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.


1988 Review: 2-2 Start Proves to Be the Highlight of Landry’s Last Season

Steve Pelluer took over as the full-time starter in 1988.

In Tom Landry’s first four seasons, the Cowboys could only manage a combined record of 13-38-3. Clint Murchison Jr. put aside calls for Landry’s firing by giving the coach a 10-year contract. After that move, the Cowboys became the model of consistency.

The team had become mediocre in the mid-1980s, but only the worst pessimist would have predicted what happened in 1988.

Dallas was bound to look different heading into the season. The team traded its all-time leading rusher, Tony Dorsett, to the Denver Broncos for a conditional draft choice. At the time of the trade, Dorsett stood fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 12,036 yards.

[Trivia question: What player did the Cowboys acquire with the pick they received from Denver for Dorsett? See below for the answer]

The team’s fortunes took a nosedive during training camp when receiver Mike Sherrard broke his leg for a second time. This occurred just two weeks after the team signed rookie Michael Irvin, leaving the team with a talented rookie and a bunch of no-names at the receiver position.

Steve Pelluer was set to be the quarterback. Danny White was still on the squad, but he only appeared in three games in 1988.

Week 1: Pittsburgh 24, Dallas 21

Irvin caught three passes for 73 yards in his debut, and his touchdown reception from Pelluer in the third quarter cut the Steeler lead to 17-14. Pittsburgh maintained a three-point lead, but Dallas was driving late in the game. On a third-and-2 play from the Pittsburgh 4, Pelluer became confused and threw towards tight end Doug Cosbie, who was triple-covered. The pass was intercepted, and Cowboys lost.

Week 2: Dallas 17, Phoenix 14

Pelleur’s one-yard touchdown  in the fourth quarter gave Dallas a 17-7 lead, and though the Cardinals came back with a touchdown from Neil Lomax to future Cowboy Jay Novacek, the Cowboys held on for the win. Herschel Walker had 149 rushing yards for Dallas.

Week 3: N.Y. Giants 12, Dallas 10

On the opening kickoff Darryl Clack was tackled in the end zone. The play should have been a touchback, but the official mistakenly called it a safety. The two points proved to be the margin of victory in this very flawed game. Walker had 158 total yards, while Irvin had six receptions for 96 yards.

Week 4: Dallas 26, Atlanta 20

Danny Noonan had a career game against Atlanta in week 4. In the first quarter, Ed Jones tipped a pass in the air deep in Dallas territory, and Noonan grabbed the ball and ran it in for a touchdown. The Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but the Falcons came back and led 20-14 in the second half. Noonan struck again in the third quarter, sacking Chris Miller in the end zone to cut the deficit to 20-16. With the team trailing 20-19, Pelluer came through in the fourth, hitting Ray Alexander from 29 yards out to give the Cowboys the win.

The good news: Dallas was in a four-way tie for first with a 2-2 record after four games.

Rather shocking: Only 39,702 fans showed up for the game at Texas Stadium.

Trivia answer: Dallas would receive a fifth-round pick in 1989 unless Dorsett rushed for more than 750 yards, in which case the team would receive a third-round pick. Dorsett finished with 703 yards, meaning that the Cowboys received the #125 overall pick. Dallas used the pick on defensive tackle Jeff Ross, who never played a down in the NFL.

1988 Review: Cowboys Start to Rebuild with Miami WR Michael Irvin

The Cowboys took Miami's Michael Irvin with the #11 pick in 1988.

Any hope that fans had for the Cowboys by the 1988 offseason was probably based on the unrealistic expectation that Tom Landry & Co. would somehow find the magic again. Landry had fewer fans in his corner than in the past, though, and a decade worth of bad drafts left fans with little optimism that the ’88 draft would be different.

Dallas held the #11 pick, one spot higher than was the case in 1987. Dallas focused on defense in 1987 but did not have great results. Commentators, including Randy Galloway of the Dallas Morning News, cast some doubt on Gil Brandt’s ability to put together a quality draft. Galloway wrote:

Instead of the same old whines and whimpers, just once I’d love to pick up a newspaper and read the following from Gil Brandt:

“This draft may not have our specific wants and needs, but we think we can milk it for all it’s worth.’

Then again, maybe that’s not best. If Brandt ever said something like that, consider all the structural damage that would occur at Valley Ranch from chins hitting the floor.

