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The Cowboys’ 1-7 start to the 2010 season was the most disappointing in team history, but it was not the first time that a Dallas team with Super Bowl aspirations had struggled out the gate.
In 1996, the Cowboys were defending Super Bowl champions and were trying to become the first team in NFL history to win four Super Bowls in five years. A 1-3 start wasn’t going to help.
Of course, that was the season that Michael Irvin had to serve a five-game suspension, and the team looked lost without him. The Cowboys had lost a dreadful 10-7 game at Buffalo in week 4 and were heading into a Monday Night Football game at Philadelphia. The Eagles were 3-1 and looking to put the Cowboys away early in the season.
Things went from bad to worse in the first quarter, as the Eagles jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Somebody needed to give the team a spark, and that somebody was…
Herschel Walker. The former Viking, Eagle, and Giant had returned to Dallas in 1996 and served as a kickoff returner. His 49-yard return in the first quarter set up a Dallas touchdown, and the Cowboys went on to score 20 consecutive points.
From there, the Dallas defense stood tall, forcing five turnovers and knocking starter Rodney Peete out the game. The only Philly points a return of a Troy Aikman fumble by defensive lineman Rhett Hall and a deliberate safety taken by Dallas punter John Jett with eight seconds left in the game.
The Cowboys won three more straight games after the win, putting the team back in contention for the NFC East.
Tony Romo may never win a Super Bowl and may go down in history as an overrated high-profile quarterback.
But nobody—nobody—can dispute his ability to handle a bad snap. Whether it’s against the Rams in 2007 or the Redskins in 2011, Romo can turn a 20-yard loss into a two-yard gain like nobody else.
For the sake of my argument, I will disregard this one…
…and especially this one…
…and just remember the good times.
* * *
Tuesday Trivia for the week:
In the game against the Rams in 2007, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-3 from the 50 when center Andre Gurode snapped the ball over Romo’s head. Romo’s scramble gave Dallas a first down.
The question: How did this drive end, and what impact did the drive have on the game?
Pro-Football-Reference is running a poll to establish a community-based rating system for all players in NFL history. The description of the system is as follows:
The Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in two-player games. The creator of the system, Arpad Elo, was a professor of physics at Marquette University who wanted an improved chess rating system. Although the system has its roots in chess, today it is used in many other games.
At various times, members of the Cowboys have ranked in the top 10 on both offense and defense. As of today, though, only two—Randy White and Bob Lilly—rank in the top 10 in defense. Time for Cowboys fans to get on that site to boost ratings.
Emmitt Smith ranks #13 on the list, winning 76.8% of his contests. That is four spots ahead of Roger Staubach and five spots ahead of Tony Dorsett.
Other Cowboys among the top 100 include Lance Alworth (#22), Rayfield Wright (#57), Larry Allen (#60), Drew Pearson (#65), Terrell Owens (#70), Mike Ditka (#85), Jason Witten (#92), and Troy Aikman (#96).
Here is a complete list:
White has edged out Lilly by one position among defensive players. Mel Renfro is close at #14, while Deion Sanders is as #20.
Also making the top 100 include Herb Adderley (#22), Too Tall Jones (#23), Charles Haley (#35), Chuck Howley (#42), Cornell Green (#43), Zach Thomas (#70), and Cliff Harris (#86).
The complete list is below. I should note that some who appear on here were actually offensive players, including Forrest Gregg and Otto Graham. I suspect that this is an automated system, and since those players played on both sides of the ball, they are showing up as defensive players.
It was not a shock—but it was at least a surprise—that the Cowboys released Andre Gurode today. That means that Dallas will have three new linemen starting in 2011, and the Cowboys lose a five-time Pro Bowler.
