Worst of the Worst: Most Disappointing Seasons in Franchise History

The Cowboys’ terrible performance in 2010 was stunning, and most would consider it to be the most disappointing in the franchise’s history. The focus of this post is whether the 2010 season has any competitors when it comes to most disappointing.

The Cowboys have had a losing record in 16 of 51 seasons. The team was obviously in building or rebuilding mode in several of these seasons, so expectations were low entering into the season. There have been other seasons in which Dallas was expected to make the playoffs, yet just missed after barely getting over the .500 mark.

The list below includes 21 seasons in which the Cowboys either had a losing record or were expected to make the playoffs but failed to qualify. Any season in which the team may have struggled but still made the playoffs (e.g., 1999, 2006) were excluded.

Lg Tm W L T Pts PtsO PtDif Coaches
1960 NFL Dallas Cowboys 0 11 1 177 369 -192 Landry
1961 NFL Dallas Cowboys 4 9 1 236 380 -144 Landry
1962 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 8 1 398 402 -4 Landry
1963 NFL Dallas Cowboys 4 10 0 305 378 -73 Landry
1964 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 8 1 250 289 -39 Landry
1965 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 7 0 325 280 45 Landry
1974 NFL Dallas Cowboys 8 6 0 297 235 62 Landry
1984 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 308 308 0 Landry
1986 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 9 0 346 337 9 Landry
1987 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 8 0 340 348 -8 Landry
1988 NFL Dallas Cowboys 3 13 0 265 381 -116 Landry
1989 NFL Dallas Cowboys 1 15 0 204 393 -189 Johnson
1990 NFL Dallas Cowboys 7 9 0 244 308 -64 Johnson
1997 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 304 314 -10 Switzer
2000 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 294 361 -67 Campo
2001 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 246 338 -92 Campo
2002 NFL Dallas Cowboys 5 11 0 217 329 -112 Campo
2004 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 293 405 -112 Parcells
2005 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 325 308 17 Parcells
2008 NFL Dallas Cowboys 9 7 0 362 365 -3 Phillips
2010 NFL Dallas Cowboys 6 10 0 394 436 -42 Garrett,Phillips
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/5/2011.

Some of these seasons simply don’t rank with the 2010 in terms of overall disappointment because nobody expected much at all from the team. The teams below didn’t make the “cut.”

1960: Dallas was an expansion team and didn’t even have the benefit of a draft. The 0-11-1 mark wasn’t quite what anyone expected, but it was hardly stunning.

1961: Same as 1960.

1962: Same as 1960 and 1961, except that the Cowboys had quite an explosive offense in ’62.

1964: After a disappointing 1963 campaign, the Cowboys continued to have trouble winning games. This could not have been a surprise.

1965: Thanks to a three-game winning streak, Dallas managed a .500 mark. It was not what the team expected, but Dallas played in the Playoff Bowl in 1965 thanks to its second-place finish in the Eastern Division.

1987: Most hoped that the Cowboys would return to the playoffs in 1987 after the losing record in 1986, but the 7-8 finish was hardly a big surprise.

1988: The Cowboys were a mix of over-the-hill veterans and a group of untalented youngsters. No surprise that a 3-13 season would result.

1989: Dallas had even less talent that the ’88 squad had.

1990: Nobody thought the Cowboys would be within a win of making the playoffs, so the 7-9 mark and the season as a whole were more positive than negative.

2001: The Quincy Carter experiment was not going to go well, and the results in the first season of this experiment were not surprising.

2002: This team was better than the ’00 and ’01 squads, but Dave Campo hadn’t proven himself a winner, and the 5-11 mark didn’t turn out to be a big surprise.

This leaves ten teams, which I’ve ranked as follows:

10. 2005 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: There was no way that a Bill Parcells team would miss the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Dallas had a good draft and a better quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. This team was ready to take a few steps forward.

The result: After a 7-3 start, the team only managed two more wins. The Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs before they took the field in week 17, and the team promptly lost to the lowly Rams.

Why it was not more disappointing: Dallas fans had endured three 5-11 seasons from ’00 to ’02, along with a 6-10 mark in ’04. A 9-7 record was actually an improvement.

9. 1984 Season (9-7, 2nd place in the NFC East)

The hype: QB Gary Hogeboom was the answer. He would deliver what Danny White couldn’t.

