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A reader named Bruce Lombard earlier this year most generously sent me a stack of copies of the old Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from the 1985 season and 1986 offseason. Each Wednesday, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits in these issues.
The focus this week is in the issue published on December 28, 1985.
Ask Tex Schramm: Stealing Hand Signals
A growing trend among college and NFL teams in the 1980s was to send in plays through use of hand signals. A reader asked Tex Schramm about whether the opposing team could steal these hand signals. Tex replied that though teams had tried it, it was difficult to relay information to the defense in a timely manner. Moreover, he found that teams that tried to focus on stealing signs didn’t focus enough on playing football.
Cowboys Fall Apart at San Francisco
At one point, the Cowboys led the San Francisco 49ers 13-0 and nearly made it 20-0 in the first half. However, the team barely played after that, and the 49ers outscored Dallas 31-3 in the final two and a half quarters. The Cowboys rested several starters, including QB Danny White, receiver Tony Hill, and lineman Jim Cooper.
With the loss, Dallas was set to travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Top Ten NFL Poll: Dallas Finishes 7th
The Cowboys remained among the top 10 NFL teams for most of the 1985 season, and with the loss the 49ers, the team finished ranked 7th. The Rams were one spot ahead.
Biggest Problem with No. 3 QBs: Frustration
Third-string QB Steve Pelleur helped the Cowboys to win the NFC East by leading the team on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter of the team’s win over the Giants.
Up to that point, most of the team’s third-string QBs had been “lost souls.” These players included the likes of Sonny Gibbs, John Roach, Bob Belden, and Glenn Carano. A few others, including Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, and Gary Hogeboom, were listed as the #3 QBs but later became backups and then starters.
Most of these third-stringers said the same thing about their time on the team: it was frustrating, which partially explains why few lasted long.
Some Question Whether Landry Would Retire
Frank Luska ran a piece pondering whether Tom Landry would retire, especially if the team won the Super Bowl. According to Landry, “People say, ‘Surely you want to go out on top and win another Super Bowl.’ No, that’s not it. When I go, I’ll go regardless of where I am.”
(For the record, he was playing golf three years later when told he was let go).
Players on the current version of the Cowboys don’t have nicknames like Too Tall, Hollywood, Mr. Cowboy, or the Dodger. Instead, the team has such original nicknames as TNew and DWare. There are plenty of variations of Tony Romo’s name, but that’s a different matter.
The most appropriate nickname for anyone on this team is Almost Anthony Spencer. The former first-round pick has a nose for the football and is often seen near the play. However, he is more well-known for near misses, as in “Spencer almost made it to the quarterback there, but he grabbed nothing but air.”
In 2009, after a 17-10 loss to Denver, I wrote, “If we could reward players for almost making plays, Spencer would be a Pro Bowler. Instead, he nearly gets sacks and nearly gets interceptions but never quite gets there.”
One week later, after a 26-20 overtime win over the Chiefs, I added, “Until further notice, Spencer will be known as Almost Anthony. He had two tackles and three quarterback hits, but he still has not recorded a sack.”
Spencer had two sacks against the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day, and those were his only two sacks for the entire season after 13 weeks.
Dallas had to win their final three games to have a shot at the playoffs. It was during those three games that Spencer temporarily shed the Almost Anthony name. Consider these stats:
vs. New Orleans: 6 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 3 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery.
vs. Washington: 5 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 2 QB hits.
vs. Philadelphia: 5 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble.
Spencer added another sack in the team’s wildcard win over the Eagles, which still stands as the team’s only playoff win in the past 15 years. He even had a solid game in a loss to the Vikings, recording 9 tackles and a sack.
Fast-forward to 2011. Spencer has 6 sacks again this year, but none of them have come in the last three games. His most noteworthy play during that time was his complete whiff while trying to sack Michael Vick. Spencer wound up with Vick’s facemask on a key play that led to the Eagles’ first touchdown.
If teams knew they had to slow down both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, this is a dangerous defense. However, Ware is the only playmaker between the two, and when he doesn’t pressure the quarterback, there is not a good chance that anyone else will.