Brandt deals in rump coverage — his own — so as each and every NFL draft approaches, we receive the cry-me-a-river routine about how the thing is stacked against the poor Cowboys.

Next Sunday’s is no different, of course. Even with the Cowboys picking 11th in the first round this time, their best slot (without a trade) since Tom Landry was a pup.

Granted, the talent in this draft doesn’t exactly match up with ’87, and it’s not close to the glory year of ’83. But if ’83 was so great, why do the Cowboys have only one (Jim Jeffcoat) of 12 picks that year still on the roster? Just another reason, of course, why Brandt, the team’s director of player personnel, has become a rump-coverage specialist.

Dallas decided to take a chance on the brash,  flashy, and somewhat controversial receiver from Miami University named Michael Irvin, who had just led Miami to a national championship. The Cowboys envisioned Irvin teaming with Mike Sherrard and solving the team’s WR problems from the year before.

There was some concern, of course, about whether Irvin could fit in on Landry’s Cowboys. Landry did not handle the likes of Butch Johnson (recall the California Quake controversy), and Irvin was even more outspoken than Johnson. Some commentators thought Irvin was just what the Cowboys needed. David Casstevens of the DMN said:

If he doesn’t break Drew Pearson’s all-time receiving record, and his only request is that we give him time, it won’t be because he lacks confidence or is short on self-esteem. The Cowboys’ No. 1 draft choice doesn’t need to listen to those cassette tapes that play the sounds of ocean waves, washing over a subliminal voice, as it whispers, “I can succeed. I can succeed,’ over and over again.

Irvin is a terrific player, and his willingness to agree with that assessment is fine by me. The Cowboys need a fellow who walks like a winner and talks like a winner and whose exuberance and enthusiasm for the game you can feel, radiating off him in waves. Rx for Cowboys’ ills

This team needs a guy who believes, as Irvin did at Miami, that third-and-15 was made for him. The Cowboys can use a player who wears a national championship watch and though proud of the championship ring he will receive next week, said, “We should have won three.”

Here’s a look at the complete draft:

1(11) Michael Irvin, WR, Miami
2(41) Ken Norton, LB, UCLA
3(67) Mark Hutson, G, Oklahoma
4(94) Dave Widell, C, Boston College
6(151) Scott Secules, QB, Virginia
7(178) Owen Hoove, T, Oregon State
8(205) Mark Higgs, RB, Kentucky
9(232) Brian Bedford, WR, California
10(263) Billy Owens, DB, Pittsburgh
11(290) Chad Hennings, DT, Air Force
12(317) Ben Hummel, LB, UCLA

Norton, the son of the former heavyweight boxer, came to the team with high hopes, but he was injured as a rookie and did not appear in a game until near the end of the season. Of course, he had a bright future as the best linebacker on two Super Bowl squads. Hennings had to spend at least four years serving in the Air Force before he would see action, but he became a starter by the mid-1990s.

This draft has to be considered a success, even though only three of the picks resulted in solid contributors. Without Irvin, Dallas was not a Super Bowl team. Norton’s importance was also significant, especially when he battled through injury to help lead the ’93 team’s defense.

Some of the others turned out to be good picks, but few saw significant action with the Cowboys. Both Secules and Higgs wound up on the Miami Dolphins, with Higgs rushing for just under 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons. Widdell became a starter with both the Broncos and Jaguars.

The biggest bust was Mark Hutson, who showed up to camp overweight and out of shape. He was injured in training camp and never played a down with the team.

1987 Review: Herschel Takes Over the Offense, but It Doesn’t Help

With the Cowboys struggling at 4-4 after eight games in 1987, Tom Landry all but gave up on the idea of having Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett share the load. In game 9, Dorsett carried the ball just one time before leaving the game with an injury. In the three games that followed Dorsett carried the ball a total of 22 times. He had scored just once all year, and that came when he crossed the picket line during the strike. He never scored a touchdown with the Cowboys again.

Herschel Walker became the focal point of the Dallas offense in the second half of the 1987 season. Meanwhile, Tom Landry fell under fire.

Game 9: Dallas 23, New England 17

Walker gave the Cowboys hope when he carried the ball 28 times for 173 yards in a 23-17 overtime win at New England.

The Cowboys were 5-4, and it looked as if the team may have better continuity by relying more on Walker to become the focal point of the offense.

It was an illusion.

