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.
The Cowboys might have been optimistic entering the 1990 season, but struggles during the preseason didn’t give fans or the press much hope. The team was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (the cover read: CRUNCH! Troy Aikman and the Cowboys Get Hammered Again) in an article by Peter King. Mind you, the story focused on Dallas losses in preseason, but the story still made the cover of SI.
Since breaking camp in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 10, the Cowboys have stumbled in back-to-back preseason losses on the West Coast—28-16 to the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago and 16-14 to the Los Angeles Raiders last Saturday—and made it eminently clear that they are staring at another bleak season. Not as bleak as last fall, certainly, it only because their speed has improved dramatically. However, this looks like a 3-13 club, maybe 4-12.
The season started better than most would have expected, but after four games, the team stood at 1-3.
Week 1: Dallas 14, San Diego 14
In the team’s opener on September 9, the team accomplished matched its win total from 1989 with a 17-14 victory over San Diego. It broke a 14-game home losing streak that dated back to September 1988 and gave the team its first winning record (um, yes, 1-0) since 1987. The Cowboys opened the scoring with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Troy Aikman to former Bear Dennis McKinnon in what turned out to be McKinnon’s only touchdown with the Cowboys. San Diego came back to take a 14-7 lead, but a one-yard touchdown run by Aikman gave the Cowboys the win. Dan Henning’s decision to go for a fake punt with about six minutes remaining and the Chargers leading 14-10 helped in the Dallas win.
In Emmitt Smith’s first NFL game, the team’s leading rusher was… fullback Tommie Agee, of course. Agee had 59 yards on 13 carries. Smith had two yards on two carries.
Week 2: N.Y. Giants 28, Dallas 7
Although the Cowboys kept the game close against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants, thanks to a 90-yard kickoff return by rookie Alexander Wright, the Cowboys were no match in the end. Wright struggled as a receiver, dropping several passes. The other big-name rookie, Smith, had only 11 rushing yards in his first NFL start.
Week 3: Washington 19, Dallas 15
The Cowboys watched Chip Lohmiller kick four field goals during the first three quarters, followed by an interception return for a TD by Darrell Green. Smith scored his first NFL touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was all but over at that point.
Week 4: N.Y. Giants 31, Dallas 17
Playing the Giants for the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys were still no match. Smith’s second career TD cut the New York lead to 17-10, but the Giants pulled away from there.
Aikman found a target in the second loss to the Giants. After completing a total of eight passes to new tight end Jay Novacek in the first three games of the season, Aikman hit Novacek on nine passes for 85 yards and a TD against the Giants.
It was certainly helpful that Aikman was finding a security blanket, especially by the time the Cowboys faced the Giants on September 30. Five days earlier, the Cowboys gave up their backup plan at QB by trading Steve Walsh to the Saints for first-round and third-round picks in 1991, plus a conditional pick in 1992.
The result: Dallas packaged the first-round pick (#14 overall) in a deal with New England that gave the Cowboys the #1 pick overall, with which the Cowboys took Russell Maryland. With the third-round pick (#70 overall), the Cowboys took tackle Erik Williams.
From 1961 to 1989, the Cowboys never had fewer than 11 draft choices. In 1990, the Cowboys were involved in a trade in practically every round (and I’m not going to begin to try to summarize all of it– go here to get started). The end result was that the Cowboys only had six picks in the 12-round 1990 draft.
First pick: the guy who would become the all-time leading rusher in NFL history. It almost didn’t happen, though.
The top player on the Cowboys’ board was Baylor linebacker James Francis, whom the Cowboys wanted to convert to defensive end. Had Francis fallen all the way to the 13th round, Dallas would have traded with Kansas City, and Smith would have gone elsewhere. Instead, Cincinnati took Francis with the 12 pick. Dallas pulled off a trade with Pittsburgh to jump from #21 to #17, and Smith became a Dallas Cowboy.
Here is the Cowboys’ complete draft in 1990:
1(17) Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida
2(26) Alexander Wright, WR, Auburn
3(64) Jimmie Jones, DT, Miami (FL)
5(123) Stan Smagala, DB, Norte Dame
9(221) Kenneth Gant, DB, Albany State (GA)
11(277) Dave Harper, DB, Humboldt State
- Wright was a speedster who showed a little bit of promise (he returned one kickoff for a touchdown), but he was traded to the Raiders three games into the 1992 season.