The result: The Cowboys started 4-3 and limped their way to a 9-7 even after White returned to the starting lineup.

Why it was not more disappointing: The team missed the playoffs, but after three consecutive losses in NFC title games from ’80 to ’82, along with a bad end to the 1983 season, it wasn’t entirely shocking that the team took a step back.

8. 1963 Season (4-10,  5th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the favorites to win the Eastern Division.

The result: The team regressed from its 5-8-1 mark the year before by going 4-10. Dallas only managed one win in its first seven games.

Why it was not more disappointing: The franchise had not yet done anything, so another losing season could hardly have been a shock.

7. 2000 Season (5-11, 4th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys had lost Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, but they had gained Joey Galloway and still had Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.

The result: Aikman was booed for much of the season, and the team never recovered from an opening-game loss to the Eagles.

Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had an awful draft in 2000, and the team had not replaced its departed stars during the previous several seasons.

6. 2004 Season (6-10, 2nd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys were going to go further in the playoffs now that Bill Parcells had turned everything around.

The result: The team cut Quincy Carter in the preseason and relied on Vinny Testaverde to lead the way. After six losses in seven games during the middle of the season, Dallas stood at 3-7.

Why it was not more disappointing: Nobody thought the team would have to rely on Testaverde, and the team’s schedule was more difficult than it was in 2003.

5. 1974 Season (8-6, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The team had reached the NFC title game in ’72 and ’73, and most of the main stars were returning.

The result: The Cowboys never overcame a 1-4 start, and even winning seven games in eight weeks wasn’t enough to lead to a playoff berth.

Why it was not more disappointing: Most remember the ’74 season for Clint Longley’s heroics on Thanksgiving, and the real disappointment was the poor start. Dallas rebounded in the second half of the season and ended up making the Super Bowl the next year.

4. 1986 Season (7-9, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: Dallas brought in some talent with Herschel Walker and rookie Mike Sherrard. The team’s 6-2 start was enough for a tie for the division lead after eight games.

The result:Danny White broke his wrist. Steve Pelleur wasn’t the answer. The 6-2 start turned into a 7-9 nightmare, marking the team’s first losing record in 22 years.

Why it was not more disappointing: The talent base had eroded by 1986, and the team lacked a proven backup after the Cowboys traded Gary Hogeboom.

3. 1997 Season (6-10, 4th place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys were ready to reclaim their spot among the NFL’s best now that the distractions of 1996 were gone.

The result: The team never came together and struggled to stay above the .500 mark. Dallas stood at 6-5 after week 12, but a loss to the Packers started a five-game skid. This year marked the end of the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s.

Why it was not more disappointing: The team had been imploding for some time after winning Super Bowl XXX, so the result was disappointing but not entirely surprising.

2. 2008 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The team would rebound from its devastating loss to the Giants in the 2007 playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.

The result: Dallas had a 3-0 record after three weeks and an 8-4 record after 12 games, but the team lacked the firepower it had in 2007. The Cowboys lost three of four to end the season, including a defeat to the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium and 44-6 humiliation to the Eagles in the season finale with a playoff berth on the line.

Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had gone 9-7 in ’05 and ’06, and the team never looked like the 13-3 squad in ’08.

1. 2010 Season (6-10, 3rd place in the NFC East)

The hype: The Cowboys had finally turned the corner by winning a playoff game in 2009. The team was ready to compete for the NFC title.

The result: The Cowboys lost to Washington in week 1 and never recovered. After week 9, Dallas was 1-7 and heading nowhere. A 5-3 finish was respectable, but the squad’s defense was still among the league’s worst.

Why it is the more disappointing: The Cowboys had some (perhaps unrealistic) Super Bowl hopes in ’74, ’86, ’97, and ’08, but none of those teams completely collapsed the way the ’10 team did.


  • Tim Truemper

    I agree pretty much with your rankings, Matt. Based on your criteria of disappointment (that is, the degree of failure relative to expectations), this past season was # 1.

  • B Arnold

    this seeason was my most disappointing

  • DaninMS

    Lob me into the group thinking this was the worst season. Granted I’m not old enough to remember the early ones before the 80’s but this one has to
    be the worst.