Loss to Panthers in 1996 Started the Mediocrity

Troy Aikman’s didn’t bring his playoff magic with him when the Cowboys lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 playoffs.

Between 1960 and 1996, the Cowboys were seldom mediocre. The team had its ups and downs, but by 1996, the Cowboys had turned their fortunes around after two very bad years to end the 1980s.

Between 1991 and 1996, Dallas went 70-26 with a playoff record of 12-3. Everyone knows that three of those seasons ended in Super Bowl titles.

One of those three playoff losses, though, came against a team that did not play a single game until 1995. Of all teams to end a dynasty, it couldn’t be an expansion team in its second year.

But that’s what happened.

Nobody who even barely followed the Cowboys in 1996 can forget the many scandals. Michael Irvin missed five games because of drug charges, and it appeared as if he and offensive tackle Erik Williams were going to face even more severe problems when a woman accused them of raping her.

The charges didn’t stand, but the loss did. Once the Cowboys lost Irvin to a shoulder injury, the team was just never quite in the game. Meanwhile, Dallas could not stop the great Anthony Johnson, who ran for 104 yards on 26 carries.

(What do you mean you don’t remember Anthony Johnson? The Notre Dame fullback? Emerged from nowhere in 1996 before returning to obscurity after that?)

From Sports Illustrated:

The Carolina Panthers not only beat the scandal-scarred Super Bowl champion Cowboys on offense, defense and special teams at Ericsson Stadium, but they also showed more poise. However, the most stunning thing about Carolina’s 26-17 win in this NFC divisional playoff game was that it wasn’t so stunning. Dallas’s run for a fourth Super Bowl victory in five years ended in part because of drug suspensions and injuries but mostly because the Panthers were the setter team. Running back Anthony Johnson carried Carolina in crunch time when Smith couldn’t carry Dallas. Panther Kerry Collins was a better quarterback than Troy Aikman, who threw interceptions to kill the Cowboys’ last two drives. With a complex blitz package and a secondary that played tighter coverage than Dallas ever anticipated, the Carolina defense frustrated the Cowboys for the better part of 60 minutes.

Anyway, the franchise that was seldom mediocre has been anything but since then. Between 1997 and 2012, here are the numbers:

* Regular season record: 122-123

* Playoff record: 1-6

* One of those six teams: Carolina in 2003

I’ve heard someone try to argue that Carolina has “owned” the Cowboys, but that is certainly not true. While Dallas has fallen to the Panthers in two playoff games, Dallas has an overall record of 8-3 against Carolina, including wins in the last four.

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  • krl97a

    1996 was really the onset of the parity era, but those rape charges that emerged right before the game and vanished right after the game had a huge impact on the team and always seemed very fishy to me.  

  • David H

    Don’t forget Leon Lett was suspended with 2-3 games left in the season. Prior to his suspension he’d been having an All-Pro/Defensive MVP-type season.

  • dodger71

    Very true about Lett. The Cowboys brought in Ray Childress to try to replace Lett, but it did not work out as hoped.

  • Mda1270

    Deon Sanders and Micheal Irving and to a lesser degree Emmitt Smith threw the Playoff Game with Carolina 1996.
    Don’t say no…..watch the game.
    A lot of money changed hands and Irvings part in the “Rape Case” was settled about one week after the game, Charges Dropped. This was a good way to pay off somebody with out a paper trail.
    First out of the game Irving, fake shoulder injury,comes back after half time dressed like a pimp. Second was Sanders with a really fake looking show, head injury, this one you have to see. Emmitt with a very lack luster day ran out of bonds more times then he did all year. Who would you bet on with these guys out of the game?
    I feel its time the truth comes out. Maybe someday I will watch the NFL Network , but not with those guys.
    Sorry Irv its time……………

  • Mda1270

    Rewatch the game, you’ll get sick