Game 10: Miami 20, Dallas 14

Landry decided to start Steve Pelluer instead of Danny White when the Cowboys hosted the Dolphins on a Sunday night game during week 10. Walker had 156 yards in total offense, and Pelluer rushed for 79 yards, but the team failed to complete a single pass to a receiver. The Dolphins held a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys could not come back.

At 5-5, the Cowboys were a game behind the Vikings as those teams prepared to face off on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys needed a win to have any shot at the playoffs.

Game 11: Minnesota 44, Dallas 38

White returned to the lineup against the Vikings, and the veteran helped to erase three different 14-point deficits (14-0; 28-14; 38-24). The teams went to overtime, and the Cowboys had a solid drive going. On a second-and-six play from the Minnesota, White lost control of the ball and threw a horrible pick to linebacker Scott Studwell. The Vikings won the game when Darren Nelson scored on the ensuing drive. White had 341 yards passing, but he also threw three interceptions.

Game 12: Atlanta 21, Dallas 10

Landry’s team historically rebounded from difficult defeats, but the ’87 team fell apart after the losses to the Dolphins and Vikings. The Cowboys hosted the 2-9 Falcons after the Thanksgiving Day loss, and Dallas fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Dallas never got much going on offense, as Walker rushed for only 35 yards.

Owner Bum Bright did not hide his displeasure with Landry.

Bright said he has the utmost confidence in club president Tex Schramm, calling him “the best general manager in the NFL.’ His stance on coach Tom Landry, Bright indicated, is not as solid.

“I get horrified sometimes at our play-calling,’ he said. “I’ve heard that we’re not using certain players because they haven’t been brought along yet. Maybe the problem is we can’t utilize the talent of certain guys because we don’t have anybody to direct how to use them.

“It doesn’t seem like we’ve got anybody in charge that knows what they’re doing, other than Tex.

“I don’t want to do the coaching and I don’t want to try to run the team, but I’m not satisfied with the results we get. We can’t go along like we are.’

Asked if he would back a change in coaches, Bright said, “I’d back Tex in anything he wants to do. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. He’s a tough person.’

Game 13: Washington 24, Dallas 20

The 5-7 Cowboys once again found themselves behind against the Redskins. White turned in his last solid performance with the Cowboys, completing 27 of 49 passes for 359 yards and 2 TDs. However, the Dallas comeback fell short, and the team was guaranteed to have a losing record for the second consecutive season.

Game 14: Dallas 29, L.A. Rams 21

The Cowboys showed some heart when they traveled to play the Rams near the end of the season. Dorsett was involved with the offense, rushing for 52 yards on 12 carries. Walker rushed for 108 yards in his second 100-yard performance of the season. The win did not mean anything in the end, but at least the team kept playing.

Game 15: Dallas 21, St. Louis 16

With the Cardinals planning to planning to move to Phoenix in 1988, this game marked the team’s last game as the St. Louis franchise. Walker carried the offense rushing for 137 yards and adding another 50 receiving yards. He finished the season with 1606 total yards, which led the league, check out who else is in the lead, read this NetEnt review.


Buddy Ryan Humiliates Cowboys After ’87 Strike

Two weeks after the Cowboys and Eagles faced off with their replacement players– a 41-22 Dallas win– the teams met again at Veterans Stadium. The Eagles did not win a single game with the scabs and entered the game with a 1-4 record. They left with the satisfaction of rubbing the faces of Tom Landry and the rest of the Cowboys in the carpet-covered concrete at Veterans Stadium.

Herschel Walker scores against the Eagles, but Philadelphia had the last laugh.

The Eagles jumped out to a 13-3 lead, but Dallas tied the game early in the third quarter. Philadelphia stormed back, and when Randall Cunningham in the fourth quarter hit John Spagnola for the duo’s second touchdown, Philadelphia led 30-13. Dallas cut the lead to 30-20, and the Eagles appeared to be content to fall on the ball.

Here’s how the Dallas Morning News described what happened next:

The Cowboys were willing enough to accept defeat Sunday. The final humiliation that Buddy Ryan and the Eagles provided was another matter.

But the last-second bomb to Mike Quick that drew a 32-yard pass-interference penalty and set up Keith Byars’ one-yard touchdown run on the final play may help them forget what transpired during the first 59 minutes of their 37-20 loss to Philadelphia.

The Eagles’ final act drew a terse statement from Tom Landry: “I wouldn’t even justify that with a comment. Everybody has his opinion of what it was.”

