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Fans will remember Paul Palmer from the 1989 Dallas Cowboys before they will remember several other players.
Junior Tautalatasi? Curtis Stewart? Eric Brown? Steve Hendrickson? Onzy Elam? Garry Cobb? Kevin Lilly?
The reason Palmer is the Most Obscure Player of 1989 is his place among starting running backs in team history.
Everyone remembers Tony Dorsett. Everyone remember Herschel Walker. And, of course, everyone remembers Emmitt Smith.
In between them was Palmer, who replaced Walker in the starting lineup when Dallas traded Walker to Minnesota for enough draft picks to build a Super Bowl champion.
By the time the Cowboys did win that Super Bowl title, Palmer was long gone, having lasted just one year with the Cowboys.
He was the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 1987 draft, taken by Kansas City. He lasted two season with the Chiefs, gaining just 607 yards before being waived just before the 1989 season.
The Lions signed im, but he only saw the field as a kick returner. When Dallas unloaded Walker, the Cowboys sent two late draft picks to the Lions to acquire Palmer.
For a few weeks, it looked as if Palmer might have some promise. The Cowboys faced the Chiefs on October 22, 1989—just five days after the Cowboys signed Palmer—and he rushed for 85 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Two weeks later, he recorded the only 100-yard rushing game of his career when he gained 110 yards against the Redskins in the Cowboys’ only win of the 1989 season.
In the final six games, however, he only gained a total of 206 yards, including three games where he rushed for less than 20 yards.
Dallas waived him, and though the Bengals signed him during the 1990 offeseason, he never played in the NFL again. He played one season with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football in 1991.
We have recognized the replacement players of 1987 as the Most Obscure Players of 1987. I should have noted that the list only included players who only played in the three replacement games that year.
A few players, such as quarterback Kevin Sweeney and receiver Kelvin Edwards, had opportunities to play with the team later in 1987 and again in 1988.
A third replacement player who received an opportunity with the “real” team was a receiver named Cornell Burbage. He played college football at Kentucky, gaining 994 total receiving yards in four seasons. He went undrafted in the 1987 draft.
He was the first replacement player to score a touchdown against the Jets on October 4, 1987. He also gained 110 receiving yards in a 41-22 win over the Eagles. In three games, he caught 7 passes for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While Edwards remained with the team later in 1987, Burbage did not. However, he made the team in 1988.
The result—2 receptions, 50 yards. He was slightly more productive in 1989, catching 17 passes for 134 yards.
He played two seasons with the New York/New Jersey Knights of the World League of American Football. His final season was 1992.
He became a coach and served for one year as the head coach at Kentucky State University. He recorded a 7-4 record in his one season as head coach there.
* * *
Sadly, if you enter “Cornell Burbage” in a search, you will likely find stories about Burbage’s son, Cornell Burbage II. The younger Burbage was a standout high school receiver but was convicted on rape charges in 2006.
I was going to review the list of replacement players from the 1987 season to decide whether one of them might be the Most Obscure Player for 1987.
But then I thought, aw hell, they’re the most obscure players in the history of the team. We can’t exclude any of them.
So here are the 35 Cowboys-for-three-games-or-so who are our Most Obscure Players of 1987:
RB David Adams (Arizona)
RB Alvin Blount (Maryland)
TE Rich Borreson (Northwestern)
T Dave Burnette (Central Arkansas)
G Sal Cesario (Cal. Poly-SLO)
DT Steve Cisowski (Santa Clara)
DB Anthony Coleman (Baylor)
WR Vince Courville (Rice)
LB Chris Duliban (Texas)
DT Mike Dwyer (Massachusetts)
LB Harry Flaherty (Holy Cross)
CB Alex Green (Indiana)
S Tommy Haynes (Southern California)
TE Tim Hendrix (Tennessee)
CB Bill Hill (Rutgers)
DT Walter Johnson (Pittsburgh)
LB Dale Jones (Tennesee State)
RB E.J. Jones (Kansas)
C George Lilja (Michigan)
DB Bruce Livingston (Arkansas Tech)
DE Ray Perkins (Virginia)
P Buzz Sawyer (Baylor)
WR Chuck Scott (Vanderbilt)
C Joe Shearin (Texas)
OL Joe Shields (Portland State)
LB Victor Simmons (Central State-Ohio)
QB Loren Snyder (Northern Colorado)
WR Sebron Spivey (Southern Illinois)
LB Russ Swan (Virginia)
LB Kirk Timmer (Montana State)
OL Gary Walker (Boston University)
DE Randy Watts (Catawba)
C Gary Westberry (Hampton)
FB Gerald White (Michigan)
C Mike Zentic (Oklahoma State)
* * *
Nobody remembers the replacement players’ wins over the Jets or Eagles. However, plenty still remember the team’s lost to the Redskins on Monday Night Football. Here’s a summary of the debacle.