Sure, Jay Ratliff can get there from time to time, but he’s inconsistent. And it’s true that Spencer has coverage duties and doesn’t always rush the passer. However, there have been plenty of plays where the team has rushed both Ware and Spencer, and Spencer has come up short, even though he doesn’t receive anywhere near the focus that Ware does.
Plenty of things need to go right for the Cowboys to win on Sunday, but a sudden resurgence by Almost Anthony would be a good start.
We are entering Week 17 of “I still don’t understand that hype surrounding the Ryan brothers.”
Rex Ryan’s Jets might have made two consecutive AFC title games, but after a loss to the Giants, his 8-7 team is nearly out of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Rob Ryan just has to be the most overrated defensive coordinator in the league. Granted, if the Cowboys beat the Giants (and it will require a strong effort on defense to do so), Ryan will be the defensive coordinator on a playoff team for the first time in his career. That’s not impressive, but I will retract my overrated statement of the team can pull it off.
Both Ryan brothers are blowhards. They entertain the press by making obnoxious statements, and their teams have had just enough success that most think they are winners.
Remember a statement by another coach named Ryan? Something like, “You’ve got a winner in town.” That was, of course, Buddy Ryan when he was introduced as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
However, an 8-8 team is not a winner. That was his record in 1994 with Arizona. Nor is a 4-12 team a winner, and that was the Cardinals’ record the year he was fired.
His overall record as a head coach was 55-55-1. He never won a playoff game as a head coach.
He made his name as a defensive coordinator, though only half the teams he coached as defensive coordinator finished with winning records.
Not a terrible overall record, but it was nothing to brag about. His sons apparently thought their father established a fine blueprint, though, because both continue to run their mouths even when their teams can’t back up what they are saying.
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I don’t really care about Rex Ryan right now, other than to mention that his team backed up none of his talk in a game that the Jets (and our Cowboys) needed. I really do care about Rob Ryan’s mouth, because the Cowboys have rarely backed up anything he’s said all year.
And in today’s Dallas Morning News, Darren Woodson shared some thoughts about the team’s defensive personnel. This is consistent with what several fans have said this year.
One thing about Rob Ryan – and I know he’s trying to say all the right things as far as the personnel that he has – but let’s face it: the personnel that he has right now is not the personnel that he wants. There are certain guys up front – DeMarcus Ware’s a guy you definitely want. But as a whole, in his scheme, he puts you on islands at times where you have to make a play. He wants to bring the house and allow his corners to cover man-to-man. He doesn’t have that security in his corners right now, he doesn’t have that belief in his corners to just allow them to be out there in one-on-situations. So his hands are tied. He’s trying to do whatever he can to help his corners out, even to the fact of where, when you watch the game and you see it on tape, there are times when the safety is aligned 30 yards deep. … And that’s simply because he’s trying to eliminate a big play. But that’s not his style. His style is that he wants nine guys on the line of scrimmage, bringing guys from different angles. But he understands that “Right now, my corners are getting beat, and I’ve got to find a way to help these guys out.”
Woodson also questioned whether Terence Newman has the athletic ability to remain a viable option at corner. According to Woodson, Newman appears to have lost his closing speed, meaning that he’s having to give a bigger cushion to avoid giving up big plays.
Curious to see whether Rob has any influence over the team’s grocery shopping for next year. Then again, he might just move on, and we might just get to watch one more season with Jenkins, Newman, Scandrick, and Ball give up one 20-yard play after another.
Next Sunday’s game against the Giants is going to bring reminders of the 1993 finale in which the Cowboys won the NFC East and wrapped up home-field advantage by beating the Giants at the Meadowlands. The similarities—Giants, at New York, vs. Dallas, NFC East title on the line.
Nothing else is similar. That 1993 team had lost four games. Two of those losses came when future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had held out to start the season. Another loss came when future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was injured. The final loss came on Thanksgiving Day when snow and ice covered Texas Stadium for the only time in the stadium’s history.
In 2011, the running back is injured and is only a starter because a superior rookie back was previously lost for the season. The quarterback puts up fine numbers, but he hasn’t much of a clue about leading the team to wins in big games and won’t be anywhere close to earning the votes to make it to the Hall of Fame. And the team’s new stadium has a retractable roof, so unless some malfunction occurs, it isn’t going to snow in there.