According to Ryan, who said he felt the Cowboys had exploited their advantage in veterans in a 41-22 victory two weeks ago, the play was justified.

“The last touchdown was very satisfying. I had it planned all along,” he said. Mimicking a Landry quote from two weeks ago, Ryan added: “I just played the hand that was dealt me.”

Between 1983 and the team’s first matchup of 1987, the Cowboys had gone 7-2 against the Eagles. After this loss, Dallas would not beat the Eagles again until 1991.

Week 7: Dallas 33, N.Y. Giants 24

Dallas bounced back in the following week by stunning the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Thanks to two touchdown passes from Phil Simms to Lionel Manual, the Giants had taken a 24-14 lead. However, four Roger Ruzek field goals and an interception return for a TD by defensive end Jim Jeffcoat gave the Cowboys a 33-24 win. “Too Tall” Jones had a huge game, recording four sacks and tipping two passes that resulted in interceptions, including Jeffcoat’s. The win gave the Cowboys a 4-3 record, while the Giants fell to 1-6.

Week 8: Detroit 27, Dallas 17

Danny White followed up a strong performance against the Giants by throwing four picks at Detroit. Meanwhile, the Lions took advantage of solid play from quarterback Chuck Long (of Iowa fame, if you remember back that far) and receiver Pete Mandley (8 rec., 97 yds.) to record Detroit’s first win (not counting replacement games) since 1986.

After this game, Tony Dorsett’s role in the offense diminished significantly. He had managed just three yards on 14 carries against the Giants, and he only gained 29 yards on 11 carries against the Lions. He had not recorded a 100-yard game since the middle of the 1986 season.

Herschel Walker, in the meantime, was on his way to leading the NFL in all-purpose yards, and he was about to become the main focal point of the entire offense.

RIP, Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen helped the Rams beat the Cowboys in the 1976 playoffs.

Many of us remember Merlin Olsen as Dick Enberg’s color commentator during the 1980s (and not, um, for Olsen’s role on Little House on the Prairie or for the flower commercials…that’s how my sister knew who he was). Olsen died earlier this week of mesothelioma.

Since Olsen and Enberg were NBC’s lead team, they most often called AFC games along with the occasional interconference game. The duo called a few Cowboy games, though none jump out as especially memorable.

Olsen also faced the Cowboys as a member of the Fearsome Foursome. During Olsen’s 14-year career, the Cowboys and Rams faced off nine times, including the playoffs (but not including the Playoff Bowl in 1970). Dallas held a 5-4 edge in these games. The Cowboys and Rams did not have much of a rivalry until the 1970s, when the teams started meeting frequently in the playoffs. As with his broadcast career, Olsen did not stand out in those games.

In Olsen’s final season as a player, he turned in a memorable performance at Texas Stadium by recording two sacks in the Rams’ 14-12 win over Dallas. Most Cowboys’ fans would prefer to forget this game, while Ram fans consider it one of the best. Olsen’s final game came the following week in L.A.’s 24-13 loss at Minnesota.

Olsen’s final game as a broadcaster also involved the Cowboys, as he and Dick Stockton called the Cowboys-Falcons game in the season finale in 1991. Olsen had moved from NBC to CBS in 1990 and worked there for two seasons.

Introducing the ’87 Replacement Team

Tex Schramm prepared for a player strike in 1987, and when the time came, the Cowboys fielded a very good team of replacements. Former seventh-round pick Kevin Sweeney served as quarterback, and the team had good (um…comparatively speaking) skills players in Kelvin Edwards, Cornell Burbage, and Alvin Blount. In fact, Edwards stayed on the team after the strike, and both Sweeney and Burbage made the team in 1988.

For the second time in five years, the players went on strike in 1987. Owners responded by fielding teams of replacement players.

Dallas ran its record to 3-1 with a 38-24 win over the Jets and a 41-22 win over the Eagles. A total of 40,622 fans showed up for the Philadelphia game at Texas Stadium. The following week, a total of 60,612 attended the team’s game against the Redskins.

QB Danny White, RB Tony Dorsett, and DT Randy White broke the picket line because none could afford to miss games. Danny White (sacked six times) and Dorsett (two fumbles) both played poorly against the Redskins, who did not field a single regular player. The result was a 13-7 loss that left the Cowboys with a 3-2 record overall.

