Dallas Cowboys History
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In the weekly What-If Wednesday posts, we review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on the 1976 divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.
In real life…
The Dallas Cowboys made the Super Bowl in 1975 and returned with a solid season in 1976. The team finished with an 11-3 record.
Few probably remember that the Cowboys and Rams had quite a playoff rivalry. Between 1973 and 1985, the teams faced each other eight times in the playoffs, with each team winning four games.
The bad part for the Cowboys was that three of the wins for the Rams took place at Texas Stadium. The first of those losses was a 14-12 defeat at home during the 1976 playoffs.
Dallas had a 10-7 halftime lead thanks to a Scott Laidlaw touchdown, but the Cowboys fell behind in the fourth quarter after a Lawrence McCutcheon score. The Cowboys drove into Ram territory more than once but could not punch the ball in to regain the lead.
Charlie Waters had one of the great games in team history. He blocked two punts and had a key interception, but his efforts were not enough.
The clip below shows Waters’ second block, which could have set up the game-winner. However, on a 4th-and-10 play, Roger Staubach’s pass to Billy Joe DuPree came up inches short, and the Rams held on for the 14-12 win.
The Cowboys had almost no rushing attack, and many blamed the loss on the running game. This team featured the likes of Preston Pearson, Robert Newhouse, Doug Dennison, and Laidlaw.
The loss played a part in the Cowboys trading four draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for the rights to the second overall pick. With that pick, Dallas took Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh.
What if the Cowboys had defeated the Rams?
If the Cowboys had beaten the Rams, Dallas would have traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings on December 26, 1976. One year earlier, the Cowboys had beaten the Vikings on the road thanks to the famous Hail Mary game.
1. The Cowboys would have beaten the Vikings again.
This is a bold statement, given that the Vikings were the best team in the NFC in 1976. How could I possibly say that that Cowboys would win another game at Minnesota?
WhatIfSports said so. I ran ten simulations of the game on that site, and the Cowboys won seven of them by an average score of 17-15.
This is a Cowboys site. Let’s just accept our win.
2. The Cowboys would have lost another Super Bowl.
I ran another ten simulations of a Cowboys-Raiders matchup in Super Bowl XI. The Cowboys lost eight of them. That would mean back-to-back Super Bowl losses.
3. The Cowboys would still make the trade with Seattle to obtain Dorsett.
This is probably the most important prediction. The Cowboys had three second-round picks, and that would not change even if the Cowboys had made it to Super Bowl XI. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks front office would change its mind just because the Cowboys made it to yet another Super Bowl.
4. The Cowboys win Super Bowl XII but fail to make Super Bowl XIII.
The Cowboys would have become the second team (after Miami) to make three consecutive Super Bowls. After losing the previous two, Dallas would have won Super Bowl XII (just as the Cowboys did in real life).
However, the Cowboys would not make the big game four times, losing in the 1978 playoffs.
* * *
What about the other playoff losses to the Rams?
The Cowboys lost to the Rams in 1979, 1983, and 1985. The 1979 game was especially tough because it was Roger Staubach’s final game.
Had the Cowboys won that game, they would have hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Given that the Rams handled Tampa Bay in real life, it would stand to reason that the Cowboys would fare well. That means that the Cowboys would have faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons.
(Again…Cowboys blog…Dallas wins.)
The Cowboys were not going to make the Super Bowl in 1983 or 1985 even if the Cowboys had beaten Los Angeles. The only difference a win over the Rams would have made in 1983 is that perhaps Tom Landry would not have started Gary Hogeboom during the first half of the 1984 season if White had led Dallas to a playoff win the year before.
I am trying a new feature during mid-week. It’s called What-If Wednesday. We will review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on receiver Miles Austin.
In real life…
Between 2006 and week 4 of the 2009 season, Austin had a total of 23 receptions for 435 yards and 4 TDs. His biggest play as a professional was a kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2006 playoffs when the Cowboys faced the Seahawks (better known for Tony Romo’s fumble while holding a field-goal attempt).
Although Austin showed some big-play potential, he was never a major weapon. He caught a 42-yard touchdown pass in the season-opener in 2009 but failed to catch a pass two weeks later against the Carolina Panthers.
