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.

 

50 Seasons Series: 1986 Appears to be Another Season of Promise

After opening the season with a 31-28 win over the Giants, the ’86 Cowboys were on a roll. For the first time in franchise history, the team scored 30 or more points in its first four consecutive games, resulting in a 3-1 record. Tony Dorsett suffered through an injury, but newcomer Herschel Walker looked like the steal of the decade (that, of course, came later).

Tom Landry's squad raced out to a 6-2 start in 1986.

Week 2: Dallas 31, Detroit 7

Dorsett was supposed to miss the week 2 matchup at Detroit, but when he made the trip, he made it count. He gained 117 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown to lead the Cowboys to a 31-7 win. The victory avenged a loss at the Silverdome one year before.

Week 3: Atlanta 37, Dallas 35

In a back-and-forth game where the teams combined for 435 yards, the Cowboys fell short in a comeback attempt against the Falcons. After Atlanta scored with less than a minute to play, the Cowboys nearly moved into position to kick the game-winning field goal. However, when Danny White hit Tony Hill with seconds remaining, Hill was unable to get out of bounds. He was finally pushed out of bounds at the Atlanta 9 after time expired, giving the Falcons the win.

Week 4: Dallas 31, St. Louis 7

With Walker leading the way, the Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead, then pulled away from the Cardinals in a 31-7 win. Walker finished with 139 yards in total offense.

Week 5: Denver 29, Dallas 14

Playing without an injured Danny White, the Cowboys struggled at Mile High Stadium. Gerald Willhite scored three first-half touchdowns to give the Broncos a 22-0 lead, which the Cowboys never overcame.

Week 6: Dallas 30, Washington 6

Backup Steve Pelluer had the first 300-yard game of his career (out of a total of two) in a 30-6 rout of the Redskins. Dallas held Washington to just 185 total yards and forced three Redskins turnovers. Dorsett returned to action but was hardly impressive– 18 carries, 22 yards.

Week 7: Dallas 17, Philadelphia 14

Rafael Septien’s 38-yard field goal with two seconds left provided the margin of victory in a 17-14 Dallas win at Philadelphia. The Dallas defense amazingly had 10 sacks in the game and held Randall Cunningham to just eight completions for 127 yards.

Week 8: Dallas 37, St. Louis 6

White returned to action and led the Cowboys to a 37-6 rout of the Cardinals. Rookie Mike Sherrard had the first 100-yard game of his career by catching five passes for 111 yards in a touchdown.

With the win, the Cowboys stood at 6-2 and were tied with the Giants for the lead in the NFC East. A win over New York at the Meadowlands would put the Cowboys in position to take home another division title. Tom Landry said at the time, “If we’re 6-2 at the turn, I’m always satisfied with that. You’re in good position, it’s just that New York and Washington are better this year and are playing better. You’ll have to play better than they play down the stretch to win the East.”

It wasn’t to be.

One interesting part of the 1986 season was that backup Steve Pelluer generally looked good in relief of Danny White. Once White was lost for the season with a wrist injury, though, Pelluer’s play fell off considerably.

Resources:

Pro-Football-Reference: 1986 Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Morning News Archive

50 Seasons Series: Herschel Scores Game-Winning TD in ’86 Opener

The Cowboys’ acquisition of Herschel Walker looked like a move that could save the franchise, especially in a season-opening win over the New York Giants. With 1:16 remaining in a back-and-forth game against the Cowboys’ division rivals, Walker took a draw from Danny White and ran in from ten yards out to give the Cowboys a 31-28 win.

Herschel Walker, Tony Dorsett

Herschel Walker replaced an injured Tony Dorsett in a season-opening win over the Giants.

The victory marked the 21st opening-game win in 22 seasons, dating back to 1965. Gone were the doubts raised by the Cowboys’ 0-5 performance during the preseason, when Dallas was plagued with turnovers.

As it turned out, Tom Landry never won another season opener.

Dallas jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Dorsett had the first score, taking a screen pass 36 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. He later sprained his ankle, giving Walker a chance to show his stuff. Walker came through with a one-yard touchdown, giving Dallas a 14-0 lead.

