizona State

The Cowboys also continued to lose quality players that robbed the team of its talent level and depth. Jay Novacek never played a game again after Super Bowl XXX because of his back problems. Russell Maryland and Larry Brown both signed as free agents with the Oakland Raiders. Linebacker Dixon Edwards left for Minnesota, while linebacker Robert Jones left for St. Louis. Charles Haley only saw limited action because of injury and only managed one sack in 1996.

What would help the Cowboys was that Deion Sanders was still the premiere shutdown corner in the NFL. He also spent the offseason preparing to play receiver, and after Irvin’s trial and subsequent five-game suspension, the team needed Sanders on offense more than it would like.

  • Jason Neighbors

    Indeed one of the more disappointing drafts in Cowboys history, not least because they really needed some big hits at this point.

  • andy hernandez

    What’s interesting in hindsight was that this problem of players getting into trouble had always been around but this in effect started the modern problem of player conduct that the NFL has had to deal with for 14 years. And out came the Cowboy jokes about this which from time to time you’ll still hear. Jones did do a good job of cleaning this up and you hardly hear about this happening now (Pacman Jones not withstanding) while other players in other teams have done things that made Irvin’s transgression look like jaywalking.

    Remember that playoff game later that year when Panther fans dressed up as convicts to make fun of the Cowboys. karma is a #$#@$ as that organization took a major hit the following years with their players (Ray Carruth anyone?).

  • We had struck gold so many times between ’89 and ’93 that I thought surely we’d have some luck. Instead, we struck a different four-letter word. Carver, Pittman, Ellis, and Ekuban weren’t busts in the sense that they didn’t make the team or never became starters. However, the whole idea behind aiming for DEs was to try to replace Haley and Tolbert. It never came close to happening. The same was true at TE, though David LeFleur might have turned out better if it weren’t for injuries. The linebackers in these drafts (Godfrey, Coakley, Nguyen) weren’t bad at all, but I would have much preferred to have Norton, Edwards, Darrin Smith, etc.