- Jones was a part-time starter with the Cowboys for four seasons. Jones’ big career highlight was when when scored a touchdown against the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
- Gant became a special teams monster who was best known for his “shark dance.” He lasted until 1995, when he signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay.
- Smagala and Harper made the team, but Smagala lasted only two years, and Harper lasted only one.
* * *
Less than a week after the draft, Smith was already being compared with the great Tony Dorsett. Here’s a blurb from an article that ran on April 27, 1990:
It was 1987, near the end of Tony Dorsett’s final season as a Cowboy, and the camera crew outside his locker said they had an unusual question to ask.
A freshman at Florida named Emmhad just gone over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his seventh game to set an NCAA record. One of Dorsett’s records just had been erased, and the camera crew wanted a comment.
Dorsett, who never had heard of Smith , said a few perfunctory words of congratulations, then advised Smith not to get too cocky. “Remember, Emmitt ,’ he said, staring into the camera, “someday someone’s going to come along and break your records, too.’
Three years later, Smith ‘s record still stands. And when the Cowboys open their rookie orientation camp with meetings and testing Friday, Emmitt Smith ‘s life as a Cowboy begins. To some, that means his assault on Dorsett’s team rushing records is about to get under way.
Smith makes no such claims, however.
“I’m not going to say I can come in and do wonders for the Cowboys,’ Smith said. “I will tell you that I’ll do the best I can do.’
The Cowboys expect his best to be plenty.
Shortly after Dallas had traded up to draft Smith , running backs coach Joe Brodsky was ecstatic. ” Emmitt Smith has that little innate ingredient that you’ve got to be extremely careful of or he may not get tackled. I don’t see a weak point in that athlete, and we’ve studied him a long, hard time,’ he said.
Scout Walt Yowarsky was equally glowing, referring to Smith as the “Dorsett of a new era.”
By the time that the Cowboys traded Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings, hope was all but lost for the 1989 season. Dallas also traded quarterback Steve Pelluer to Kansas City for a third-round pick. The Cowboys added a little bit of punch by acquiring running back Paul Palmer, who was a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 1987 but who was returning kickoffs for the Lions by 1987.
Commentators recognized that the Cowboys were building for the future, even when the team was still winless by November. Here are some points that columnist Tim Cowlishaw made on November 1:
At mid-season, the Cowboys may be halfway to 0-16. Johnson pretends not to care so much about that while believing that the foundation for the 1990s is being established. Here is a look at Johnson’s five decisions, their current impact and possible future ramifications.
1. Playing rookie quarterbacks. When Johnson ushered Steve Pelluer and his agent at the time, Joe Courrege, out of his office last spring, he made the decision that Troy Aikman would play as a rookie. This was long before the Cowboys had added Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft.
But without Pelluer around, it became obvious before the Cowboys even left for Thousand Oaks, that Aikman or Walsh or some combination of the two would be running the Cowboys’ offense in 1989. Most NFL coaches do whatever they can to avoid playing rookies. Johnson did it by design.
While the bottom line is an 0-8 record and quarterback ratings at the bottom of the NFL pack, there is little doubt that Aikman and Walsh will profit from the experience that most rookie quarterbacks never get.
“I think both quarterbacks have been hampered by their supporting cast,’ said Johnson. “Both will get better when the receivers are able to run the right routes, when we get more of a running game and when players don’t drop passes.
“A lot of times when people are evaluating Troy and Steve, the expectations are so high that they get compared to quarterbacks who’ve been in the league for a long time. We’ve got to remember that they are rookies and they have progressed a lot faster than most rookies might progress.’
2. The revolving-door policy. Johnson decided last spring that the Cowboys would examine the waiver wire daily and exercise their right as last year’s worst team to take first shot at any player released. By failing to win a game, the Cowboys have remained the No. 1 selector of the waiver wire list all season. Dallas also has been involved in 11 of the league’s 27 trades since last spring’s draft.
This is not a club that is wary of change.
Dallas’ current roster includes 11 players who have been added since the team left training camp. Of those, Johnson sees bright futures for wide receivers James Dixon, Derrick Shepard and Bernard Ford and running back Paul Palmer . That’s just on offense. The defense includes linebacker Jack Del Rio and defensive tackle Dean Hamel, both of whom started against Phoenix. Ex-Viking linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard are getting more playing time this week although their futures here are tied to draft picks that Johnson doesn’t plan to surrender.