New York stormed back to tie the game, as the Dallas defense had trouble stopping Phil Simms, who threw for 300 yards and 3 TDs. Dallas held a 17-14 lead at the half thanks to a Rafael Septien field goal.

The game went back-and-forth in the second half. The Giants took a 28-24 lead in the fourth when Simms hit Bobby Johnson on a 44-yard touchdown.

Dallas responded with its final drive. Just before the two-minute warning, Walker gained 23 yards on a pass. Tony Hill then came through on a 35-yarder, which set up Walker’s touchdown. The Cowboys went 72 yards in just 54 seconds on the game-winning drive.

The Giants moved to the Dallas 45 with four seconds remaining, but a last-second pass fell incomplete.

Rookie Mike Sherrard was held to one reception for 16 yards. Hill, though, still looked like a star, as he caught five passes for 105 yards.

The win sparked  a strong start to the 1986 season, as the Cowboys scored 30 or more points in six of their first eight games and had a 6-2 record.

DMN: Walker Runs Down Giants, 31-28

P-F-R: Box Score

* * *

Interestingly, Monday Night Football was the subject of discussion after the Cowboys-Giants game. ABC was losing money on its franchise, and veteran director Chet Forte said that he thought the odds of the series surviving until 1987 was 20 to 40 percent. ABC lost an estimated $50 million in 1985.

Of course, MNF survived on ABC for 20 more years until the series moved to ESPN.

The new tandom of Al Michaels and Frank Gifford also drew criticism. A columnist in the Dallas Morning News noted:

The trouble . . . was not newcomer Al Michaels, the replacement for Frank Gifford on play-by-play. The problem was Monday Night Football 16-year-man Gifford, the replacement on commentary for O.J. Simpson and Joe Namath. Gifford frequently talked without analyzing and offerred commentary that was no more stylish than a chatty play-by-play.

My take: Michaels got much better and became the NFL’s best play-by-play guy. Gifford never got much better as a color commentator, often proving weak commentary that was overshadowed by Michaels and Dan Dierdorf, the latter of whom joined the network in 1987.

50 Seasons Series: ’86 Draft is Another Disaster

Once again, the 1986 Dallas Cowboys needed help in the draft. After losing out in their bid for receiver Eddie Brown in the 1985 draft, the Cowboys moved up in 1986 to take UCLA’s Mike Sherrard. In the second round, Dallas used a pick acquired from Indianapolis to take Arizona State running back Darryl Clack.

Dallas took UCLA WR Mike Sherrard with the team's first pick in the 1986 draft.

The potential: Two explosive rookies who could provide immediate help for the offense.

What happened: Sherrard had a very promising rookie season in 1986, but he suffered two horrible injuries in 1987 and 1988 and missed both seasons. Clack played behind Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett and contributed very little except on kickoff returns.

Here’ s the draft list:

1(18): Mike Sherrard, WR, UCLA
2(33): Darryl Clack, RB, Arizona State
3(74): Mark Walen, DT, UCLA
4(100): Max Zendejas, K, Arizona
6(140): Thornton Chandler, TE, Alabama
6(150): Stan Gelbaugh, QB, Maryland
6(158): Lloyd Yancey, G, Temple
7(185): Johnny Holloway, DB, Kansas
8(212): Topper Clemons, RB, Wake Forest
9(242): John Ionata, G, Florida State
10(269): Bryan Chester, G, Texas
11(296): Garth Jax, LB, Florida State
12(307): Chris Duliban, LB, Texas
12(322): Tony Flack, DB, Georgia

Two months after the draft, none of the picks had signed with the team. Most either never played or did very little in the NFL.

  • Walen had five career sacks, including four in 1988. However, he spent his rookie season on injured reserve, and an injury in 1989 ended his career.
  • Max Zendejas was not the Zendejas who was the focus of the Philadelphia Eagles (that was Luis). Max kicked for the Redskins and Packers in his brief career.
  • Johnny Holloway at one time posted a comment on this site. He had one career interception, which you can watch on a post from 2008.
  • Jax played in Dallas until 1989. From 1989 through 1995, he was a backup linebacker with the Cardinals.
  • Four of Thornton Chandler’s 29 career receptions were touchdowns. That was his claim to fame as a backup TE with Dallas.
  • Clemons and Duliban saw action during the scab games of 1987.