Gurode played both center and guard while playing at Colorado, and some expected him to replace Kelvin Garmon at right guard. However, Mark Stepnoski’s second stint with the team ended after the 2001 season. Whether he played guard or center, though, most thought he was a solid pick. One scouting report from 2002:
Gurode has spent most of his career at Colorado playing center but has spent some significant time at guard as well. He will probably be used as a center in NFL. He is a physical and athletic player who has the size and strength needed to be a dominant pro. He has very long arms that he uses to his fullest in pass protection. Gurode is very strong, especially in his upper body. He is both a road-grader in the running game and a very effective shield in pass protection. He also has a mean streak to him, and is always going for the knockout punch on his defender. He has had knee problems in the past but appears to have moved past those disabilities. Gurode tends to rely too much on his strength and may get sloppy at times, but he will likely make some team very happy as their anchor in the middle.
Gurode played at both right guard and center during his rookie season and played right guard in 2003 and 2004 while Matt Lehr and Al Johnson manned the center position. Gurode only started two games in 2005 after the team brought in Marco Rivera. It looked as if Gurode may have been yet another bust, until…
Gurode took over the starting center duties from Johnson in 2006 (the first year without Larry Allen), and Gurode started 78 of the next 80 games. Of course, many remember Gurode for being Albert Haynesworth’s victim during a Dallas win at Tennessee in 2006, but during the same season, Gurode was selected to the first of five consecutive Pro Bowls.
Gurode had his weaknesses, such as snapping in shotgun, but he was a consistent anchor of the line for the past five years.
His five Pro Bowl selections equal the total of Stepnoski, though two of Stepnoski’s selections came while he played for the Oilers. No other center in team history came close in terms of accolades. Ray Donaldson made two Pro Bowls in Dallas at the end of his long career, while Dave Manders only made one during his ten-year career. Neither Tom Rafferty nor John Fitzgerald ever made a Pro Bowl.
My pick: Stepnoski. By most accounts, Fitzgerald and Manders were good centers on good football teams, but neither really stood out, especially compared with others on the line. Rafferty’s best years may have come when he played guard; he never managed to stand out as a great center. That leaves Stepnoski and Gurode, and Stepnoski has to have the edge. Stepnoski was a major part of the team’s Super Bowl teams in 1992 and 1993, and he was sorely missed when he jumped ship after 1994. Gurode was a solid anchor on what I think was an overhyped line in the late 2000s. I think Gurode belongs in this conversation, but overall, neither he nor the line he anchored accomplished what Stepnoski and his line accomplished.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s would have had quite a different story were it not for Drew Pearson, and his induction into the Ring of Honor is long overdue. The wait is over for him, fortunately, now that Jerry Jones announced Pearson’s induction today.
There have been a bunch of other names thrown around as potential inductees, including Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Charlie Waters, Darren Woodson, Daryl Johnston, Bill Bates, and so forth.
The second name added today was also among the names commonly thrown around. Larry Allen made the All-Decade teams for both the 1990s and 2000s, and I don’t think anyone would question that Allen is the best lineman in team history.
The third is a bit of head-scratcher. Haley was instrumental to the team’s success during the 1990s. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say that he meant more to this franchise than Martin (Super Bowl XII co-MVP and member of the All-Decade Team of the 1970s) or Jones (15 years in Dallas compared with 5 for Haley).
In any case, Pearson’s selection alone means that Jerry got this one right no matter whether we agree with the other selections. It’s a good day.
The 1985 Dallas Cowboys were probably the most overachieving squad in franchise history. The team relied heavily on its aging veterans of Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Danny White, and so forth, along with an opportunistic defense. However, the team had not brought in solid talent from the draft in several years.
Enter Herschel Walker, whom the Cowboys had taken in the fifth round of the 1985 draft with an eye toward the future. On August 7, 1986, Walker announced that he would leave the USFL and join the Cowboys.
Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News wrote that by signing the 24-year-old Walker, “the Cowboys’ sixth Super Bowl appearance probably drew one step closer.”
More facetiously, Skip Bayless of the Dallas Times Herald announced:
Trumpets, please. On Monday, Aug. 18, 1986 A.D. (After Dorsett?), Herschel Walker first practiced with the Dallas Cowboys.
Someday, ninth-graders will have to know the date for a U.S. history pop quiz. Question 1: When was the Declaration of Independence signed? 2. When was Pearl Harbor bombed? 3. When did Herschel Walker first practice with America’s Team?