But in going after players who may help the Cowboys in the next decade, Johnson has sacrificed the ’89 season.
“I knew after we made the cutdown to the 47-man roster we were going to take a step back from the (3-1) pre-season,’ Johnson said. “You’re looking at about one-fourth of our squad that will be active Sunday that was not in training camp with us. All the time we put in at mini-camps, quarterback school and training camp will not pay dividends with those 11-12 players.
“The other thing is that, by the new players making mistakes, it hurts the performance of the players who have been in camp. But we’re looking at the long haul, and we felt this would help us in the future.’
3. Cutting a substantial number of veterans. Adding new blood is only half the equation. Going back to last spring when Danny White and Randy White were told that their playing days here were over, Johnson has never hesitated to cut a veteran even when there wasn’t an obviously more productive newcomer ready to take his place.
Fullback Timmy Newsome, a starter since 1984, was released to make room for Broderick Sargent and rookie Daryl Johnston. They have combined for 12 carries and 20 yards thus far.
Wide receiver Ray Alexander, who led last year’s team with 54 catches, was released twice. Dixon, Shepard and Ford combined aren’t on a pace to catch that many balls.
In fairness to Johnson, while at times it has seemed that these and possibly other released veterans could have helped, Newsome, Alexander, linebacker Jeff Rohrer and most of the other former Cowboys have not been picked up by other clubs.
4. Fitting players to the system. A lot of coaches do the opposite. They take a look at what they have and decide how to structure the offense and defense to fit the personnel. Johnson takes the opposite approach. Never mind that Herschel Walker was in the backfield and rookies were playing quarterback, Johnson wanted to install a passing offense. And did.
Johnson prefers speed to size although the Cowboys have more of the latter in several areas. This is especially true on defense although that unit played its best game of 1989 Sunday, and there is hope among the coaches and players that the corner is being turned.
“We’re playing much better defense now than we were early because we understand the system much better today. I think the offense has probably been hurt more with changes and injuries than the defense,’ Johnson said.
“We did start from scratch this year because we’ve added about one-fourth of our roster since training camp. That made progess difficult in the first half. I do believe, from this time one with more players comfortable in the system, that we will make steady progress in the second half.’
The first-year records of successful coaches such as Bill Walsh (2-14), Chuck Noll (1-13) and Mike Ditka (3-6) lends credence to Johnson’s claim that implementing a new system has some built-in drawbacks in the first year.
5. Trading Herschel Walker. Needless to say, this was Johnson’s boldest stroke since replacing Tom Landry. A stroke of genius? We won’t have the answer to that for three or four years when the eight draft choices the Cowboys acquired from Minnesota have been made.
The short-term effect is obvious. The Cowboys have no running game. Paul Palmer is averaging 5.4 yards per carry (24-for-130), but subtract his 63-yard run at Kansas City and the average falls to 2.9. Keep an eye on his fumbles, too.
Here is a look at the final 11 games of the 1989 season.
Week 6: San Francisco 31, Dallas 14
The Cowboys kept the game with the defending Super Bowl champions close, as the game was tied 7-7 at the half. But Steve Young (filling in for Joe Montana) and Roger Craig proved to be too much. Steve Walsh had a relatively strong day, completing 23 of 36 for 294 yards. However, he also threw two picks.
Week 7: Kansas City 36, Dallas 28
Paul Palmer had one of his few highlights against the team that originally drafted him. However, the Cowboys fell behind early, and a late surge was not enough to give the team its first win.
Week 8: Phoenix 19, Dallas 10
Dallas held former Cowboy QB Gary Hogeboom to 164 passing yards, but the Cowboys only managed 45 rushing yards in a 19-10 loss.
Week 9: Dallas 13, Washington 3
Thanks to a defense that caused two turnovers and an offense that did just enough, the Cowboys ended their losing streak by upsetting Washington. Palmer rushed for110 yards on 18 carries, giving him his only career 100-yard game.
Week 10: Phoenix 24, Dallas 20
The Cowboys took a fourth-quarter lead when Troy Aikman hit James Dixon on a 75-yard touchdown pass. However, Arizona’s Tom Tupa (who later became a full-time punter) hit Ernie Jones on the second of two fourth-quarter TD passes to give the Cardinals a 24-20 win.