Several players experienced their entire careers as replacement players. Those players who only saw action during this three-game stretch include the following:

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)

’87 Cowboys Start at 1-1 Before Players Strike

In July 1987, the Cowboys decided that Tony Hill showing up to camp out of shape was enough of a reason to cut the team’s all-time leader in receiving yards. The team was rather confident in veteran Mike Renfro and a slew of younger receivers, including second-year pro Mike Sherrard.

Lawrence Taylor stops Herschel Walker on a fourth-down play late in the week 2 matchup between the Giants and Cowboys.

In the first week of August, the team lost Sherrard for the season with a broken leg. Coach Tom Landry had said prior to the injury that the team had redesigned the offense to take advantage of Sherrard’s skills.

Without Sherrard and Hill, the team’s receiving corps consisted of Renfro, Kelvin Edwards, Rod Barksdale, Kelvin Martin, and Gordon Banks. Quarterback Danny White was expected to return, but the team was unsure about how well he might perform.

The team fortunately had the duo of Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett, but most commentators expected nothing better than an 8-8 record.

Week 1: St. Louis 24, Dallas 13

When White hit Banks on a 20-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys held a 13-3 lead. The Cardinals had difficulty moving the ball all game, but in the final four minutes, the Cowboys gave up three touchdowns. Walker and Dorsett combined for 261 of the team’s 322 total yards.

Week 2: Dallas 16, N.Y. Giants 14

To avoid an 0-2 start, the Cowboys had to travel to the Meadowlands and beat the Giants. This was, of course, the same place where Danny White was lost for the season with a broken wrist, leading to the team’s 1-7 finish in 1986.

After the Cowboys took a 10-7 halftime lead, the Giants stormed ahead. The Cowboys made two field goals to take a 16-14 lead, and late in the game, the team moved inside the Giant 1 with less than two minutes left. On a fourth-and-goal play, Walker attempted to leap over the pile, but he was met by Lawrence Taylor and knocked backwards. The Giants drove into Dallas territory, and a 46-yard Raul Allegre field goal would have won it for the Giants. The kick, though, hooked just left, and the Cowboys pulled out the win.

Here’s a clip showing the missed kick:

Coming up… the Cowboys field a pretty good team of replacements.

So-So Draft in 1987 Provides No Immediate Help

After the Cowboys’ collapse of 1986, the team had the #12 overall pick in the 1987 draft. The team had a number of needs, with the most glaring holes to fill on the defense.

The Cowboys in 1987 drafted the Danny Noonan on top, not the bottom.

The Cowboys set their sights on Nebraska nose tackle Danny Noonan, who impressed defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner before the draft. Noonan was called “powerful” in the reviews, and many expected him to provide immediate help on the line. However, he held out for several months after the draft and did not start a single game in 1987.

(The Danny Noonan that the Cowboys drafted is not the one upon which the term Noonan is based in the Urban Dictionary. That would be the Danny Noonan from Caddyshack– as in Noonan! Miss it, Noonan! NNNNNNooooonan!).

Anyway, some of the other picks in the ’87 draft turned out to be good role players, so the whole draft was not a complete bust. Here is a look:

1. Danny Noonan, DT, Nebraska
2. Ron Francis, DB, Baylor
3. Jeff Zimmerman, G, Florida
4. Kelvin Martin, WR, Boston College
5. Everett Gay, WR, Texas
6. Joe Onosai, G, Hawaii
7. Kevin Sweeney, QB, Fresno State
8. Kevin Gogan, G, Washington
9. Alvin Blount, RB, Maryland
10. Dale Jones, LB, Tennesseee
11. Jeff Ward, K, Texas
12. Scott Armstrong, LB, Florida

Martin spent a total of seven seasons with the Cowboys and became a solid third receiver as well as a very good punt returner. Gogan likewise played in Dallas for seven years before moving on to play for several other teams.

Most of the others were disappointments. Francis was a starter as a rookie, but his career never really took off. Zimmerman and Gay never developed into starters. Blount and Jones only appeared as replacement players later in 1987. Onosai suffered an injury in training camp and had to retire.

Sweeney was an interesting pick. He was the NCAA career passing leader in yards at the time he was drafted, but he failed to make the squad. Dallas brought him back during the replacement games of 1987, and in 1988, the team gave him a shot as a starter in two “real” games. He bombed.