We don’t need to rehash it all, but the Cowboys have already had chance (vs. Jets) after chance (vs. Detroit) after chance (vs. New England) after chance (vs. Arizona) to win this year, only to find ways to lose. Oh, and the team would have wrapped up this division already had the team held on to a 12-point lead with less than six minutes left against the Giants just two weeks ago.
That 1993 team was a team of destiny, and most of felt it then.
This 2011 team? Here’s an analogy—the Eagles kicked a field goal with about 4:30 remaining in the third quarter yesterday. Dallas trailed 17-0 at that point. A guy in our section started screaming, “If your gonna win this thing, you’d better start playing now!” Nobody joined in his chant, and I think the collective thought (or at least my thought) was, with a puzzled look and a long exhale, win this thing?
I really want to think that this could be like 1993. Along those lines, this could be like 1979, when the Cowboys beat the Redskins to take the division title. In fact, this could be like 2009, when Dallas beat Philadelphia in the season finale to win the division and earn the right to host the Eagles during the following week.
But like the comparison between 1993 and 2011, there is little that is similar to 1979 or 2009. In 1979, Dallas was 8-5 after losing to Houston on Thanksgiving. But wins over the Giants and Eagles gave the Cowboys some momentum, and Roger Staubach had enough left in him to lead Dallas to a come-from-behind win.
In 2009, you might recall, Dallas had beaten the previously unbeaten Saints on the road and then beat the Redskins to secure a playoff spot. And Dallas had already beaten the Eagles earlier in the season.
The Cowboys have no such momentum right now. Their only win in December was against a Tampa Bay team that more recently lost 48-16 to the Carolina Panthers. The defense has been a weakness all year, and the defense that played the Eagles yesterday gave up 293 passing yards and forced one turnover only because Jason Avant tried to stretch the ball over the pylon on what was first called a touchdown.
What I fear is that this game might turn out to be something more like the season finale against the Eagles in 2008. One week earlier during that season, my son and I had watched the Cowboys play the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium. A Dallas win would have given the Cowboys a playoff spot, but the defense fell apart at the worst possible time. We took a long walk back to the car in the cold, feeling as if the season was over. The Cowboys had a chance to go to the playoffs by beating the Eagles in week 17, but Dallas gave a performance that words can’t quite describe. Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6.
After yesterday’s loss, my son and I took another long walk in the cold (for Texas, at least) to the parking lot after the game, feeling as if the season was all but over. It’s going to take a few more days and a lot of convincing to believe it will turn out otherwise after Sunday night next week.
My son and I left the parking lot to head to Cowboys Stadium just after the Giants had kicked a field goal to trim the Jets’ lead to 7-3 in the first half. It still looked like the day would bring quite a treat—a Jets win, meaning that the Cowboys would have their chance to wrap up the division at home with a win over the Eagles.
By the time we got to the stadium to stand in the security line, we could see that the Giants were ahead 10-7. Someone at some point said that the Giants had scored on a 99-yard play (Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, as it turned out).
It was 10-7 for quite a while. The stadium monitors would occasionally show highlights from the game, but not often. However, we were aware that the Giants had taken a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter.
It was 20-7 when the stadium monitors showed a Jet drive deep into Giant territory. On 3rd-and-goal from the 1, Mark Sanchez forgot to grab the ball, which squirted into the end zone for a touchback. Even though the Jets narrowed the score to 20-14 less than two minutes later, the mood at Cowboys Stadium was somber.
No way for the Jets to win, so the Cowboys-Eagles game essentially meant nothing.
Several around us repeated that statement in the minutes leading up to kickoff. The Cowboys turned around and played as if they believed the game meant nothing. It felt more like preseason game for much of the late afternoon.
Dallas had no answers for the Eagles, even if the score wasn’t 34-7 like it was on October 30. On the sixth play of the game, Almost Anthony Spencer almost sacked Michael Vick. Instead, Spencer grabbed Vick’s facemask, but Vick still spun around and flung the ball downfield. Riley Cooper made a nice catch, and the penalty on Spencer for the facemask move the ball into the red zone. Vick threw a 13-yard touchdown to Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Really, Philadelphia didn’t need more than that.