Week 11: Miami 17, Dallas 14
Dallas jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first half, only to see Dan Marino and running back Sammie Smith lead a Miami comeback.
Week 12: Philadelphia 27, Dallas 0
Other than their 1-15 record, the 1989 Cowboys are best known for being a part of the “Bounty Bowl.” Unfortunately, the Cowboys barely showed up, committing five turnovers in a shutout loss.
Week 13: L.A. Rams 35, Dallas 31
Aikman rebounded from the Bounty Bowl by throwing four touchdowns passes, including scores to the likes of Steve Folsom and Bernard Ford. However, Jim Everett threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to give the Rams a 35-31 win.
Week 14: Philadelphia 20, Dallas 10
The Cowboys’ performance in Bounty Bowl II was not as bad as the first game, but the Cowboys still lost their 13th game of the season.
Here’s a clip:
Week 15: N.Y. Giants 15, Dallas 0
In one of the worst games in franchise history, the Cowboys only managed 108 total yards in a shutout loss to the Giants. The team’s leading rusher: Daryl Johnston, who managed 15 yards on four carries.
Week 16: Green Bay 20, Dallas 10
With the bathrooms at Texas Stadium reportedly freezing up, the Cowboys’ 1989 season came to an end. Jack Del Rio’s 57-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown tied the game in the second half, but the Packers were able to put the game away.
The Cowboys entered the 1989 season with a few familiar names from the Landry era (Herschel Walker, Too Tall Jones, Everson Walls, Tom Rafferty, Jim Jeffcoat, Eugene Lockhart). The team recorded a 3-1 record during the preseason. And what appeared to be the most important news of all was that Troy Aikman appeared to be the real deal.
The legend built gradually over the summer with the signing of a six-year, $11 million contract, followed by positive if not always rave reviews from Thousand Oaks, Calif., the Cowboys ‘ training camp. But the legend grew last Saturday when a beaten and bloodied Aikman shrugged off Oilers’ blitzes and late hits to lead the Cowboys to a 30-28 last-second victory.
In the wake of that contest in which he threw for 306 yards and took some ferocious hits, it seemed almost silly to Aikman to be talking about the approach of his first “real’ NFL game this Sunday. “If that wasn’t it, I can’t wait to see what a real one is like,’ Aikman said.
But, for record-keeping purposes, the real stuff does, indeed, start Sunday. And for a quarterback who has hit the NFL scene with more fanfare than Roger Staubach received when he returned from Vietnam and the Navy to join the Cowboys in 1969, the eyes of more than Texas will be watching.
That was the good news in 1989, except that the season hadn’t started yet. The ugly reality:
Week 1: New Orleans 28, Dallas 0
Aikman’s first game wasn’t awful on paper: 17 of 35 for 180 yards with 2 ints. Then there was the rushing attack– Walker finished with 10 yards on 8 carries in a game that was over early.
Week 2: Atlanta 27, Dallas 21
Aikman’s first touchdown pass to Michael Irvin came on a 65-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter of the team’s week 2 matchup against the Saints. Walker added two touchdowns to give the team a 21-10 lead. However, Atlanta cut the lead to 21-20 in the third quarter, and a fourth quarter touchdown gave the Falcons the lead. Late in the game, Aikman threw a deep pass to a wide open Kelvin Martin, but when Martin slipped, Scott Case came up with an interception that sealed the win for Atlanta.
Week 3: Washington 30, Dallas 7
The highlight: Jim Jeffcoat recorded a 77-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Evidence that Aikman was a rookie: 6 of 21 for 83 yards and two picks.
Week 4: N.Y. Giants 30, Dallas 13
Aikman didn’t get any better against the Giants: 1 of 6 for 11 yards before leaving the game with an injury. Steve Walsh performed fairly well in relief but also threw two picks.
Week 5: Green Bay 31, Dallas 13
The hot topic before the Cowboys faced the Packers in week 5 was whether Dallas would trade Walker. As many as five teams were interested, with the Browns and Vikings leading the pack.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys played a good first half against Green Bay but could not stop Don Majkowski, who threw for four touchdowns.