Someday, some ninth-grader will answer that Herschel signed the Declaration at Pearl Harbor.
(I didn’t know who Skip Bayless was then. I would have hated him just as much as I do now).
Dorsett was schedule to make less than $500,000 in 1986. Walker signed a five-year deal worth $5 million. After Dorsett criticized the signing initially, most thought the two would have trouble sharing the same backfield.
Walker gained 2,411 yards in an 18-game schedule with the New Jersey Generals in 1985. However, it took him longer to get going in Dallas. He rushed for only 737 yards (compared with Dorsett’s 748), though Walker added a career-high 12 rushing touchdowns. Walker also led the team with 837 receiving yards.
The clip below shows some great highlights. It’s somehow easy to forget how good this guy was.
Tight end Jason Witten has been one of the most consistent performers in team history since he joined the Cowboys in 2003. He became a full-time starter in 2004, and since then he has never had fewer than 64 receptions or less than 754 receiving yards in a season. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark three out of the last four seasons.
Heading into the 2011 season, Witten trails Michael Irvin for most career receptions by 133. If Witten has typical seasons in 2011 and 2012, he will surpass Irvin sometime next year.
He is not likely to catch Irvin in terms of receiving yards, but by gaining 1,022 yards in 2011, Witten will move into the #2 slot. With 6,967 yards, he trails Irvin (11,904), Tony Hill (7,988), Drew Pearson (7,822), and Bob Hayes (7,295) in receiving yards.
Witten is pretty far behind the pack in receiving touchdowns. However, with three touchdowns he will pass up Terrell Owens (38), and with six touchdowns Witten will pass up Billy Joe DuPree (41).
Below is a list of the top 50 Dallas receivers according to career receptions.
Few are shedding tears about Marion Barber’s imminent release, which will likely happen on Thursday. In 2010, he only managed 374 yards with four touchdowns, and for much of the season, he was not a factor in the offense.
In terms of team history, Barber does not belong in the same category as Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, or Don Perkins. However, some may be surprised how much Barber has accomplished in his six years in Dallas. Most will remember Barber for his intangible qualities, such as his fearless running style. However, consider also some of the stats below.
Barber’s 47 touchdowns rank third in team history behind Smith (153) and Dorsett (72). Barber averaged 7.83 touchdowns per season, which tops everyone other than Smith (11.77/year) and Duane Thomas (8.00/year but that only includes two seasons).
Of course, Smith averaged 312 attempts per year for 13 years, while Dorsett averaged 250 in 11 years. Barber averaged only 174 attempts per season in six years. On average, Barber scored a touchdown for every 22.17 attempts. That is better than any other full-time starter at halfback/lead back (other than Duane Thomas, who again only played two seasons in Dallas).
Barber was also very good at securing the ball, which was important given his role as a closer. On his 1042 attempts in six season, he had only 15 fumbles, or an average of 69.47 attempts per fumble. Among the top 30 running backs in team history, his ratio of attempts to fumbles would rank 7th.
(The leader in that category, incidentally, is Tashard Choice, who has fumbled only one time in 222 career attempts).
Barber does not have the numbers of someone who was strictly a short-yardage back. His 4358 yards ranks sixth in team history, just 426 yards shy of Robert Newhouse and just 651 yards shy of Calvin Hill. Given that Barber was never slated as a starter when Dallas drafted him in 2005, ranking that high on the team’s all-time rushing list is impressive.
A Good Comparison—Calvin Hill
Barber’s career of six years in Dallas happens to equal the same length of service for Hill, who played for the Cowboys from 1969 to 1974.
Their career paths were a little bit different. The Cowboys picked Hill out of Yale, thanks to the team’s advanced methods of evaluating college talent. After earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as a rookie, Hill had to take a backseat to Duane Thomas in 1970 and 1971. When Thomas departed, Hill became the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher. He left after the 1974 season after signing with the World Football League.
