1999 Review: Early Lead Dissolves in Playoff Loss at Minnesota

This 11-day-old child got to "watch" the Cowboys' 27-10 loss to the Vikings in 1999. He would have to wait 10 more years before the Cowboys would win a playoff game.

I don’t recall anyone having faith that the Cowboys would travel to Minnesota and beat the Vikings in the 1999 playoffs. Dallas was 8-8 that season, compared with the Vikings’ 11-5 record. The only glimmer of hope was that the Cowboys had a 17-0 lead over the Vikings earlier that season but lost the lead when Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman went down with injuries.

For the 16th time in 17 games, the Cowboys held a lead in a football game. This was thanks to a short Eddie Murray field goal and a touchdown run by Smith in the first quarter.

For the 8th time in those 16 games in which the Cowboys led in 1999, Dallas blew the lead. Touchdown passes by Jeff George to Robert Smith and Randy Moss gave the Vikings a 17-10 lead at the half, and the Cowboys could not manage to score again. Rocket Ismail had a great game, catching 8 passes for 163 yards, while Smith gained nearly 100 yards on the ground (15 att., 99 yards). Dallas actually outgained Minnesota for the game, 389 yards to 374. However, Dallas committed three turnovers, including two fumbles.

Incidentally, you really know your Dallas Cowboys if you can name all three receivers who started for the Cowboys that day.

The franchise at that point did not appear to be heading up. Chan Gailey was not a popular coach among the fans or among players who mattered. Two days after the Cowboys’ loss, Jerry Jones fired Gailey. The news item:

Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones spent most of Tuesday morning and early afternoon alone in his Valley Ranch office. Late in the afternoon, he went to Mr. Gailey¬† ‘s office, where the head coach was meeting with assistants.

Mr. Jones stressed that he had no criticism of Mr. Gailey the person. He praised the coach’s integrity and diligence but pointed to the Cowboys’ offensive struggles as the reason for the move.

Mr. Gailey , 48, was the franchise’s fourth coach, hired in February 1998 to succeed Barry Switzer. Mr. Gailey ‘s record was 18-16 in two seasons, including two playoff losses.

“This decision that I had to make today was about football,” said Mr. Jones, who declined to give a timetable for naming a replacement. “It was not about egos. It was not about friendships gone awry.”

It was, in a nutshell, about a Cowboys offense that started strongly each of the last two seasons but waned in November and particularly December.

It was about a team that was the NFL’s most-penalized this season. It was about a team that started this season 3-0 but lost its final eight road games en route to an 8-9 finish, including Sunday’s 27-10 playoff loss at Minnesota.

Was it a product of an aging team wearing down, one that sorely missed injured wide receiver Michael Irvin? Or was it an offense that failed to use the talents of established stars such as quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and offensive lineman Larry Allen?

Mr. Jones sounded like a man who clearly faulted the system more than the players.

“They tried their hearts out,” he said. “They worked at it to try to make it productive. We just aren’t as productive offensively as we need to be, and we haven’t been the last two years.”

The 1999 Cowboys were ranked 11th in the league in points scored with 352 and 16th in total yards with 5,178. Dallas would not score more than 300 points in a season until 2005 and would no surpass 352 until 2006. As for yardage, Dallas fell from 16th in 1999 to 30th by 2002.

  • Mike Little

    Jerry since has publicly stated had he to do it over again,would not have fired Chan Gailey.Jerry should have fired himself as GM,but that was as likely as a Cowboy team going 13 years without a playoff win.Oops,my bad,that did happen.Thanks Jerry,another brilliant move with more to come.Can’t wait for the Quincy era to begin.