I really mean no disrespect whatsoever to players recognized with the Most Obscure Player Award. It was one of the first ideas I came up with when I launched this blog in 2006, and I am just now getting around to finishing the series. It is just a way to identify some long-forgotten members of the team.
In the years I have written this blog, I have had a few other bloggers link to posts. Unfortunately for me, relatively few of the 833,000 visitors on here have left comments.
And only one of those visitors was a current or former member of the Cowboys. That was a former defensive back named Johnny Holloway.
He left a comment on here in 2008, and Fred Goodwin of Dallas Cowboys Books Blog recognized him. I just happened to have a video of Holloway’s only interception as a professional, which occurred against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986.
I posted the story in March 2008. The video no longer works, and unfortunately, I cannot seem to find the video file.
Anyway, we are now up to the 1986 season for the Most Obscure Player Award, and I just have to give it to Mr. Holloway. He played one year in Dallas, managing one interception while playing in 16 games. He served as a replacement player with the Cardinals for three games in 1987.
The person who made the comment? Johnny (or Jon) Holloway.
So just for one year covered in this series, I am changing the award to the Player to Remember Award. It is not accompanied with a mop graphic.
And thanks for the comments, Mr. Holloway. Once I find the video file with the interception, I will post it again.
Did You Know…
That Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s father played for the Dallas Cowboys?
I didn’t, so on the day after Father’s Day, David Ponder is our Most Obscure Player of 1985.
David Ponder was a defensive tackle who played at Florida State from 1980 to 1983. He was not drafted in 1985 and signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys.
Ponder played in only four games with the Cowboys. One of those was the 44-14 win over the Washington Redskins during the famous “Happy Birthday, Joe Theismann” game to open the season. Ponder recorded a half-sack during that game, and this was his only official statistic as a professional.
He apparently remained in the Dallas area, as Christian was born in Dallas and raised in Grapevine. Christian later played at Florida State before being drafted in 2011.
* * *
Here is a story about Christian Ponder signing with FSU in 2005. It mentions David Ponder’s all-important contributions to his college fraternity.
Florida State’s decision is very good news for Pi Kappa Alpha. David Ponder was not only a great player for the Seminoles, he was also a popular leader and Brother of Delta Lambda Chapter. David was an active member of the Pike rush committee, and won the FSU Intramural All-Greek Heavyweight Wrestling Championship for the Pikes. In 1984, David received the coveted Ken Spence Award honoring the varsity athlete who best exemplifies the qualities of loyalty and devotion to Pi Kappa Alpha.
* * *
Another point of obscurity: Ponder was one of two players who first wore a jersey number in the 90s. Ponder wore #97, while Kevin Brooks wore #99.
The Cowboys faced several issues in 1984, and many of those related to personnel. The team’s talent level had fallen, and stars such as Drew Pearson and Harvey Martin were replaced with more mediocre players.
Poor drafts did not help matters. Dallas spent its first pick on Texas A&M linebacker Billy Cannon Jr., who lasted only half of one season because of injuries. The picks that followed included Victor Scott, Fred Cornwell, Steve DeOssie, and Steve Pelleur. Although the latter two started some games, these players hardly provided the foundation for the future.
The team’s second pick in the fifth round was Iowa fullback Norm Granger. He had gained just over 1,000 total rushing yards in four seasons at Iowa but was considered an important part of the Hawkeyes’ Rose Bowl team in 1982. He was also co-MVP of the 1983 team.
Dallas already had two fullbacks in Ron Springs and Timmy Newsome, so having a third fullback was hardly a necessity. Early reviews of Granger were positive.
Regarding Granger, Dallas assistant coach Al Lavan said, “He’s got exceptional hands, just exceptional. He’s about a step ahead of most other rookies at this point.”
Results: Granger played in 15 games, mostly on special teams.
Rushing attempts? Zero.
Kickoff returns? Two.
Total return yards? Six.
* * *
In 2004, Granger served as an honorary captain in a game between Iowa and Iowa State. Iowa won, 17-10.
* * *
Granger lost his Rose Bowl ring shortly after the game in 1982. Twenty-five years later, it was recovered when a collector saw it being sold on eBay.
The 1983 Dallas Cowboys had a few players even the most knowledgeable fans would have trouble remembering.
Punters Jim Miller and John Warren?
RB Gary Allen?
LB Scott McLean?
TE Cleo Simmons?
For the Most Obscure Player of 1983, we are going to go with a running back. At Clemson, Chuck McSwain gained a total of 2,320 yards in four seasons with the Tigers. He also had one of his biggest games during the Tigers’ National Championship season in 1981. Here is a snip from a Clemson fan site:
The Clemson tailback rushed for a career-high 151 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 29-13 victory over South Carolina to cap an 11-0 regular season in 1981. Six weeks later, Clemson beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship.