On October 12, 1989, the Cowboys sent Walker and a few draft picks to Minnesota for several mediocre players and a slew of draft picks. For more on this trade, visit Pro Sports Transactions or Scout.com (MC: I previously linked to a Wikipedia entry on the trade, but the summary on that site is inaccurate).
The end result after 1992:
- Jake Reed
- Dallas received–
- Emmitt Smith
- Russell Maryland
- Kevin Smith
- Darren Woodson
- Clayton Holmes
As for the trade’s impact, here is the summary from ESPN’s Page 2:
The Deal: In a deal that involved a whopping six players and 12 draft picks, the Cowboys laid the groundwork for their Super Bowl teams of the 1990s by trading running back Herschel Walker to Minnesota on Oct. 12, 1989. In exchange for Walker, Dallas received five players, six conditional draft choices and a 1992 first-round pick.
The Impact: Two of those draft choices turned out to be running back Emmitt Smith and safety Darren Woodson, key players who helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Jimmy Johnson used all those extra draft choices to wheel and deal through the 1990s — the picks eventually involved 15 teams and 55 players as they were combined with other choices and traded around the NFL. One such deal helped the ‘Boys land the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft, which they used on defensive tackle Russell Maryland.
Walker played just 2½ years in Minnesota and never had a 1,000-yard season for the Vikes. Minnesota felt the running back was the missing piece to its Super Bowl puzzle, but the team never won a playoff game with Walker, and the loss of the draft picks seriously hurt a team that consistently contended.
Jimmy Johnson did not conduct himself at the 1989 draft like a rookie head coach who was just feeling his way through it. He managed to draft a Hall-of-Fame quarterback and three other key starters who helped the Cowboys to become a dynasty just three years later.
Everyone expected the Cowboys to take UCLA’s Troy Aikman in the first round. Though Johnson was noncommittal about taking the rookie QB, there were no surprises on draft day. The only question was how much Aikman might make given reports that he would earn more than Joe Montana, who was the best QB in the game at that time (Aikman signed for $11.2 million over six years, which was indeed more than Montana).
In the second round, Raiders’ owner Al Davis desperately wanted Penn State guard Steve Wisniewski. The Cowboys drafted the guard but turned around and traded him and a 6th rounder to the Raiders for a 2nd, 3rd, and 5th from the Raiders. Wisniewski became an eight-time Pro Bowler, but the Cowboys did just fine. The picked up Syracuse fullback Daryl Johnston in the second round (using the Raiders pick).
Dallas found a Pro Bowl lineman in the third round in Mark Stepnoski. One round later, the Cowboys found a run-stopping defensive end in Tony Tolbert.
Here’s a look at the full draft:
1(1) Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA
2(29) Steve Wisniewski, G, Penn State
2(39) Daryl Johnston, FB, Syracuse
3(57) Mark Stepnoski, C, Pittsburgh
3(68) Rhondy Weston, DE, Florida
4(85) Tony Tolbert, DE, Texas-El Paso
5(113) Keith Jennings, TE, Clemson
5(119) Willis Crockett, LB, Georgia Tech
5(125) Jeff Roth, DT, Florida
7(168) Kevin Peterson, LB, Northwestern
8(196) Charvez Foger, RB, Nevada-Reno
9(224) Tim Jackson, DB, Nebraska
10(252) Rod Carter, LB, Miami (FL)
11(280) Randy Shannon, LB, Miami (FL)
12(308) Scott Ankrom, WR, TCU
1(1) Steve Walsh, QB, Miami (FL)
12(5) Mike Loman, RB, Coffeyville Community College
The remaining picks in the regular draft are hardly worth mentioning. Tight end Keith Jennings spent one year in Dallas before becoming a part-time starter with the Chicago Bears. The others who actually made the squad were special teams players.
The Cowboys could have entered the 1989 season with Aikman and Steve Pelluer. However, Johnson stayed with his QB from the University of Miami, Steve Walsh, who threw for 5,369 yards and 48 touchdowns in his college career. Some speculated that Johnson drafted Walsh with the idea of trading him, but Walsh ended up at training camp.
With the team picking up the young QBs, Johnson had to advise Danny White to retire in July. For several months, Steve Pelluer sought a trade, which was finally completed when Dallas shipped him to Kansas City in October. He played 18 total games with the Chiefs, starting only three.
With the firing of Tom Landry in late February 1989, it was only a matter of time before most of the old guard was out the door. When Jimmy Johnson answered questions about his plans for the franchise on March 1, 1989, it was already clear that the team would move in a very different direction.
