Most Obscure Player Award
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The Dallas Cowboys spent their time during the 1995 NFL Draft looking for backups. The dreadful draft resulted in the selections of Sherman Williams, Kendell Watkins, Charlie Williams, Alundis Brice, and Dana Howard. Three of the ten players selected never played a down with the team, and only tight end Eric Bjornson ever became a starter. The team had so much talent that there was little room for rookies.
One rookie defied the odds, however, to make the final cuts in August. Kicker Jon Baker impressed the Cowboys with high kickoffs that had average hang times of 4.1 seconds. This was much better than kickoffs by Chris Boniol, who could only manage hang times of 3.8 seconds.
When the Cowboys opened at the Meadowlands on September 4, 1995, the player kicking off was Baker. In three games, he kicked off 16 times with a 64.9 average per kickoff.
Boniol struggled early during the 1995 season, missing a field goal and an extra point against the Vikings in week 3, and some thought the Cowboys might turn to Baker for field goals as well.
That never happened, though. Two days after the Cowboys’ win over the Vikings, Dallas cut Baker to allow Boniol to resume kickoff duties. The theory was that Boniol would find a better rhythm if he kicked off and kicked field goals.
The result? Boniol did not miss another field goal all season (though he did miss an extra point).
Baker did not play again until 1999, when he filled in for the Kansas City Chiefs for a couple of games.
The winner of the Most Obscure Player Award for 1994 is defensive back Darren Studstill. He was a sixth-round draft choice for the Cowboys in 1994 and was active in four games.
The Cowboys had won back-to-back Super Bowls by 1994 but had just parted ways with Jimmy Johnson. The team was going to need some young players after losing starters to free agency.
The draft will be known as the one that produced Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Others will remember the less impressive Shante Carver and George Hegamin.
Three players—Willie Jackson, DeWayne Dotson, and Toddrick McIntosh—played with other teams but not with the Cowboys.
In the sixth round, the Cowboys took a chance on a converted quarterback from West Virginia. Studstill had shared playing time with Jake Kelchner for the undefeated Mountaineers in 1993, but Studstill was too inaccurate to play QB in the NFL.
According to the website Fantasy Football Challenge, Studstill played in four games in 1994. He never recorded a single statistic.
Dallas waived him after training camp before the 1995 season, and he signed with Jacksonville. He played in parts of two seasons for the Jaguars but was out of the league after 1996.
Studstill later became a high school football coach but has run into problems. This is from Wikipedia:
After being named head coach of Royal Palm Beach High School just one season earlier Studstill was fired in August 2009 just days before the start of training camp for the 2009-2010 season despite great success on the field in his inaugural campaign. He was dismissed partly because he and Principal Guarn Sims differed over the way Studstill handled finances and supervised his assistant coaches, though no one has alleged deliberate wrongdoing by Studstill. In one season under Studstill Royal Palm Beach went 11-2 and reached the regional finals, and he was a finalist for the county’s Lou Groza Coach of the Year award. Before being fired Studstill was given at least two opportunities to resign but declined. An official for the school was quoted as saying “In no way is it an attack on his personal or professional character. This is an isolated issue that directly deals with the direction of the football program.” He will also retain his position at the school as a disciplinarian.
Can you remember the key blocking tight ends who played opposite Jay Novacek in 1993? It was not Alfredo Roberts, who had played in 16 games in 1992 but who suffered a broken foot during training camp in ’93.
The Cowboys also lost Rich Bartlewski (torn knee ligament) and Fallon Wacasey (shoulder) to injury.
Some might remember Scott Galbraith, who was a starter with Cleveland before joining the Cowboys and a starter with the Redskins after leaving Dallas. He even returned to Dallas in 1997. He does not win the MOP Award.
Other blocking tight ends included Kelly Blackwell and Joey Mickey.
- Dallas picked up Blackwell in a five-player deal with Chicago in August 1993. Dallas sent Vinson Smith and Barry Minter to the Bears in exchange for Blackwell, John Roper, and safety Markus Paul. Blackwell had caught five passes as a rookie in 1992 but did catch a pass in two games with the Cowboys.
- The Eagles drafted Mickey in the 7th round of the 1993 draft but released him at the end of training camp. Dallas picked him up off waivers, and he played in five games.
So there were a number of possible MOP Award winners among blocking tight ends alone. The winner is Bill Price.
Price had held out for a new contract from the L.A. Rams for 51 days. He signed but never played for the Rams that year. Dallas sent a sixth-round pick to the Rams for Price.
Here’s a blurb about the trade from the L.A. Times:
“It’s a great opportunity for Jim,” Ram Coach Chuck Knox said. “Dallas is in need of a quality tight end. They called us, and, because of our tight end situation, we went ahead with the trade.”
Price left for Dallas Tuesday afternoon and will begin practice today. He expects to be ready for the Cowboys’ game Sunday at Indianapolis.