Felix Jones had a nice 10-yard run to open the game, but he only carried the ball four times. Tony Romo attempted two passes. On the second, his hand hit the helmet of an Eagles’ defender. Few in the stands realized that Romo would be out for the game, and in fact my son had to tell me that Stephen McGee had gone in.
Dallas decided to rest some starters who had suffered through a few injuries, and though Romo might have been able to play, head coach Jason Garrett indicated that the team wasn’t going to take any chances.
The strangest sight today was seeing Jerry and Stephen Jones (along with a third person) bolt onto the sideline after Romo had gone to the locker room for tests. Jerry went directly to Garrett, apparently to tell the head coach about the quarterback’s injury. Just imagine that circumstance happening in any other sport with any other team—the owner/general manager bolting onto the field to tell the head coach about an injury to a player.
Ah, yes, there was more football to be played. Dallas moved the ball to the Philadelphia 32 in the second quarter. A holding penalty on Tyron Smith pushed the Cowboys out of field goal range.
The Eagles should have scored on their next possession, but (per the replay booth) Jason Avant fumbled the ball as he reached out to try to let the ball cross the plane of the goal line.
Dallas turned around and moved the ball back to the Eagle 30. Garrett called for a pitch to Sammy Morris, but the whole play was flubbed. Morris lost 9 yards, and even if he had made the first down, Dez Bryant was called for an illegal shift. So Dallas ended up out of field goal range.
Philadelphia took control at its own 13 with 55 seconds left in the first half. The Eagles had just one timeout remaining. Any guesses what might happen?
22-yard pass. 33-yard pass. 27-yard pass. Five-yard touchdown pass. Philadelphia 14, Dallas 0.
The second half was a series of three-and-outs by the Cowboys and time-killing drives by the Eagles. Dallas had one long drive in the fourth quarter, but McGee’s fourth-down attempt to Martellus Bennett in the end zone went sailing wide.
The only reason Dallas scored was that rookie Bruce Carter blocked a punt, setting up a touchdown pass from McGee to Miles Austin.
So next week is for all the marbles. It’s going to take a few days to start believing this team has any chance to win.
The Cowboys face the Eagles at 3:15 tomorrow at Cowboys Stadium. By then, we will know whether the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win. Should the Jets beat the Giants and the Cowboys beat the Eagles, then Dallas would take the division title.
Of course, a Giant win means that the division title will be up in the air until week 17, no matter who wins between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Eagles need the win to keep their slim hopes alive, but that would only happen if the Giants lose to the Jets.
Below are some key stories:
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Finally took a tour of Cowboys Stadium. Here is one clip from our visit:
For years (and years and years) most Cowboys fans have heard some variation of this clever insult: “The Cowboys aren’t really America’s Team.”
The most recent iteration of this comes on the heels of a vitally important poll showing that defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay is the most popular team in America. That led the author to state definitely that “actual data exists and reveals the Cowboys aren’t ‘America’s Team,’ having been replaced by the Green Bay Packers, according toPublic Policy Polling’s newest national survey.”
The last time I had a serious online argument with someone about whether the Packers or the Cowboys were truly “America’s Team” was the last time that the Packers were the defending champions. That was 1997.
Note that when the Patriots were defending champions three times in the early 2000s, their fans said they should be America’s Team.
And note that when the Steelers became champions after the 2008 season, they should have been America’s Team.
And further note that when the Saints won the title after the 2009 season, they should have been America’s Team.
Using the logic espoused by most of these commentators, whichever team holds the Vince Lombardi Memorial Trophy should strip the Cowboys of their nickname.
Please, come up with something more original.
A few thoughts:
1. You know why nobody is shouting that the Patriots, Saints, or Steelers are America’s Team right now? Because none of those teams hold the Lombardi Trophy right now.
2. Even when NFL Films first coined the term “America’s Team” for the Cowboys after the 1978 season, the Cowboys had as many haters as they did true fans.