There is even a video of McSwain from that game against South Carolina:
The Cowboys took McSwain in the 5th round of the 1983 draft, and he made the team.
He played in a game, returning a kickoff in a week 3 win against the Giants.
And then, he tore a tendon on the ring finger of his right hand, and he was gone for the season. He returned in 1984 and returned 20 kickoffs in 15 games, but he never recorded a single rushing attempt.
Like another of our MOP Award winners (Angelo King), McSwain saw action as a replacement player in 1987. He played in three games for the New England Patriots. He gained a total of 23 yards on nine carries.
That ended his career.
He has since become a high school athletic director in North Carolina. Here is his bio page.
(Now why did I pick him? Because I found his bio page. That’s why.)
The 1982 season for the Dallas Cowboys started out notoriously, as the team lost its first opening game since 1964. The Cowboys were 1-1 when the players went on strike and remained 1-1 until play resumed in November.
When the NFL returned to the field, the Cowboys enjoyed a five-game winning streak. Losses to the Eagles and Vikings dropped the team’s record to 6-3 to end the regular season.
What most people remember about the season was Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard run in the season finale against the Vikings. (It was obviously a great highlight of all time, but it is easy to forget the play came during a loss.)
The right guard on the 99-yard run was not Kurt Peterson, who was the regular starter. No, the right guard was #73, a future Survivor named Steve Wright.
That’s Survivor, the reality television series. Wright appeared on Redemption Island, for those who still watch that show, which I generally do. He was the 13th player voted out and ended up on the jury.
So he did not win Survivor, nor did he last with the Cowboys. He is, though, our Most Obscure Player of 1982.
After playing in 25 games as an undrafted free agent, Wright was traded to the Baltimore Colts in 1983 for a sixth-round pick, which the Cowboys used for defensive lineman Kurt Ploeger. Wright eventually became a starter with the Los Angeles Raiders.
The Dallas Cowboys were still a talent-laden team in 1981 and featured plenty of household names. We had a few candidates for the Most Obscure Player Award, but the name we are going with made the cover of the prestigious Dallas Cowboys Weekly on December 26, 1981.
The player: linebacker and special-team ace Angelo King. Congratulations to him for the MOP Award, but I frankly know little about him.
Of course, if I spent 99 cents on Ebay, I could buy the December 26, 1981 issue of the Dallas Cowboys Weekly and would know much more about the obscure subject of this post.
But I didn’t.
His Wikipedia page in its entirety: “Angelo King was a professional American football player who played linebacker for seven seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.”
He joined the Cowboys as a rookie free agent in 1981 and played in 15 games. He recorded two fumble recoveries and apparently made many special-teams tackles.
King lasted three years in Dallas before the team traded him to Detroit in 1984 for a sixth-round pick in 1986. King played two full seasons in 1984 and 1985 and played in 11 games in 1986.
He returned in 1987 to play in one game as a replacement player during the first of the infamous scab games. With the Lions (led the great QB Todd Hons) leading 10-0 over the visiting Buccaneers (led by the equally great QB Mike Hold), King had his career moment. He recovered a fumble and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. It was his first fumble recovery since his rookie season in 1981 and gave the Lions a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Lions fell apart after that, though, and lost the game 31-27. Even worse was that King never played another game again.
Incidentally, the Cowboys used the sixth-round pick in 1986 to take quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who did not end up playing a down in the NFL until 1989.
* * *
I’m not sure what King is doing these days, but he showed up on the list of celebrities at a golf tournament benefiting citizens of Haiti. Other former Cowboys on the list included Drew Pearson, Too Tall Jones, Everson Walls, Rocket Ismail, and Doug Donley.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1979 Dallas Cowboys were Bennie Barnes and Aaron Kyle.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1981 Dallas Cowboys were Everson Walls and Dennis Thurman.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1980 Dallas Cowboys? Think hard (and don’t look at the title of this post).
One was Steve Wilson, who became a part-time starter for the Denver Broncos and even started at right cornerback in Super Bowl XXII. He was one of the guys who Doug Williams burned in the Redskins’ 35-point second quarter.
The other was our Most Obscure Player for 1980: Aaron Mitchell.
The Cowboys took him in the second round of the 1979 draft, thanks largely to a good time in the 40-yard dash. He played his college football at UNLV and a football factory known as…
College of the Canyons in California. This was the same community college that produced Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants. Here is a piece about Mitchell posted on the college’s website.
Mitchell started 15 games with the Cowboys in 1980 and recorded three interceptions. The Cowboys traded Mitchell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1981 season, though. Mitchell played one year in Tampa Bay. He later played for the Arizona Wranglers and Los Angeles Express of the USFL.
The Cowboys’ personnel problems had already begun by the early 1980s. Dallas used Tampa’s 11th-round pick to take a wide receiver named George Thompson, who never played a down of football in the NFL.
Even worse, the Cowboys got nothing for Wilson, waiving him after the 1981 season.