* Although Johnson said there was a chance that some of Landry’s assistants would remain on staff, Johnson initially only retained secondary coach Dick Nolan and receivers coach Alan Lowry. Johnson later announced that he retained Jerry Rhome as quarterbacks coach.
* Johnson brought in a total of six coaches from the University of Miami, including offensive line coach Tony Wise; defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt; defensive line coach Butch Davis; general defensive assistant Dave Campo; receivers coach Hubbard Alexander; and running backs coach Joe Brodsky.
* Johnson said he would retain the 4-3 defense, which Landry was willing to discard in 1989 in favor of a 3-4 scheme. Johnson’s 4-3 used smaller and faster players in a more aggressive system.
* Johnson would not commit to drafting Troy Aikman, nor would he rule out acquiring Miami quarterback Steve Walsh.
* Although Gil Brandt remained with the team, Johnson said he would be actively involved in scouting and drafting of players.
Brandt’s role with the team was the subject of controversy. He was a close friend to Johnson, leading some to speculate that Brandt may have been working behind the scenes as Jerry Jones planned to take over the team. The fact that the team retained Brandt throughout the spring further fueled the perception that Brandt may have been something of a mole.
In March, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle stunned owners by announcing his retirement. Tex Schramm’s name surfaced briefly as a possible candidate to replace Rozelle, but Schramm quickly disclaimed having any interest in the job.
In April, Jones announced that he had signed Johnson to a 10-year “no-cut” contract. According to Jones, “We want continuity. We want Jimmy Johnson coaching the Cowboys well into the future.”
Schramm, on the other hand, resigned less than two weeks later, deciding to become the head of the league’s new spring league in Europe.
Another legend’s career also came to an end in April 1989, as defensive tackle Randy White announced his retirement. Another White–a quarterback named Danny– wanted to return, but the team announced in April that his contract had not been renewed. Although the team eventually gave him a new contract in May, he was gone from the team by July. At that point, there were other quarterback issues, which we will get to in a few days.
For 29 years, the Dallas Cowboys had one head coach, one general manager, and one head scout. On February 26, 1989, news official broke that Jerry Jones had not only purchased the team from Bum Bright but had also fired Tom Landry.
According to the story published by the Dallas Morning News:
Tex Schramm’s eyes filled with tears. Then his voice cracked and he cried. It was almost too much to comprehend: Tom Landry is no longer the only coach the Cowboys have ever had. Landry was fired Saturday by the Cowboys’ new owner, Jerry Jones, who named University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson to succeed him.
Schramm and Jones flew from Dallas to Landry’s vacation home near Austin on Saturday afternoon and Jones broke the news to Landry that he was out. Then, at a news conference at Valley Ranch team headquarters that began shortly after 8 p.m., Schramm broke down.
“It was a very difficult meeting,” Schramm said. “It’s very, very sad. It’s tough when you break a relationship you’ve had for 29 years. That’s an awful long time.”
Landry was not available for comment. “For Tom, he was emotional,” said Schramm, who stood red-eyed and solemnly to the side during most of the news conference.
Jones said he told Landry, “I’m here and so is Jimmy.” He said their meeting was “very awkward, and I was basically just trying to say something you just can’t say.”
Those were the two words that Landry thought he would never hear: You’re fired. It is the most dramatic and emotional story in the history of Dallas sports.
In retrospect, most of us know this move had to happen. Landry wasn’t going to go anywhere unless he was forced to go, but the team wasn’t going to go anywhere with him at the helm. Especially after the accusations about buying youtube views. The circumstances of the firing were quite unfortunate, leading some decry the “callous end” to Landry’s glorious career.
Shock. Disbelief. Anger.
These are just a few of the feelings boiling over this week as the public tries to understand the manner in which “the only coach the Dallas Cowboys ever had’ has suddenly and unceremoniously been shown the door.
In his 29 years as the Cowboys’ head coach, Tom Landry created a cool image of professionalism that will forever be intertwined with memories of Dallas teams that made it to the Super Bowl five times. There simply is no easy way to remove coach Landry ‘s unemotional facade on the sidelines from the vision of the Dallas Cowboys.
And that is why new Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ‘ sudden firing of coach Landry over the weekend before bothering to discuss the matter with him should stun and infuriate people who don’t even follow professional sports.