3. The Cowboys have done nothing worth mentioning to retain their fan base in 15 years, yet the Cowboys rank high on these lists year after year. The team went 6-10 last year and currently stands at 8-6, yet the team ranked second in this survey. And should the Cowboys win another title someday, I would bet anything that the Cowboys rank #1 on both the Most Liked and Most Hated team lists.
A reader named Bruce Lombard earlier this year most generously sent me a stack of copies of the old Dallas Cowboys Official Weekly from the 1985 season and 1986 offseason. Each Wednesday, we will take a look at some interesting tidbits in these issues.
The focus this week is in the issue published on December 21, 1985.
Ask Tex Schramm: Cowboys Have No Special Diet
A reader asked whether the Cowboys had a special diet. Tex Schramm responded that the diet was left to individual players. In general, players had eaten steak and a baked potato before games, though some teams also served eggs, toast, and a type of pasta. Players usually ate about four hours before games.
Cowboys Win a Wild One to Take the East
The Cowboys won their first NFC East title since 1981 by beating the Giants in a week 15 battle. It was not a pretty game—Dallas really won as much on luck as anything else—but it was an important win.
Said Tom Landry: “This has to rank among the big wins. Not among the wins that get you to the Super Bowl, but it has to rank very, very high in our important games over the years. I am very proud of this team.”
Both Danny White and Gary Hogeboom were knocked out of the game. In fact, White had to the leave the game twice and threw a costly interception in the second quarter after returning to the game. The pick led to a New York touchdown that put the Giants ahead 14-7.
Jim Jeffcoat snagged a pass that was tipped by Too Tall Jones, and Jeffcoat returned the ball 65 yards for a touchdown. White followed up with a touchdown pass to Mike Renfro, giving Dallas a 21-14 lead at halftime.
White suffered another injury in the third quarter, and Hogeboom was hurt later in the half. That left the Cowboys with Steve Pelluer. The second-year quarterback led the Cowboys on a drive that resulted in a Timmy Newsome touchdown run. That was enough to give Dallas the win and the division title.
No matter what happened in Week 16, Dallas would face the L.A. Rams in the playoffs. There was a chance that Dallas would host the Rams, but that would require a Dallas win coupled with a Ram loss to the Raiders.
Randy White: Destined for the Hall of Fame
The cover player for the December 21 issue was Randy White, who was named to his ninth consecutive (albeit, his last) Pro Bowl in 1985. He was also named All-Pro for the seventh time in his career.
In the article, White said that he would have never survived in the league if he had remained at linebacker, which he played in 1975 and 1976. Once Landry moved White to tackle, the rest was history.
Crawford Ker Manages to do Housework Despite Injury
Rookie guard Crawford Ker impressed the Cowboys with both his strength and his athleticism. He benched at least 540 pounds while he was a player at Florida. He also ran the 40 in 4.8 seconds while weighing 293 pounds.
He spent much of the 1985 season on injured reserve. He wasn’t able to work out during that time, but that didn’t stop him from doing housework. The article features him pushing a canister vacuum cleaner.
(No, I’m not going to post that picture.)
Between 1975 and 1979, the Cowboys had a combined record of 9-1 in their final two games of those seasons. However, the Cowboys only went a combined 2-8 in their final two games between 1980 and 1984. Before 1985, Dallas had not won one if its final two games since 1981.
The only time I ever “earned” a link on Deadspin was a few months after I launched. I posted a clip from the Dallas Cowboys Christmas ’86 video.
On a day where I should have had 10,000 visitors, though, my host apparently installed an upgrade of some sort, and my page wouldn’t load for hours. That’s the kind of luck this blog has had, mirroring the luck of the Cowboys….
Every Christmas, those videos show up on various blogs, including this one. I finally found my CD containing the original files. Here is the first of four clips from the video:
Thanks to a Google Book search, I was able to stumble across more information regarding the Christmas video. Twenty-five years ago today, Billboard posted an article about the original distribution of the 1986 video. Here is the text:
Web Banks on Cowboys Vid
by Greg Reibman
Billboard, Dec. 20, 1986
DALLAS The Video Works chain, based here, hopes to score some extra points this holiday season with an exclusive distribution pact for a new Christmas video starring the Dallas Cowboys.
