50 Seasons Series
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Review each year in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, starting with the planning stages in 1959 and through the present day.
This post is part of the 50 Seasons in 50 Weeks Series.
You’ll have to think hard to recall a more inept showing. The 38-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals back in 1970? Maybe. The 41-20 loss to the Denver Broncos last year? Not even close.
Head coach Tom Landry, examining the wreckage, had little to say. “I could talk all day and not change a thing.” he said. “All I could do was stand out there and watch. We played absolutely terrible.
“This game is as bad as any we’ve played since our early years.”
We have reached the 1981 season in the 50 Seasons Series, but we’ll return to the 1960 season briefly. In light of tonight’s game between the Cowboys and 49ers at Cowboys Stadium, here is a look at the first exhibition game in the history of the Cowboys.
August 6, 1960: San Francisco 16, Dallas 10 (exhibition game held in Seattle)
The 49ers were an aging team but still had talent left over from some quality teams of the 1950s. The Cowboys, of course, had never played any sort of game before.
Playing before 22,000 fans, the Cowboys kept the game close. The 49ers took a 9-0 lead in the first half thanks to a safety and a 99-yard touchdown drive.
Both teams were held scoreless during the third period. Early in the fourth, though, Dallas got on the board when Fred Cone kicked a 17-yard field goal. Thus (trivia alert), the first player to score a point for the Dallas franchise was Fred Cone.
San Franciso increased its lead to 16-3 after another long drive. But Dallas came back. Cornerback Tom Franckhauser intercepted a pass in Dallas territory. Two plays later, Eddie Lebaron found receiver Frank Clarke, who raced 56 yards for a touchdown. This play cut the 49er lead to 16-10.
Dallas had a chance late in the game, moving the ball to the San Francisco 28 with less than a minute left. However, Dave Baker of the 49ers intercepted a Lebaron pass to end the game.
The Cowboys were still a Super Bowl-caliber team heading into the 1981 season, and a strong draft would have certainly helped matters. The team focused its efforts on finding offensive linemen, defensive backs, and linebackers.
The result: among the 13 picks, only five players ever played for the Cowboys. Two of the linemen selected became starters, but neither was great. One of the defensive backs, Ron Fellows, eventually became a starter (as did a rookie free agent named Everson Walls, whom will we cover later). Each of the other picks was forgettable.
|1||Howard Richards||G||Missouri||Dallas, 1981-1986; Seattle,
|2||Doug Donley||WR||Ohio State||Dallas, 1981-1984|
|3||Glen Titensor||G||BYU||Dallas, 1981-1988|
|4||Scott Pelluer||LB||Wash. St.||New Orleans, 1981-1985|
|4||Derrie Nelson||LB||Nebraska||San Diego,
|5||Danny Spradlin||LB||Tennessee||Dallas, 1981-1982; Tampa
Bay, 1983-1984; St. Louis, 1985
|6||Vince Skillings||DB||Ohio State||n/a|
|7||Ron Fellows||DB||Missouri||Dallas, 1981-1986; L.A.
|7||Ken Miller||DB||Eastern Michigan||n/a|
|8||Paul Piurowski||LB||Florida St.||n/a|
|9||Mike Wilson||WR||Wash. St.||San Francisco, 1981-1990|
The Cowboys had high expectations when they took Richards in the first round, but he was injury prone throughout his career. Titensor was a starter for three seasons, but he was less than spectacular.
Fellows eventually earned a started job at corner, and he finished his Dallas career with 17 interceptions before being traded to the Raiders.
Donley eventually became a starter at receiver, but that was during the ill-fated 1984 season. He showed great speed but was fragile.
Spradlin played mostly on special teams during his two-year stint in Dallas.
A few of the other picks made other teams. Of these, receiver Mike Wilson was the most successful, spending 10 seasons as a backup (and winning four Super Bowl rings) in San Francisco.