50 Seasons Series: An Uncomfortable Series of Off-Season Moves in 1986

The Dallas Cowboys clearly needed help in terms of personnel to improve from their 10-6 record and one-and-done playoff performance. The franchise responded, and though some of the moves worked out, others had a direct or indirect effect on the rest of Tom Landry’s career as the team’s head coach.

The addition of Herschel Walker in 1986 had Cowboys' fans hoping for the best.

By 1986, the Texas economy was starting to collapse thanks to falling prices of real estate and oil. This had a disastrous effect on owner Bum Bright’s savings and loan business, which eventually led his sale of the team to Jerry Jones.

Before Bright would do so, though, he became more influential in team affairs. Based on the suggestion of Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, Bright insisted that the team hire Paul Hackett as an offensive coach. Landry brought Hackett in and tried to integrate Hackett’s philosophy (mostly West Coast offense) with Landry’s multiple offense. Although it worked for a short time, Landry rejected Hackett’s influence, which infuriated Bright. Bright progressively became more critical of Landry from 1986 through 1988.

In the spring of 1986, the Cowboys tried to shop backup quarterback Gary Hogeboom, but there were few takers. Dallas finally traded Hogeboom to Indianapolis, and as a result of the trade the teams shopped second-round picks. The result was that Dallas lost its backup QB and moved up from #47 to #33. Dallas got running back Darryl Clack with the pick at #33, and the team never exercised its option on a fifth-round pick in 1987 from the Hogeboom trade.

When Danny White went down with an injury at midseason in ’86, the team was left with Steve Pelluer. The result was, of course, the first losing season for the team since 1964.

Gil Brandt’s job responsibilities were cut in half in 1986 when the team hired Bobby Ackles to serve as lead scout. This left Brandt to focus on personnel, but his genius in that area was no longer a given. The Cowboys had been plagued by bad drafts for nearly a decade and could not afford another bad one in 1986 (we’ll get to the draft shortly).

Meanwhile, Tony Dorsett was having serious financial difficulties, and the team helped him out. But when Tex Schramm gave Herschel Walker a $5 million signing bonus to join the team from the USFL, Dorsett became infuriated.

The 1986 offseason also saw the end of Thurman’s Thieves when Landry released Dennis Thurman and Dexter Clinkscale. The two had posed for a picture with machine guns, which Landry apparently did not appreciate. The move to cut the two angered black players on the team, and the secondary in 1986 was far less imposing. The Cowboys had 33 interceptions in 1985 but only 17 in 1986.

50 Seasons Series: Cowboys Can’t Stop Dickerson in 20-0 Playoff Loss to Rams

Tom Landry’s first playoff game in 1966 came down to the final seconds and did not end until Don Meredith’s last second pass ended up in the arms of Green Bay’s Tom Brown.

The '85 Cowboys had no answer for Eric Dickerson in the playoffs, as he rushed for 248 yards in a 20-0 L.A. win.

Nineteen years later, Landry coached his final playoff game, and it was never a contest.  Eric Dickerson carried the ball 34 times for 248 yards with two second-half touchdowns in a 20-0 win for the L.A. Rams.

Playing in his final playoff game, Danny White threw three interceptions, and the team as a whole committed six turnovers.

There were few positives at all. The Rams’ Dieter Brock only completed six of 22 passes for 50 yards, but he didn’t need to complete any more of that. For the Cowboys, here’s the DMN summary:

The Cowboys had the ball 15 times and the possessions ended with seven punts, three interceptions, three fumbles (two on special teams), an unsuccessful fourth down and mercifully, the end of the game. The offense did not make a big play the entire game.

And despite the Rams playing a three-man front with not much blitzing by the linebackers, White was sacked five times, three by right end Gary Jeter, who caused Landry to rotate left tackles Chris Schultz and Howard Richards trying to find somebody who could block him.