The team did not have the same expectations for Barber in 2005. Julius Jones was the team’s lead running back, and most expected Barber to fill a backup role. Quickly, however, Barber showed that he had a nose for the end zone, and by 2006, many wanted to see Barber in the starting role. This did not happen until the playoffs in 2007, though. He started 38 games from 2008 to 2010.
The comparison in stats:
Barber: six seasons, 4358 yards, 4.2 ave., 47 TD. One-time Pro Bowl selection.
Hill: six seasons in Dallas, 5009 yards, 1166 att., 4.3 ave., 39 TD. Four Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro selection.
A writer for the Wichita Falls Times Record posted an article about which former Dallas Cowboys are most deserving of a place in the Ring of Honor. His list includes (in his order of ranking):
1. Drew Pearson
2. Ed “Too Tall” Jones
3. Clint Murchison
4. Tony Hill
5. Larry Allen
6. Charles Haley
7. Darren Woodson
8. Deion Sanders
9. Jimmy Johnson
10. Jay Novacek
He also mentioned Cornell Green and George Andrie. Thumbs up.
I am firmly convinced that the selection process for entry into the Hall of Fame and similar places of honor is as much about rewriting history as it is about celebrating history. Little else—to me at least—explains how players can earn first-team selections to All-Decade team yet fail to earn selections to the Hall of Fame while lesser players make it in. For instance, two first-team selections for the All-Decade Team of the 1970s are not in the Hall. That would include Cowboys Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris. Meanwhile, 16 of the 22 offensive and defensive players selected to the second team for that decade are in the Hall. That includes defensive back Roger Wehrli, who is simply not more deserving under any standard than Cliff Harris.
And just to show that I’m not being totally biased, someone please explain how Cris Carter is a first-team selection for the 1990s while Michael Irvin is a second-team selection, yet Irvin makes the Hall while Carter continues to wait.
As for the Ring of Honor, that selection process is apparently in Jerry Jones’ head, so I’m not sure anyone knows if there is a process. I cannot imagine that Pearson would not have overwhelming support from fans and the media if Jerry made the selection, but it isn’t like to happen anytime soon.
Consider a few more names who show up on the all-decade teams yet are not members of the Ring of Honor.
1. Ralph Neely
For an expansion team that went 0-11-1 in its first year, having two players (not counting Herb Adderley) make the All-Decade Team was quite an accomplishment. Everyone would know that Bob Lilly made the list. Few would guess that Neely was the other.
2. Harvey Martin
By the end of the 1970s, Martin, Randy White, and Too Tall Jones were household names and the main part of the new Doomsday Defense. Of the three, Martin made the All-Decade Team while the others didn’t (White, of course, made the 1980s team).
3. Mark Stepnoski
Another player that few might consider worthy of the Ring was center Mark Stepnoski. Of course, he left the team after the 1994 season, but he was a key member of the offensive line that helped the Cowboys win Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. He was later named to the All-Decade Team of the 1990s. If Charles Haley and Deion Sanders are worth mentioning because they played a few years in Dallas, so too is Stepnoski.
Sad news today is that former Cowboy LB Godfrey Myles died of a heart attack. He was 42.
Myles was overshadowed by others on the Dallas defenses of the early 1990s, but he was an important backup on all three Super Bowl teams. He was a special teams player and backed up Ken Norton in 1992. Myles remained in a backup role in 1993 and 1994, with Dixon Edwards and Darrin Smith taking over the starting roles on the outside and Robert Jones moving back to MLB.
Smith held out for the first half of the 1995 season, and Myles filled in nicely. When Smith returned, Myles showed his versatility by serving as the principal backup to all three starting linebackers. He finished the season with a career high 55 tackles. However, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in Super Bowl XXX.
Some expected Myles to compete for a full-time starting job in 1996 when Jones and Edwards left via free agency. However, Myles never fully recovered from his knee injury. He played in all 16 games in 1996 but managed only 10 tackles.
Myles was a standout at the University of Florida. He played the position of “Gatorback,” which was a combination of outside linebacker and strong safety.
Below are his career stats.