The Bottom Falls Out on the 1986 Dallas Cowboys

Most presumed that the 1986 Dallas Cowboys would at least make the playoffs, even if they did not look like Super Bowl contenders in early November. By December, the question was whether the 7-6 Cowboys would even finish with a winning record. The answer turned out to be no.

The 1986 Cowboys had plenty of time to sing at Christmastime.

Week 10: L.A. Raiders 17, Dallas 13

Dallas led the Raiders 13-10 in the fourth quarter, but a 40-yard TD pass from Jim Plunkett to Dokie Williams put the game away for Los Angeles. In his first game as a full-time starter, Steve Pelluer threw five interceptions.

Week 11: Dallas 24, San Diego 21

Two touchdown passes from Dan Fouts to Kellen Winslow gave San Diego a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Touchdowns by Herschel Walker and Pelluer, though, were enough to give the Cowboys a three-point lead. Charger kicker Rolf Benirschke just missed a 55-yarder to tie the game at the end of regulation. The Cowboys won despite giving up 11 sacks.

Tom Landry’s comment: “We were born again today.”

Um, nope.

Week 12: Washington 41, Dallas 14

The score was 34-0 at halftime. The Cowboys did not manage to convert a third down until there was about four minutes left in the game. The highlight of the game may have been Reggie Collier’s only touchdown pass as a member of the Cowboys.

Week 13: Seattle 31, Dallas 14

The Cowboys celebrated Thanksgiving by falling behind 24-7 to the Seahawks. Walker and Tony Dorsett both scored in the game, but it was never a contest.

Week 14: L.A. Rams 29, Dallas 10

The Cowboys fell to the .500 mark when they were demolished by the Rams. Tom Landry received death threats at some point and had to be escorted off the field to be fitted with a bullet-proof vest.

Week 15: Philadelphia 23, Dallas 21

It looked like the Cowboys would at least ensure a .500 record when they led 21-16 against the Eagles in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia took the win, though, when Matt Cavanaugh hit Kenny Jackson on a 31-yard touchdown. The loss ruined a great game by Walker, who gained a total of 292 yards (122 rushing, 170 receiving).

Week 16: Chicago 24, Dallas 10

The Cowboys predictably failed to show up in the season finale, falling behind 24-0 to the Bears in a 24-10 loss.

Landry’s summary of the season: “We’re not a 7-9 team, and again we’re not as good as people thought early. We are somewhere in between.”

Not really.

50 Seasons Series: Loss to the Giants Precipitates Collapse

The Dallas Cowboys won their final three games of the 1965 season to finish at 7-7, thus marking the first time that the team did not complete a season with a losing record. It became quite a habit. Starting in 1966, Dallas finished the next 20 seasons with winning records.

The Cowboys lost Danny White for the season in week 9 of the 1986 season.

The winning streak in 1965 began in week 12 of that season. Between that week (December 5, 1965) and week 8 of the 1986 season (October 26, 1986), the Cowboys played 300 regular season games. The team’s record during that span: 217-81-2, for a 72.3% winning percentage.

On November 2, 1986, Dallas traveled to the Meadowlands to face the Giants. Late in the first quarter, New York linebacker Carl Banks came in untouched and blasted quarterback Danny White, breaking White’s wrist in the process. White was gone for the season, and even though he played in 1987 and part of 1988, he was never the same.

The Dallas defense held Phil Simms to just 67 passing yards (46 net passing yards when taking sacks into account), but the Cowboys could not stop running back Joe Morris. The Giants gained 199 yards on the ground, and Morris’ two touchdowns gave the Giants a 17-7 lead.

Tony Dorsett gave the Cowboys hope when he scored from 23 yards out in the fourth quarter. Backup QB Steve Pelluer completed 28 of 38 passes for 339 yards against the feared Giant defense, and late in the game, Dallas had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal.

The problem became right tackle Phil Pozderac, who committed penalties that wiped out big plays to Dorsett and Timmy Newsome. The Cowboys were left to try a 63-yard field goal with seconds left, but it fell well short.

With the loss, the Cowboys were 6-3 and trailed the Giants and Redskins by a game. It got much worse.

Between week 9 of the 1986 season and the end of the 1988 season, the Cowboys played 36 regular season games with regular starters (excluding the three replacement games in 1987). The team that won 72.3% of its games over more than 21 seasons went 9-27, for a winning percentage of 25%.

Box Score

DMN: Cowboys pay stiff penalty, 17-14