As disappointing as the loss was, there was no reason at the time to think that Dallas could compete with the Bears in the NFC Championship Game, which was played at Soldier Field. The Rams only managed 130 total yards and nine first downs against Chicago.

The Cowboys had many holes to fill heading into the 1986 season, and this game (among others) demonstrated how far the team’s talent level had fallen. It wasn’t going to get better anytime soon.

Box Score (P-F-R)

50 Seasons Series: Cowboys Survive Roller-Coster End to the ’85 Season

The 1985 Cowboys looked as if they would pull away from the field in the NFC East after starting the season at 6-2. The rest of the season turned out to be one of hills and valleys, as the Cowboys suffered the worst blowout loss in franchise history but also managed to pull out the division title.

The 1985 season turned out fine, but the 44-0 loss to Chicago was one to forget.

Week 9: St. Louis 21, Dallas 10

The Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 lead in St. Louis, which was playing without receiver Roy Green. However, the Cardinals shut out the Cowboys in the second half and stole a 21-10 win over the Cowboys.

Week 10: Dallas 13, Washington 7

The Cowboys jumped out to a 13-0 lead thanks in large part to a 48-yard touchdown pass from Danny White to Tony Dorsett. The Redskins came back when Joe Theismann hit Gary Clark on a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but Dallas held on for the win. Dallas improved to 7-3 and dropped Washington to 5-5.

This turned out to be the penultimate game in Theismann’s career, as he broke his leg a week later against the Giants.

Week 11: Chicago 44, Dallas 0

Long before the Eagles handed the Cowboys a 44-6 loss to end the 2008 season, there was this loss to the Bears. It was, simply put, an unmitigated disaster from the start. Here’s a look:

The summary from the Dallas Morning News:

…Sunday’s 44-0 loss to the Bears was the most lopsided in Cowboys’ history. It was only their third shutout – the first at Texas Stadium – and broke a string of 218 games in which the Cowboys have scored.

Week 12: Dallas 34, Philadelphia 17

The Cowboys bounced back from the Chicago loss immediately, picking off Ron Jaworski three times in a 34-17 Dallas win. Dallas managed to stay even with the Giants at 8-4.

Week 13: Dallas 35, St. Louis 17

Dallas avenged its earlier loss to the Cardinals by scoring more than 30 points for the second week in a row. White threw four touchdown passes in the win. With a New York loss that week, Dallas had the lead in the division, until…

Week 14: Cincinnati 50, Dallas 24

By the end of the first quarter, Dallas trailed 22-0. Though the Bengals did not score in the second quarter, they poured it on in the third, extending the lead to 43-10. Not since the 1970 Cowboys gave up 54 points to the Vikings had the Cowboys allowed as many points. The Giants won that week, meaning that the Cowboys and Giants entered week 15 with identical 9-5 records.

Week 15: Dallas 28, N.Y. Giants 21

This win secured Tom Landry’s final division title as a head coach, but the victory came in bizarre fashion. White was injured early in the game, but replacement Gary Hogeboom came through with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Mike Renfro. The Giants took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, but Jim Jeffcoat tied the game by returning an interception on a tipped pass 65 yards for a score. White returned to the game and threw a touchdown to Renfro, giving Dallas a 21-14 lead at the half.

White was injured again on his second touchdown, and Hogeboom came back in. Hogeboom, though, was later injured and replaced with third-stringer Steve Pelleur, who had never played a down with the team in a regular season game. Pelleur led the Cowboys on the game-clinching drive that was capped off by a one-yard TD run by Timmy Newsome. The Giants could not come back from the two-touchdown deficit, and the Cowboys took home their first NFC East title since 1981.

Week 16: San Francisco 31, Dallas 16

The Cowboys held a 16-10 lead in the season finale against the 49ers, but San Francisco pulled away in the second half. Hogeboom threw for 389 yards in the loss, and both Renfro and Mike Powe finished with more than 100 receiving yards in the game. It might have been Powe’s breakout game, but he was injured in the first game of the 1986 season and never played again.
Coming up…

After finishing at 10-6, the Cowboys had to travel to Anaheim to play Eric Dickerson and the L.A. Rams in the NFC divisional round.

