The All-Time Team of Underappreciated Dallas Cowboys

Several weeks ago, ESPN ran an poll identifying the Dallas Cowboys Greatest Team. The results were an acceptable mix of old school and newer players. However, fans who participated did not vote for a few players who should have had more support.

Pro-Football-Reference.com has a feature where it attempts to reduce each player’s seasonal and career performance to a single number. This Approximate Value ranking is interesting in that it provides a single measure for all players, including lineman. Although the results may be subject to debate, the rationale for and methodology behind the ranking is solid. Incidentally, Bob Lilly ranks first on the all-time list, followed by Emmitt Smith, Randy White, Mel Renfro, and Too Tall Jones.

Assuming the ESPN generally reflects the sentiments of most fans, and assuming the AV rankings from PFR fairly reflect each player’s value, the two lists provide an opportunity to identify the All-Time Team of Underappreciated Dallas Cowboys.

(Unfortunately, the list does not include special teams players, so we’ll have to deal with those differently).

For the first entry, we’ll take a look at the centers. Mark Stepnoski was the fan choice on the ESPN poll, receiving more than half the votes. Here’s the total:

1. Mark Stepnoski (57.8%)
2. Andre Gurode (21.9%)
3. Tom Rafferty (14.6%)
4. John Fitzgerald (4.9%)
5. Dave Manders (.8%)

As for the AV rankings, Stepnoski only ranks third and in a tie with Gurode. Two others rated higher than both. Here’s a look:

Rk From To G Pos AV ?
1 Tom Rafferty 1976 1989 203 C 87
2 John Fitzgerald 1971 1980 137 C 64
3 Mark Stepnoski 1989 2001 133 C 59
4 Andre Gurode 2002 2010 138 C 59
5 Dave Manders 1964 1974 139 C 48
6 Mike Connelly 1960 1967 106 C 34
7 Malcolm Walker 1966 1969 47 C 17
8 Ray Donaldson 1995 1996 28 C 16
9 Al Johnson 2004 2006 48 C 12
10 Clay Shiver 1996 1998 44 C 11
11 Dale Hellestrae 1990 2000 176 C 11
12 Derek Kennard 1994 1995 24 C 9
13 John Houser 1960 1961 25 C 8
14 Matt Lehr 2002 2004 35 C 7
15 Robert Shaw 1979 1981 33 C 5
16 Wayne Hansen 1960 1960 12 C 5
17 Brian Baldinger 1982 1986 52 C 5
18 Dave Widell 1988 1989 29 C 4
19 Bob White 1987 1989 24 C 4
20 Tyson Walter 2002 2004 39 C 4
21 Mike Kiselak 1998 1998 15 C 4
22 Frank Cornish 1992 1993 25 C 4
23 Bruce Walton 1973 1975 33 C 3
24 Halvor Hagen 1969 1970 18 C 3
25 Jackie Burkett 1968 1969 14 C 3
26 Ben Fricke 2000 2000 8 C 2
27 John Flannery 1997 1997 16 C 2
28 Jim Arneson 1973 1974 26 C 2
29 Mike Zentic 1987 1987 3 C 1
30 Tony Slaton 1990 1990 6 C 1
31 Jeff Grau 2002 2002 16 C 1
32 Jim Eidson 1976 1976 9 C 1
33 Kyle Davis 1975 1975 14 C 1
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/13/2011.

Neither Rafferty nor Fitzgerald ever made the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team in their careers. However, both played significant roles in team history. Rafferty was a starter at guard until 1981. By then, Fitzgerald had retired, and Robert Shaw suffered a career-ending injury. Through the rest of the 1980s, Rafferty was the starter at center.

Fitzgerald was originally a tackle before converting to center before the 1972 season. He and Dave Manders split time at center in 1973 and 1974 before Fitzgerald became the full-time starter.

Unlike Fitzgerald and Rafferty, Manders made one Pro Bowl team during his 10-year career.

Another center on the list worth noting is Ray Donaldson, who was voted to two Pro Bowls in his two seasons with Dallas.

Vote: Select between Rafferty, Fitzgerald, and Manders as the most underappreciated center in team history.

Most Underappreciated Center in Team History

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  • Tim

    Good idea to run this Matt. I was going to go thru the roster and make the all-time Cowboy team to never make a Pro Bowl. Both Rafferty and Fitzgerald would be on that list for sure (one and two as centers). I was an admirer of Manders too because he was an anchor on a very good offensive line for the late 60’s into the early 70’s. I believe he was a member of an iconoclastic group of players (including Larry Cole and Blaine Nye) called the Zero club. Their motto: “One for none and all for naught.”

  • Ronsite_81

    Tim, If they ever got any press, they were kicked out of the “club”.

  • Timothytrump

    I had forgotten that. Thanks Ronsite_81