Scott Casterline, Price’s agent, said the snag in Price’s negotiations centered on the league’s new free agency system, where players are paid minimal salaries in the early stages of their contracts. The Rams originally offered $210,000 when Price wanted $275,000.
Price will be reunited in Dallas with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was the Rams’ tight ends and wide receivers coach when Price was on the team’s practice squad in 1990.
The result? Three games, one reception, four yards.
Price returned to the St. Louis Rams in 1995 and played in 13 games.
So why does Price win the MOP Award over these other blocking tight ends?
He’s a member of the Montville (N.J.) Township High School Hall of Fame, that’s why.
Want more? Thanks to the Hall of Fame site, we know:
- He is affectionately known as “Bambi” to his friends.
- He began his athletic career as a dominating pitcher in Montville’s Little League program.
- In high school, he was a 6’5” multi-talented athlete was a star in three sports: football, basketball, and baseball.
- He became an agent in Los Angeles and has represented actors, writers, and directors.
* * *
For a Super Bowl champion, the 1993 Dallas Cowboys had a surprisingly high number of potential candidates for the MOP Award.
- Receiver Tyrone Williams caught one career pass against the Redskins on December 26, 1993 in a 38-3 Dallas win.
- Linebacker Bobby Abrams played for four teams during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, including the Cowboys. However, he did not play in either Super Bowl.
- Running back Lincoln Coleman gained 57 of his 132 rushing yards in 1993 against the Dolphins in the snow on Thanksgiving.
A decent trivia question would be to ask which running backs backed up Emmitt Smith during his 13 years in Dallas.
You’d have the likes of Tommie Agee, Derrick Lassic, Lincoln Coleman, Blair Thomas, Sherman Williams, Chris Warren, and Troy Hambrick.
During the 1992 playoffs, another backup named Derrick Gainer carried the ball 11 times for 30 yards with a touchdown, even though he had not carried the ball once during the 1992 regular season.
The reason Gainer had not carried the ball was that Smith’s primary backup in 1992 was a former Pitt standout named Curvin Richards. Richards had gained 1,964 yards with 9 touchdowns at Pitt before Dallas drafted him in the fourth round of the 1991 draft.
During his rookie season, he carried the ball twice for four yards. One year later, though, he had more chances, gaining 176 yards on 49 carries.
However, in the team’s regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, Richards fumbled twice, drawing the ire of head coach Jimmy Johnson. The coach famously cut Richards after the game to send a message to the team about avoiding complacency.
(Jeff Pearlman’s book has a good summary. Here is an excerpt from his book.)
Richards moved on to Detroit in 1993, where he played in one game as Barry Sanders’ backup. He carried the ball four times for one yard in the Lions’ opener against the Falcons.
And he never played in the NFL again. The Lions cut him after the game.
I was very tempted to name Danny Noonan as the Most Obscure Player of 1991. It isn’t everyday that a first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys is not as widely remembered as Danny Noonan the caddie from Caddyshack. Shout “Noonan!” and more people will probably remember the Danny who hit a 20-foot putt to help Ty Webb (and an “injured” Al Czervik) beat Judge Elihu Smails and Dr. Beeper than the Danny who was a first-round pick out of Nebraska in 1987.
But alas, I don’t think Danny Noonan the defensive tackle is really an obscure player, as much as I would like to insert the reference to Caddyshack.
Instead, I’m going with a defensive back that only those with the most bizarre memories will remember.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted defensive back Donald Smith in the 10th round of the 1990 draft. He never played a down there.
Dallas picked him up at some point during the 1991 season. He played in three games but was released in October. He did not record any sort of a statistic other than games played.
Some players in this type of circumstance might have spent a year or two in Europe (if anywhere), but Smith wound up doing quite well in Canada.
He played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Memphis Mad Dogs, Toronto Argonauts, and Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1992 to 2000. During his playing days in the CFL, he was a divisional CFL All-Star four times. He also won two Grey Cup Championships with the Argos in 1996 and 1997.
And now he has a MOP Award to add to his collection. Congrats.
So in conclusion, we end with these immortal words: “Danny, I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking…let things happen…and be…the ball.”
By 1990, the Dallas Cowboys roster started looking like the team that would eventually win three Super Bowls in four years. There were a few lesser-known players, but not as many as there were in 1988 or 1989.
The Most Obscure Player of 1990 is better known for being an obscure Super Bowl hero. In Super Bowl XXII following the 1987 season, rookie Timmy Smith gained 204 rushing yards on 22 carries and nearly won the Most Valuable Player award.
He managed two 100-yard games for the Redskins in 1988 but never came close to duplicating his Super Bowl success. The Redskins released him after the 1988 season, and he sat out the 1989 season because teams suspected drug use.
He joined the Cowboys for the 1990 season and even started the opening game of the season. The result?
Six carries for six yards.
Rookie Emmitt Smith saw the field that day as well, gaining two yards on two carries.
In fact, Troy Aikman rushed for 15 yards, outgaining the combined totals of Emmitt Smith, Timmy Smith, and Daryl Johnston.