Emmitt Smith Might Thank the Redskins (a Little Bit) for His Hall Induction

DallasCowboys.com is showing a video with Emmitt Smith’s 22 greatest runs as part of the celebration for Smith’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, several of the runs featured in the clip show Smith running wild against the Washington Redskins.

Emmitt Smith averaged more than 100 yards per game against the Redskins during his career with Dallas.

During Smith’s 13 seasons in Dallas from 1990 to 2002, Smith faced the Redskins 24 times. In those 24 games, he had a total of 528 rushing attempts for 2431 yards and 23 TDs. That’s an average of 22 attempts, 101.3 yards, and .96 touchdowns per game. He gained at least 100 yards in 12 of those 24 games.

Against all other opponents while he was with the Cowboys, Smith averaged 19.9 attempts, 83.2 yards, and .73 TDs per game.

The Cowboys went 17-7 against the Redskins in the 24 games that Smith played against Washington. Smith missed the season opener in 1993 while holding out during a contract dispute. He also missed the season finale in 1996 when the team was resting its starters. Dallas lost both games.

His final game with the Cowboys was also against the Redskins, and it is the one game he probably would like to forget. He needed only 38 yards in the season finale to surpass 1,000 for the 12th year in a row. Instead, Washington held him to just 13 yards in 18 carries, as he finished with 975 yards for the year.

Here’s a summary:

9/23/1990 (Wash. 19, Dal. 15): 17 att., 63 yds., 1 TD.

11/22/1990 (Dal. 27, Wash. 17): 23 att., 123 yds., 2 TD

9/9/1991 (Wash. 33, Dal. 31): 11 att., 112 yds., 1 TD

11/24/1991 (Dal. 24, Wash. 21): 34 att., 132 yds., 1 TD

9/7/1992 (Dal. 23, Wash. 10): 27 att., 140 yds., 1 TD

12/13/1992 (Wash. 20, Dal. 17): 25 att., 99 yds., 0 TD

9/6/1993: DNP

12/26/1993 (Dal. 38, Wash. 3): 21 att., 153 yds., 1 TD

10/2/1994 (Dal. 34, Wash. 7): 16 att., 48 yds., 2 TD

11/20/1994 (Dal. 31, Wash. 7): 21 att., 85 yds., 2 TD

10/1/1995 (Wash. 27, Dal. 23): 22 att., 95 yds., 0 TD

12/3/1995 (Wash. 24, Dal. 17): 21 att., 91 yds., 1 TD

11/28/1996 (Dal. 21, Wash. 10): 29 att., 155 yds., 3 TD

12/22/1996: DNP

10/13/1997 (Wash. 21, Dal. 16): 17 att., 61 yds, 0 TD

11/16/1997 (Dal. 17, Wash. 14): 21 att., 99 yds., 0 TD

10/4/1998 (Dal. 31, Wash. 10): 28 att., 120 yds., 1 TD

12/27/1998 (Dal. 23, Wash. 7): 10 att., 67 yds., 2 TD

9/12/1999 (Dal. 41, Wash. 35): 23 att., 109 yds., 1 TD

10/24/1999 (Dal. 38, Wash. 20): 24 att., 80 yds., 1 TD

9/18/2000 (Dal. 27, wash. 21): 24 att., 83 yds., 1 TD

12/10/2000 (Dal. 32, Wash. 13): 23 att., 150 yds., 1 TD

10/15/2001 (Dal. 9, Wash. 7): 25 att., 107 yds. 0 TD

12/2/2001 (Dal. 20, Wash, 14): 25 att., 102 yds, 1 TD

11/28/2002 (Dal. 27, Wash. 20): 23 att., 144 yds., 0 TD

12/29/2002 (Wash. 20, Dal. 14): 18 att., 13 yds., 0 TD

50 Seasons Series: ’85 Cowboys Jump Out to a 6-2 Start

Most of the problems that the 1984 Dallas Cowboys had appeared to have disappeared when the squad jumped out to a 6-2 start. The Dallas offense gained more than 400 total yards in three of those games, while the defense forced a total of 29 turnovers, or 3.6 per game.