In a society where there still is a sometimes naive belief that great performance and loyal service will be rewarded, the callous dismissal of the Dallas Cowboys coach stings like the snap of a wet towel.
Yes, the Cowboys have fallen on hard times. Yes, coach Landry ‘s game strategies and single-mindedness during the past couple of years have left him open to public criticism.
But Mr. Jones ‘ unfeeling treatment of the coach who built this team from nothing to world champion indicates he still has a lot to learn about the relationship between the Cowboys and their fans.
Arkansas oilman Jerry Jones has promised to deliver the winner that the public wants. He said that the hiring of the University of Miami football coach Jimmy Johnson and his hands-on approach to team ownership will provide victories that will bring crowds swarming back to Texas Stadium.
That’s fine. But in his exuberance and self-assurance, Mr. Jones has overlooked the fact that pride and tradition also are a strong part of the Dallas Cowboys. By mishandling the coaching change, he runs the risk of alienating those fans who have not yet forgotten the Cowboys glory days.
This is now Jerry Jones ‘ team. He has the right to run it in any way he sees fit. A few winning seasons probably will ease the pain of the current transition. But Mr. Jones can speed up the healing process by acknowledging the lack of respect he has shown for one of pro football’s most respected coaches and making a public apology. A good step toward making amends was suggested during Mr. Jones ‘ news conference Monday — the renaming of Texas Stadium for Tom Landry . That would be a fitting tribute for someone whose name always will be linked with the Dallas Cowboys.
Almost immediately, the city of Dallas and fans everywhere forgot about the team’s decline during the 1980s. What was left were great memories of the legend in the fedora who build America’s Team.
Texas Stadium will no longer exist as of 7 a.m. this morning. Obviously, everyone has known that this day was coming for some time, but it still sad to think about the very end of the team’s home for so many years.
Other news sites have provided plenty of information about the stadium’s history, so there is not need for a recap here. Some interesting stories:
Personally, I will never forget the first time I walked into the stadium. I did not attend a game until 1994, when I got to see the Cowboys face the Redskins in a game that Dallas won 31-7. The outside wasn’t much to look at, but the inside was everything I had always imagined.
I will leave this with some images from stadium when it was less than year old.
The first time that Jerry Jones’ name surfaced as a possible owner of the Cowboys was in late February of 1989. Just two months before that, Tex Schramm commented that the prospects of finding someone to pick up the $150 million price tag (along with leases at Texas Stadium) weren’t looking good. The outlook was just as bleak two weeks before the team announced the sale.
Owner Bum Bright’s instructions to Schramm: “Operate the club conservatively; don’t make a lot of expenditures now that can be made later on.”
Cowboys fans were expecting some big moves after the 3-13 debacle of 1988. Most thought the Cowboys would take UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, and during the off-season in 1989, teams for the first time could sign free agents through Plan B free agency.
Teams had to leave a significant number of players unprotected in this free agency system, and several of the aging Dallas players left unprotected were a who’s who of the team’s core from the 1980s: quarterback Danny White; defensive tackle Randy White; wide receiver Mike Sherrard; center Tom Rafferty; tight end Doug Cosbie; safety Victor Scott; and safety Michael Downs. Tackle Mark Tuinei, running back Mark Higgs, safety Billy Owens and linebacker Garth Jax were also unprotected.
As for new players the team wanted to add, one name stood out: Cardinals linebacker E.J. Junior, who had been a Pro Bowl player for much of the 1980s. (As it turns out, Junior signed with Miami and played for three different teams through 1993).
Coaching changes were also in store. Landry demoted longtime defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner and hired former Indianapolis defensive coach George Hill. It would be Hill’s job to convert the Cowboys to a 3-4 defense, which would represent one of the biggest strategic changes the franchise had ever undergone. Landry also made changes to the offensive staff, moving Paul Hackett from pass-offensive coordinator to “special projects” (meaning that Landry told Hackett to get lost). Dallas hired former quarterback Jerry Rhome to fill Hackett’s old position.
On February 14, 1989, the Dallas Morning News reported that Landry planned to coach in both 1989 and 1990. Landry’s comment at the time: “I’ve said all along that I’ll step down when I feel it’s time, or management decides it’s time . . . We’re trying to build long-range. When I go out, I want the Cowboys going in the right direction.”