He got more opportunities to see the field when the 2-2 Cowboys visited the 0-4 Chiefs in week 5 of the 2009 season because of an injury to Roy Williams. The game was nearly a disaster for Dallas, as the Chiefs took a 13-3 lead in the second half. However, Austin caught touchdown passes of 59 and 60 yards in the fourth quarter and in overtime, giving the Cowboys a 26-20 win.
After the bye week in 2009, the Cowboys faced the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. In real life, Austin scored four combined touchdowns in those three games, including the game-winner against the Eagles, and those three wins improved the team’s record to 6-2. The Cowboys wound up with an 11-5 record and won the NFC East. The team beat the Eagles in the playoffs for the Cowboys’ first playoff win since 1996.
What if Austin had not had a breakout game against the Chiefs?
At the time the Chiefs had taken a 13-3 lead, Austin had caught four passes for 71 yards. Until that point, he had never caught more than three passes in a single game. Without his performance in the fourth quarter and in overtime against the Chiefs, the Cowboys would have had to mount a comeback with Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd. It’s fair to say that the Cowboys likely would have lost and dropped to 2-3.
The bye was the next week after the Chiefs game, and the chances that Jerry Jones would have fired Wade Phillips immediately were substantial. Nobody had forgotten that the Cowboys had missed the playoffs in 2008, and calls for Phillips’ head were loud and clear.
Of course, Jason Garrett was still considered a solid candidate to become a head coach, so what ended up happening in 2010 likely would have happened in 2009.
2. The Cowboys miss the 2009 playoffs.
Without Austin, the Cowboys likely lose one or more of the three games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles. The Cowboys lost three of their next five after beating the Eagles in the actual season, so the chances that Dallas would finish at 11-5 would have dropped precipitously. And as it turns out, any record below 11-5 in the NFC in 2009 would have eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs.
3. The Cowboys still take Dez Bryant in the 2010 Draft.
The Cowboys would have had a greater need at receiver in 2010 without Austin as a clear-cut starter. Even with a higher pick, though, the Cowboys would not have had great options in the 2010 draft. The team might have taken Demaryius Thomas (taken at #22 by the Broncos), but there is a better chance the Cowboys still would have taken Dez Bryant.
4. The Cowboys retain Patrick Crayton in 2010.
The Cowboys would had few options if they wanted to pursue a receiver in free agency in 2010. Three of the free agents were former Cowboys in Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, and Joey Galloway, and none of them were coming back. The other free-agent names—Derrick Mason, Nate Burleson, Kevin Walter, Arnez Battle, Marty Booker, Chris Chambers, Muhsin Muhammad— were no better.
With Austin as nothing more than a fourth or fifth receiver, the Cowboys would have Roy Williams and Dez Bryant as the starters. Patrick Crayton would be far less expendable, so the chances that the Cowboys would have kept him would have been much greater.
5. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have an even longer playoff drought.
Although injuries slowed Austin in 2011 and 2012, he was a major factor in the team turning the 2009 season around and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1996. Without Austin, the Cowboys would have likely missed the playoffs in 2009 and would probably have had the same success (that is, lack of success) since 2010.
In other words, without Austin’s breakout performance, this team could be suffering through a five-year playoff drought, and the gap between playoff wins could be 16 years.
6. Jason Garrett would not still be the coach in 2013.
If the Cowboys’ last playoff game were indeed the 2007 loss to the Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs, it is very difficult to believe that Jason Garrett would survive as head coach between 2009 and 2013. In fact, if the Cowboys had the same fortunes in 2010 without Austin as they had with him, Jones probably would have fired Garrett then and started over.
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.
Pro-Football-Reference has created its own version of All-Decade teams using its formula for calculating approximate value. This is an effort to provide an objective measurement of each player’s value, so it is (or should be) less subjective than other similar lists.
The Cowboys are not especially well-represented. For instance, only two Cowboys made the list for the All-1970s team even though the Cowboys went to five Super Bowls during the decade.
I have compiled the list below that identifies the Cowboy players who made each all-decade team. I only included players who actually played for the Cowboys during the respective decade. Thus, I included Mike Ditka for the 1960s team because he played for Dallas in 1969. However, I excluded Herb Adderley, who made the 1960s team but did not play for Dallas until 1970.