Tony Dorsett surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards in the team's 27-13 win over the Steelers in week 6 of the 1985 season.

Although the club did not appear as strong as the 1983 squad that started at 7-1, the ’85 Cowboys gave fans hope that the 1984 season was nothing more than a rebuilding year. The team’s 44-14 win over Washington in week 1 helped to build this perception.

Week 2: Detroit 26, Dallas 21

Danny White and Gary Hogeboom combined to throw for481 passing yards, but the team could not overcome five turnovers and a 26-0 deficit against the Lions at Detroit.

Week 3: Dallas 20, Cleveland 7

White rebounded from his poor performance against the Lions by throwing for one touchdown pass and receiving another from running back James Jones in a 20-7 Dallas win.

Week 4: Dallas 17, Houston 10

Tony Dorsett rushed for 159 yards, and the defense recorded 12 sacks. However

When the defense ties an NFL record with 12 sacks and provides the offense with five turnovers, a touchdown with less than two minutes left shouldn’t be needed to win. But who would expect Rafael Septien to miss 4-of-5 field goals and the offense to convert 1-of-14 third downs?

For the time being, it is clear the Cowboys have a Super Bowl-caliber defense and a popgun offense. Every game, apparently, is going to be a struggle until the offense gets itself straightened out.

Week 5: Dallas 30, N.Y. Giants 29

In what was supposed to be a battle of defenses, the Cowboys and Giants combined for 896 yards. New York took a 26-14 lead thanks to three long touchdown passes by Phil Simms. However, the Cowboys came back, and Rafael Septien’s field goal with 2:09 left was enough to give Dallas a 30-29 win.

Week 6: Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 13

Tony Dorsett became the sixth player in league history to surpass 10,000 rushing yards for a career in the Cowboys’ 27-13 win over Pittsburgh. Dorsett scored on a 56-yard pass play and again later on a 35-yard run. The win was the first for Dallas over the Steelers since 1972.

Week 7: Philadelphia 16, Dallas 14

Dallas lost at Philadelphia for the first time since the 1980 NFC Championship Game. Dallas had taken a 14-6 lead, but Ron Jaworski’s touchdown pass to Kenny Jackson gave the Eagles a 16-14 lead with 10 minutes remaining. Dallas drove into Eagle territory, but a Tony Dorsett fumble killed the drive, and the Cowboys were unable to kick the game-winner.

Week 8: Dallas 24, Atlanta 10

Danny White threw for 362 yards and overcame three interceptions to lead the Cowboys to a 24-10 win over Atlanta. Tony Hill had 10 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown in the win.

Quiz

Below are five questions related to the 1985 Dallas Cowboys. Answers will appear once you have answered these questions.

In August 1985, a member of the Cowboys appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The caption read, "Cowboy in Trouble." Who was this player?





In September 1985, a former Dallas running back was convicted of resisting arrest during a scuffle with police officers. The trial was taking place as the team prepared for its game against Detroit in week 2, and the distraction may have been the reason for the team's loss. Who was this player?





Between 1980 and 1985, how many times did the Cowboys begin a season by going exactly 6-2?





Tony Hill had the last of his 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 1985. How many times did he surpass 1,000 yards during his career?





Tony Dorsett surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards in 1985. At that time, each of the following players except for one also had more than 10,000 career rushing yards. Who did not?









50 Seasons Series: Happy Birthday, Joe Theismann, from Thurman’s Thieves

Between 1980 and 1985, the Cowboys opened seasons against the Washington Redskins four times. In those four games, Dallas managed to come away with four wins.

Dennis Thurman and the Cowboys helped Joe Theismann celebrate a birthday in 1985.

The last of those games took place at Texas Stadium on Monday, September 9, 1985. That happened to be Joe Theismann’s 36th birthday. The Cowboys helped Joe celebrate by picking him off five times in a 44-14 demolition of the Redskins. Add a Jay Schroeder interception and a fumble, and Washington turned the ball over seven times.

The 62,292 fans in attendance celebrated by singing “Happy Birthday, Dear Joe-oe.”