The leading rusher in the 17-14 win for the Cowboys?
Tommie Agee, who gained 59 yards on 13 carries.
Anyway, Timmy never played in another NFL game after the Cowboys released him on September 11, 1990. He later spent time in a federal prison on drug charges.
Fans will remember Paul Palmer from the 1989 Dallas Cowboys before they will remember several other players.
Junior Tautalatasi? Curtis Stewart? Eric Brown? Steve Hendrickson? Onzy Elam? Garry Cobb? Kevin Lilly?
The reason Palmer is the Most Obscure Player of 1989 is his place among starting running backs in team history.
Everyone remembers Tony Dorsett. Everyone remember Herschel Walker. And, of course, everyone remembers Emmitt Smith.
In between them was Palmer, who replaced Walker in the starting lineup when Dallas traded Walker to Minnesota for enough draft picks to build a Super Bowl champion.
By the time the Cowboys did win that Super Bowl title, Palmer was long gone, having lasted just one year with the Cowboys.
He was the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 1987 draft, taken by Kansas City. He lasted two season with the Chiefs, gaining just 607 yards before being waived just before the 1989 season.
The Lions signed im, but he only saw the field as a kick returner. When Dallas unloaded Walker, the Cowboys sent two late draft picks to the Lions to acquire Palmer.
For a few weeks, it looked as if Palmer might have some promise. The Cowboys faced the Chiefs on October 22, 1989—just five days after the Cowboys signed Palmer—and he rushed for 85 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Two weeks later, he recorded the only 100-yard rushing game of his career when he gained 110 yards against the Redskins in the Cowboys’ only win of the 1989 season.
In the final six games, however, he only gained a total of 206 yards, including three games where he rushed for less than 20 yards.
Dallas waived him, and though the Bengals signed him during the 1990 offeseason, he never played in the NFL again. He played one season with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football in 1991.
We have recognized the replacement players of 1987 as the Most Obscure Players of 1987. I should have noted that the list only included players who only played in the three replacement games that year.
A few players, such as quarterback Kevin Sweeney and receiver Kelvin Edwards, had opportunities to play with the team later in 1987 and again in 1988.
A third replacement player who received an opportunity with the “real” team was a receiver named Cornell Burbage. He played college football at Kentucky, gaining 994 total receiving yards in four seasons. He went undrafted in the 1987 draft.
He was the first replacement player to score a touchdown against the Jets on October 4, 1987. He also gained 110 receiving yards in a 41-22 win over the Eagles. In three games, he caught 7 passes for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns.
While Edwards remained with the team later in 1987, Burbage did not. However, he made the team in 1988.
The result—2 receptions, 50 yards. He was slightly more productive in 1989, catching 17 passes for 134 yards.
He played two seasons with the New York/New Jersey Knights of the World League of American Football. His final season was 1992.
He became a coach and served for one year as the head coach at Kentucky State University. He recorded a 7-4 record in his one season as head coach there.
* * *
Sadly, if you enter “Cornell Burbage” in a search, you will likely find stories about Burbage’s son, Cornell Burbage II. The younger Burbage was a standout high school receiver but was convicted on rape charges in 2006.
I was going to review the list of replacement players from the 1987 season to decide whether one of them might be the Most Obscure Player for 1987.
But then I thought, aw hell, they’re the most obscure players in the history of the team. We can’t exclude any of them.
So here are the 35 Cowboys-for-three-games-or-so who are our Most Obscure Players of 1987:
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)
* * *
Nobody remembers the replacement players’ wins over the Jets or Eagles. However, plenty still remember the team’s lost to the Redskins on Monday Night Football. Here’s a summary of the debacle.
I really mean no disrespect whatsoever to players recognized with the Most Obscure Player Award. It was one of the first ideas I came up with when I launched this blog in 2006, and I am just now getting around to finishing the series. It is just a way to identify some long-forgotten members of the team.
In the years I have written this blog, I have had a few other bloggers link to posts. Unfortunately for me, relatively few of the 833,000 visitors on here have left comments.
And only one of those visitors was a current or former member of the Cowboys. That was a former defensive back named Johnny Holloway.
He left a comment on here in 2008, and Fred Goodwin of Dallas Cowboys Books Blog recognized him. I just happened to have a video of Holloway’s only interception as a professional, which occurred against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986.
I posted the story in March 2008. The video no longer works, and unfortunately, I cannot seem to find the video file.
Anyway, we are now up to the 1986 season for the Most Obscure Player Award, and I just have to give it to Mr. Holloway. He played one year in Dallas, managing one interception while playing in 16 games. He served as a replacement player with the Cardinals for three games in 1987.
The person who made the comment? Johnny (or Jon) Holloway.
So just for one year covered in this series, I am changing the award to the Player to Remember Award. It is not accompanied with a mop graphic.
And thanks for the comments, Mr. Holloway. Once I find the video file with the interception, I will post it again.