Although Sears and local grocers Tom Thumb Page and Minyard will also stock limited quantities of the five-song “Dallas Cowboys Christmas ’86” charity video, the 16-store outfit will be the only video retailer on the Cowboys’ home turf with this product.
“This is a terrific opportunity for us,” says Video Works president Gary Meinershagen. “And, of course, it is for a good cause, so we’re especially glad to be involved.” Proceeds from the tape will benefit the Cowboys’ Youth Foundation.
Video Works (Billboard, Sept. 6) also held the exclusive on the team’s first Christmas video last season. Despite the fact that the 1985 project was not available until early December, it enjoyed sales in excess of 4,500 units for Video Works. With almost a full extra month of marketing time for the new video, Meinershagen–who thinks the 1986 tape is superior to last season’s–hope to nearly double 1985’s sales. “It went over very well last year, and this one is longer and a better value,” he says.
In addition to a pair of songs featuring current team players, the new video also features a song with the celebrated Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and another number featuring ex-players.
Both the 1985 and 1986 tapes were produced by Chris Christian and Bob Breunig for their Home Sweet Home label. In addition to the videocassette, the label has also released a Dallas Cowboy Christmas album, cassettte, and songbook.
The video–available in either VHS or Beta at a retail list of $19.95–will be wholesaled to retailers outside of northeast Texas without the restrictions of an exclusive sales agreement. The record and cassette are available in many Dallas-area stores, says Home Sweet Home promotion director Robin Creasman, “but we were so happy with the way Video Works handled the project last year that we decided to give them the exclusive
rights again this year.”
A major benefit in the arrangement in terms of selling-through is that fans who want to view the video must purchase rather than rent it. “Of course, there is no way to prevent someone [a competitor] from buying the tape and then turning around and renting it, but we won’t be renting it ourselves,” says Meinershagen.
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Here’s something strange (and kind of funny) about this article (besides some company thinking that this video presented an opportunity):
The article about the Cowboys’ video appears on the same page that leads with the headline, “Industry Eyes Cincinnati Adult Video Trial Ruling.” That article was about a case involving a ban on certain themes at adult video stores.
But then to the right of the Cowboys article is Billboard‘s Top Kid Video Sales for the week. Sleeping Beauty ranked number one.
Here is the page:
Ah, editorial decisions that I must not be able to understand:
Editor #1: Frank, what else can we put on the page about the ban on porn videos?
Editor #2: Uh, I dunno. Maybe we can slap on that one about the Christmas tape?
Editor #1: Yeah, you got it. And we can fill the rest of the page with the list of kid’s videos. Let’s go grab a beer.
* * *
What was also peculiar were the ads that appeared on the pages before and after the page featuring the article about the Cowboys. On the page below it was an ad for Rainbow Brite.
A best seller, I’m sure. But above it was an ad for…Reform School Girls!
Jason Witten is 151 yards away from his fourth career and third consecutive 1,000-yard season. His receptions have dropped off this year, but he is still on pace to record at least 80 this season. He currently has 68.
Witten is just five yards away from surpassing Drew Pearson for third place on the team’s all-time list for receiving yards. He only trails Tony Hill by 172 yards for second place on the list. Michael Irvin’s record of 11,904 is still more than 4,000 yards away, but Witten hasn’t reached the age of 30.
He is one of only four tight ends with more than 600 career receptions and surpassed Ozzie Newsome to rank third on the all-time list of receptions by a tight end. Witten made this lists in only 141 career games. The other three, including Tony Gonzalez (236 career games), Shannon Sharpe (204), and Newsome (198), played in many more.
As far as receiving yards, Witten trails Jackie Smith by 102 yards and Newsome by 164 yards. It will take a while to catch Gonzalez and Sharpe.
Witten currently ranks 22nd in terms of career TD receptions by a tight end. However, he will rapidly move up on the list. By recording just seven more TDs, he will move into the top 10 on this list. He’ll move into the top 5 by recording 15 more TDs.