Danny White only completed 14 of 33 passes, but he had 214 passing yards and a touchdown without an interception. The touchdown pass was a 55-yarder to receiver Mike Renfro.

The famous Thurman’s Thieves were named after defensive back Dennis Thurman, who played his last season in Dallas in 1985. He was the one who picked off Schroeder and returned the interception 21 yards for the final score of the game.

Thanks to NocturalRyte, here are the highlights:

50 Seasons Series: Herschel Walker Highlights Otherwise Poor 1985 Draft

The Cowboys headed into the 1985 draft with the highest pick the team had since trading for the #2 pick to take Tony Dorsett in the 1977 draft. Given that the team had obviously slipped in talent, the team could not afford another sub-par draft.

The Cowboys used a 5th round pick on former Heisman winner Herschel Walker in 1985.

The Cowboys had significant needs at wide receiver, offensive line, and linebacker. According to Dallas Morning News columnist Randy Galloway, the general consensus among fans was, “Draft beer at Texas Stadium before a defensive lineman.”

The Cowboys, of course, drafted a defensive lineman in Kevin Brooks. And the results were predictable: Brooks played four seasons in Dallas and managed a total of 12.5 sacks before being shipped to Detroit after the 1988 season.

The most interesting pick of the draft was the fifth round selection of former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.  Walker had been playing in the USFL, which folded after 1985. In 18 games in 1985, Walker set a professional football record by rushing for 2411 yards on 438 carries.

Here is what the Cowboys hoped they could look forward to if Walker ever joined the team:

Walker joined the team one year later and became a star. He more famously played a major role in the team’s resurgence during the 1990s, thanks to a rather big trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

It turns out that the Cowboys’ selection of Walker in the fifth round provides a connection between the Cowboys of the 1970s and the Cowboys of the 1990s. In 1984, Dallas traded receiver Butch Johnson and a second round pick to the Oilers in exchange for receiver Mike Renfro, the Oilers’ second round pick, and the Oilers’ 5th round pick in 1985. Dallas used the fifth round pick (114th overall) to take Walker. Thus, trading a receiver who scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XII helped the Cowboys to acquire Walker, whom the Cowboys later used to acquire draft picks that were used to build the 1990s team.

Ok, that was a stretch.

The 1985 draft—

Round(Position): Name, Pos., College

1(17): Kevin Brooks, DT, Michigan

2(44): Jesse Penn, LB, Virginia Tech

3(76): Crawford Ker, G, Florida

4(103): Robert Lavette, RB, Georgia Tech

5(114): Hershel Walker, RB, Georgia

5(119): Matt Darwin, C, Texas A&M

6(144): Kurt Ploeger, DE, Gustavus Adolphus

6(157): Matt Moran, G, Stanford

7(178): Karl Powe, WR, Alabama State

7(184): Jim Herrmann, DE, BYU

8(216): Leon Gonzalez, Bethune-Cookman

9(243): Scott Strasburger, LB, Nebraska

10(270): Joe Jones, TE, Virginia Tech

11(297): Neal Dellocono, LB, UCLA

12(324): Karl Jordan, LB, Vanderbilt

Many Dallas fans wanted the Cowboys to take Miami receiver Eddie Brown instead of Brooks. The Bengals decided to take Brown with the 13th pick, though, and the 49ers traded several draft picks to move up and take a receiver named Jerry Rice. That led Dallas to take Brooks.

Brooks held out before signing a contract, and when he signed, he was guaranteed more money than any other player other than Randy White and Gary Hogeboom.

The remaining players either never played or were forgettable:

* Penn never became a starter and lasted only three seasons.

* Ker became a starter in 1986, but he was never considered among the league’s better guards.

* Lavette wasn’t a bad returner, but he never provided help for the offense.

* Ploeger played a total of three games with the Cowboys.

* Powe caught 14 passes as a rookie in 1985 and even started a game in place of Tony Hill. However, Powe hurt his neck in the season opener in 1986 and never played again.

* Gonzalez served as a punt returner in 1985 but did not play until emerging as a replacement player with the Falcons in 1987.

* Jones never played with the Cowboys.  Like Gonzalez, Jones was a replacement player in 1987 with the Colts.