My grade: C. The Cowboys’ selection of Richards was not terrible, but there were a number of very good players available who were taken in the second and third rounds. Consider:
LB Mike Singletary (2nd round, Chicago)
DE Howie Long (2nd round, Raiders)
LB Rickey Jackson (2nd round, Saints)
WR Cris Collinsworth (2nd round, Bengals)
QB Neil Lomax (2nd round, Cardinals)
RB James Wilder (2nd round, Buccaneers)
G Russ Grimm (3rd round, Redskins)
That said, at least four of the top six picks made the team, and the Cowboys found some eventual starters during the process.
If there was a drop-off during the transition from Roger Staubach to Danny White in 1980, it was hardly noticeable in the win-loss column. The Cowboys opened the 1980 season with a 6-2 record and sat in second place in the NFC East.
There were, to be sure, some concerns. The Denver Broncos routed the Cowboys in week 2, and Dallas lost to division rival Philadelphia in week 7 in a game that proved costly at the end of the season. On the other hand, Dallas tied a team record by scoring 59 points against the 49ers and had plenty of other positives.
Week 1: Dallas 17, Washington 3
Though Danny White only threw for 107 yards, the Cowboys’ defense shut down the Redskins in week 1. The Dallas offense rushed for 177 yards as a team, with touchdown runs by Tony Dorsett and Ron Springs.
Week 2: Denver 41, Dallas 20
Tom Landry said that Denver “just kicked the devil out of us” in week 2. The Broncos rushed for four touchdowns. White hit Tony Hill for two touchdown passes, but the game was a lost cause.
Week 3: Dallas 28, Tampa Bay 17
In what could have been the 1979 NFC Championship Game, the Cowboys gave up 442 total yards to Tampa Bay, including 204 rushing yards. Nevertheless, Dallas managed four long touchdown drives (finished by three Danny White touchdown passes) and put away the Buccaneers.
Week 4: Dallas 28, Green Bay 7
The Dallas defense struggled at times against the Packers in Milwaukee, and the Cowboys did not help themselves by committing 12 penalties. However, Dallas managed to rush for 194 yards as a team and held Green Bay scoreless in the second half to pick up the win.
Week 5: Dallas 24, N.Y. Giants 3
The Cowboys forced four Giant turnovers in a 24-3 win over New York. Dallas struggled on the ground, with Tony Dorsett picking up only 26 yards on 15 carries. Danny White, though, completed 22 of 33 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
Week 6: Dallas 59, San Francisco 14
By halftime, the Cowboys led 38-7 in one of the most dominating wins in team history. Danny White threw four touchdowns, including three to Drew Pearson. The Cowboy defense forced five Steve DeBerg interceptions. The 59 points were the most by a Dallas team since the Cowboys beat the Lions 59-13 in the opening week of the 1968 season.
Week 7: Philadelphia 17, Dallas 10
Dallas did not look sharp against the Eagles in a game that would decide the early leader in the NFC East. Danny White threw three interceptions, and the Cowboys fumbled twice. Dallas had a shot to tie the game late, but a fourth-down play deep in Philadelphia territory resulted in an incompletion, though the Cowboys argued that Eagle cornerback Roynell Young interfered with Tony Hill. With the loss, Dallas trailed the Eagles by one game.
Week 8: Dallas 42, San Diego 31
The explosive Chargers, with Dan Fouts, John Jefferson, Kellen Winslow, and Charlie Joiner, jumped out to a 24-14 first-half lead against the Cowboys. Dallas had an explosion of its own, scoring 21 points in the third quarter to take the lead for good. Danny White did not put up Dan Fouts’ numbers (Fouts had 371 yards to White’s 260), but White’s three touchdowns were important in the Dallas win.
The Cowboys finally catch the Eagles but lose the NFC East.
The 1980 draft for the Dallas Cowboys may sound a little bit familiar to those who followed the 2009 draft. Dallas did not have a pick until late in the third round after trading first- and second-round picks to Baltimore for defensive tackle John Dutton.