Ten days later, a DMN report noted that Arkansas oilman Jerry Jones was a possible candidate to become the new team owner. Two days after this report, Landry was out of a job.
The Cowboys started the 1988 season at 2-2 but had a difficult schedule during the month of October. The tough stretch began with a Monday night matchup against the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys came back from an early 14-0 deficit to tie the game at 17 in the fourth quarter. However, the Saints quickly moved into position for a field goal in the final seconds, and Morton Anderson’s kick gave the Saints a 20-17 win.
The Cowboys hadn’t suffered a 10-game losing streak since losing the first 10 games in franchise history in 1960. Tom Landry’s 1988 team duplicated the feat in perhaps a fitting, but nevertheless sad, ending to his career.
Week 6: Washington 35, Dallas 17
The Cowboys were behind 28-10 at the half and committed five turnovers in a 35-17 loss to Washington. Danny White saw some action in relief, but it was too late.
Week 7: Chicago 17, Dallas 7
On the day that the Cowboys lost both Steve Pelluer and Danny White to injury, the Dallas Morning News announced:
At 2-5, the Cowboys no longer are dreaming of making the playoffs. But all is not lost, unhappy Dallas fans. The Cowboys have entered the Troy Aikman Sweepstakes.
Something noteworthy about this game? My high school band traveled to Chicago to perform at halftime. I fortunately wasn’t in the band.
Week 8: Philadelphia 24, Dallas 23
The Cowboys held a 20-0 lead in the first half and appeared to be in position to secure the win when they drove to the Philadelphia 23 with a 23-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Landry became confused, though, and thought the ball was on the 30. He called a pass play that resulted in an intentional-grounding penalty, moving the Cowboys out of field goal range. The Eagles turned around and marched 85 yards for the game-winning touchdown, leading the Dallas press to question Landry’s sanity.
Week 9: Phoenix 16, Dallas 10
The Cowboys took a 10-0 lead in the third quarter thanks to a 50-yard touchdown from Pelluer to Ray Alexander. The Cardinals scored twice in the fourth quarter, though, to steal a 16-10 win.
Week 10: N.Y. Giants 29, Dallas 21
The Cowboys fell behind 26-0 to the Giants, leading Landry to replace Pelluer with former replacement quarterback Kevin Sweeney. Sweeney threw three touchdown passes, and though these weren’t enough, fans thought that Sweeney represented the future of the Cowboys.
Week 11: Minnesota 43, Dallas 3
Sweeney’s debut as the starter in a non-replacement game wasn’t one to remember. He completed 10 of 28 passes for 93 yards and four interceptions in a humiliating 43-3 loss to the Vikings.
Week 12: Cincinnati 38, Dallas 24
Halftime score: 24-3. Sweeney’s stats: 4 completions on 13 attempts for 32 yards in what turned out to be his final appearance in an NFL game. Fans at Texas Stadium: 37,865. Losses: 10, meaning the Cowboys would have double-digit losses for the first time since 1964.
Week 13: Houston 25, Dallas 17
The Cowboys made a game of it on Thanksgiving Day, taking a 17-10 lead over the Oilers in the second half. But the Cowboys continued to show that they had nothing in the tank and lost, 25-17.
“I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving,” Cowboys coach Tom Landry said. “Mine wasn’t so good.”
Week 14: Cleveland 24, Dallas 21
Bernie Kosar was too much for the Cowboys, throwing for 308 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys lost their 12th game of the season, setting the mark for most losses in a year. Herschel Walker continued to run hard (25 carries for 134 yards), but the team was finished.
Week 15: Dallas 24, Washington 17
When the Cowboys absolutely, positively can’t beat anyone else, Dallas can usually count on the Redskins, no matter what the record of either team is. The Redskins were 7-7 heading into the game but had trouble with the 2-12 Cowboys all game. Michael Irvin caught three touchdown passes in his first big game as a pro. His third touchdown in the fourth quarter was enough to give Dallas the win.
Week 16: Philadelphia 23, Dallas 7
In Landry’s final game, the Cowboys took a 7-0 lead on a Herschel Walker touchdown. The team then failed to do anything else, managing only 239 total yards and committing three turnovers.
The good news? Green Bay beat Phoenix, giving the Cowboys the top overall pick in the 1989 draft.