Key: Position, 1st or 2nd Team: Name, Years Played for Dallas During the Respective Decade
RB, 2nd Team: Don Perkins, 1961-1968
WR, 2nd Team: Tommy McDonald, 1964
TE, 1st Team: Mike Ditka, 1969
DT, 2nd Team: Bob Lilly, 1961-1969
LB, 2nd Team: Chuck Howley, 1961-1969
CB, 2nd Team: Cornell Green, 1962-1969
QB, 1st Team: Roger Staubach, 1970-1979
S, 2nd Team: Cliff Harris, 1970-1979
RB, 2nd Team: Tony Dorsett, 1980-1987
DE, 1st Team: Too Tall Jones, 1980-1989
DT, 1st Team: Randy White, 1980-1988
RB, 1st Team: Emmitt Smith, 1990-1999
WR, 1st Team: Michael Irvin, 1990-1999
C, 2nd Team: Mark Stepnoski, 1990-1994, 1999
PR, 1st Team: Deion Sanders, 1995-1999
WR, 2nd Team: Terrell Owens, 2006-2008
G, 2nd Team: Larry Allen, 2000-2005
DT, 2nd Team: La’Roi Glover, 2002-2005
LB, 2nd Team: DeMarcus Ware, 2005-2009
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.
Twenty years ago, the Cowboys headed into a season as the defending Super Bowl champions. It was hardly difficult to find an NFL magazine that featured one of the Cowboys on the cover (even in Missouri).
A book published in 1993 also featured a member of the Cowboys. It was Cliff Charpentier’s 1993 Fantasy Football Digest, which had Emmitt Smith on its cover. I had never played fantasy football at that point, so I bought the book.
The Cowboys were not only the best real-life team heading into 1993 but also had several of the top fantasy players. Here’s a summary
Emmitt Smith, #2 RB: Charpentier ranked Thurman Thomas above Smith in terms of “performance points” (yards), thanks to the yardage that Thomas picked up through the air.
Michael Irvin, #1 WR: Irvin had back-to-back seasons with 1,523 and 1,387 yards, respectively, and Charpentier ranked Irvin ahead of Jerry Rice.
Jay Novacek, #2 TE: Novacek had three consecutive seasons with more than 600 receiving yards, and Charpentier ranked him second behind Keith Jackson of Miami.
Troy Aikman, #6 QB: Aikman was never known for his stats, but he was good enough to rank just below Jim Kelly and ahead of Jim Everett of the Rams, Chris Miller of the Falcons, and Brett Favre of the Packers.
Lin Elliott, #5 K: Charpentier was not impressed with Elliott’s accuracy in 1992, but Charpentier liked that Elliott had 35 attempts in 1992.
As it turned out, several of these Cowboys failed to live up to the hype:
- Smith famously (infamously) held out for the first two games of the 1993 season and saw his TD numbers fall from 18 to 9 between 1992 and 1993.
- Although Irvin had 1,330 yards and 7 TDs, his performance could not match that of Rice, who had 1,503 yards and 15 TDs.
- Aikman had 3,100 yards and 15 TDs, which was not bad but not a top-6 performance.
- Novacek had only 445 yards on 44 receptions with 1 TD, far below expectations.
- Elliott only played in two games for the 1993 Cowboys after missing two critical field goals in a loss to Buffalo.
* * *
This was a time before the widespread use of the Internet. This was also a time when fantasy football magazines were hardly commonplace. Moreover, this was a time when many people did not have cellular phones.
Without an Internet program to run a league, commissioners had to rely on things like the telephone. For instance, Charpentier describes a commissioner’s job on transaction night when players make trades or pick up players off waivers. The players would give the commissioner a telephone number where the commissioner could call at a certain time. Here are the rules that applied when a commissioner could not reach a player:
1. If a commissioner receives no answer at the given franchise number, it will be assumed that the franchise desires no transactions that evening and, after allowing 15 rings, the commissioner may go on to the next team. If the team involved calls later in the hour to make transactions, this team will go to the end of the list.
2. If a commissioner gets a busy signal, the must continue to call that team for 3 minutes. If the commissioner fails to reach a team, he goes on to the next team. If the skipped team calls in and wants to make transactions, it must go to the end of the list of the first-hour transactions.
3. If the commissioner reaches a telephone recorder, he should leave a message with the time of the call. If the team calls back and wants to make transactions, it must go to the end of the list.
Even more daunting is the option where the first player who called got to make a transaction. Charpentier suggested that the commissioner leave the phone off the hook for five minutes before the commissioner started accepting calls at a certain time, such as 6 p.m.
* * *
Incidentally, Cliff Charpentier was inducted into Fantasy Sports Trade Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
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.