Dallas found a few starters in this draft, but the team needed to bring in much more talent than what these players offered. Here is a look:
|3||Bill Roe||LB||Colorado||Dallas, 1980; New Orleans,
|3||James Jones||RB||Mississippi St.||Dallas, 1980-85|
|4||Kurt Peterson||G||Missouri||Dallas, 1980-1985|
|5||Gary Hogeboom||QB||Central Michigan||Dallas, 1980-1985;
Indianapolis, 1986-1988; Phoenix, 1989
|8||Larry Savage||LB||Michigan St.||n/a|
|9||Jackie Flowers||WR||Florida St.||n/a|
|10||Matthew Teague||DE||Prairie View||n/a|
|11||Gary Padjen||LB||Arizona St.||Baltimore/Indianapolis,
|12||Norm Wells||DT||Northwestern||Dallas, 1980|
Roe was pretty much a complete bust. He was a good special teams player as a rookie, but an injury in 1981 ended his career in Dallas. He later played in the USFL.
Jones had a good start at running back, especially as a returner. However, he suffered a major knee injury during the preseason in 1982, and he did not return until 1984. He saw action in 1984 and 1985 before retiring.
Newsome had a longer career in Dallas than any of the others on this list. He was a good receiver and made some big plays, but his accomplishments were overshadowed by the play of halfbacks Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker.
Hogeboom seldom saw action until the NFC Championship Game in 1982, where he nearly brought the Cowboys from behind. Tom Landry decided to give Hogeboom the job over Danny White in 1984, and the result was disasterous. White regained the starting job, and Hogeboom was traded to Indianapolis in 1986.
Kurt Peterson became a starter at right guard, but injuries slowed his development. He played in all 16 games of the 1985 season but missed the 1986 season after suffering an injury during the summer. He never played again.
My vote: D. Though the Cowboys picked up a few starters, the players only started because the team’s talent pool dropped so far. It was poor drafts such as this one that helped to cause the Cowboys collapse later in the decade.
Had Dallas not traded for John Dutton, here are some players that would have been available:
RB Charles White (1st round, Cleveland)
RB Joe Cribbs (2nd round, Buffalo)
C Ray Donaldson (2nd round, Baltimore) (Donaldson later played for the Cowboys in the 1990s)
LB Keena Turner (2nd round, San Francisco)
DE Rulon Jones (2nd round, Denver)
LB Matt Millon (2nd round, Oakland)
C Dwight Stephenson (2nd round, Miami)
The first, Goodbye to All That (Paul Zimmerman), focused on the retirement itself.
So long, Roger, we gave you a bum deal, kid. For openers, we never picked you All-Pro. That’s we, the writers, the pickers, the guys who vote on the AP and Pro Football Writers ballots. Now that’s a bad call right away, because all you did was end up as the NFL’s top-rated passer–in history, the whole 59 years. Higher than Unitas, than Tarkenton or Jurgensen, than Tittle or Baugh. And you quarterbacked the Cowboys in four of their five Super Bowls, winning twice. And brought the team from behind to victory 14 times in the last two minutes or in overtime, 23 times in the fourth quarter. Hey, what does a guy have to do?
Attention then turned to the Cowboys having to replace Staubach. In the Great White Hope by Bruce Newman. This article has some interesting tidbits about White’s desire to move into the starting position.
No matter how unsettling it was for White to watch Staubach’s weekly miracle show, he never expressed or displayed resentment. “That was the problem all those years,” he says. “I could never get mad enough at Roger to beat him out. Not that I could have.” When the team’s front office initiated its ill-advised campaign to have the Cowboys be known as “America’s Team,” White began calling Staubach “America’s Quarterback,” and Staubach called White “America’s Punter.” Last season, before Staubach had made up his mind to retire, White slipped a note into Staubach’s locker. It said: “Roger, Danny needs your locker for next year. Please turn in your equipment as soon as possible.” It was signed “Coach Landry.”
The final article noted here appeared in the preview addition for the 1980 season. In A Time to Remember, A Time to Forget, Staubach noted that his most memorable come-from-behind win also happened to be his last– a 35-34 win over the Redskins.
“They had a rerun of the last few minutes on TV the following Saturday night,” Staubach says. “I just stayed home and watched it–like a fan.”