Worst of the Worst
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Every playoff loss is, of course, disappointing, but some are more heartbreaking than others. It’s been two weeks since the Cowboys fell to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs—and the loss still stings.
The list below includes each of the 27 playoff losses in team history, ranked in order of most disappointing.
Although some will insert the latest loss as the most disappointing, I ranked it fourth behind “The Catch” in 1981, the Ice Bowl in 1967, and Super Bowl V.
Dallas Cowboys: Most Disappointing Playoff Losses
The Dallas Cowboys lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Green Bay Packers in the 2016 NFL Playoffs. This list ranks the most disappointing losses in team history.
1981 NFC Championship Game
No reference needed other than "The Catch."
The Dallas Cowboys have won a single playoff game between 1997 and right now. That occurred in 2009 when the team beat the visiting Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs.
Members of the 2008 draft class were rather prominent in the victory.
Felix Jones (1st round in 2008) carried the ball 16 times for 148 yards and helped to put the game on ice with a 73-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Tashard Choice (4th round in 2008) helped in the effort, carrying the ball 14 times for 42 yards with a touchdown.
The other first-round pick from 2008, Mike Jenkins, recorded an interception.
Martellus Bennett (2nd round in 2008) and Orlando Scandrick (5th round) weren’t as prominent in the 2009 playoffs, but both of the played roles.
Now it’s 2013. Choice and Bennett have been gone for some time.
Sixth-round pick Erik Walden never played a down in Dallas but became a starter in Green Bay.
Now it looks like Jones and Jenkins will leave the team via free agency. They are among five free agents the Cowboys will likely lose according to the Dallas Morning News.
Thursday’s loss to the Washington Redskins was certainly not the first Thanksgiving loss for the Cowboys. Dallas now holds an overall record of 28-16-1 during the annual game, which is quite good.
However, the loss to Washington was one of the worst in team history on Thanksgiving. In fact, I am going to name it as the worst. Here is a list of the contenders.
10. Miami 16, Dallas 14 (1993)
This game just has to make the list, even though the Cowboys never lost another game and eventually won Super Bowl XXVIII. Dallas and Miami played in the snow at Texas Stadium, and the Cowboys appeared to secure the win by blocking a final field-goal attempt. However, Leon Lett tried to recover the loose ball. When he failed, Miami recovered and had one more chance. Pete Stoyanovich made his next try, giving Miami the win.
9. Houston Oilers 30, Dallas 24 (1979)
A Heisman Trophy winning player from Texas visited Dallas and torched the Cowboys. Sound familiar? Playing in his second year, Earl Campbell ran all over Dallas, gaining 195 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The Cowboys had a lead for much of the game, but the Oilers came from behind to win it. The loss dropped Dallas to 8-5, but the Cowboys won their remaining regular-season games.
8. Minnesota 44, Dallas 38 (1987)
At 5-5, the Cowboys had to beat the Vikings to have any realistic chance to make the playoffs. Sound familiar? Minnesota went up by 14 points on several occasions, but the Cowboys kept battling back. Danny White’s four touchdown passes kept Dallas in the game, but his interception during overtime killed the team’s chances. Minnesota won, White never played in a significant game again, and Tom Landry never competed for a playoff spot again.
7. San Francisco 31, Dallas 10 (1972)
The 7-3 Cowboys hosted the 49ers trying to stay close to the 9-1 Redskins. Instead, it was the Skip Vanderbundt show. He scored touchdowns on fumble and interception returns in a game that was never close. Dallas ended up finishing one game behind Washington in the NFC East. Of course, Dallas managed to avenge the loss to San Francisco in the playoffs in Roger Staubach’s first miracle comeback.
6. Miami 40, Dallas 21 (2003)
The Cowboys were 8-3 when they hosted the Dolphins on Thanksgiving. Dallas had just won a big game over Carolina, and hopes were high that the Cowboys would do something in the playoffs. Instead, the Cowboys gave up 23 points in the first half in a bad loss. The Cowboys finished the season at 10-6 and lost to the Panthers in the playoffs.
5. Tennessee Oilers 27, Dallas 14 (1997)
The Cowboys entered this game at 6-6 and were still in the playoff hunt. Quarterback Steve McNair helped to end those playoff hopes by leading Tennessee to 24 first-half points. After the loss, the Cowboys quit and lost their final three games to finish at 6-10.
4. Denver 24, Dallas 21 (2005)
The 7-3 Cowboys needed a win to help their playoff chances. They trailed for much of the game but forced overtime thanks to a late touchdown from Drew Bledsoe to Jason Witten. In overtime, though, Ron Dayne ran right through the Dallas defense on a 55-yard run, setting up the game-winning field goal. The Cowboys finished at 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
3. Philadelphia 27, Dallas 0 (1989)
The Cowboys weren’t contending for anything when they hosted the Eagles on Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, Dallas had to play for pride during the first infamous Bounty Bowl in which Buddy Ryan, father of the Cowboys’ current defensive coordinator, put a price on the heads of several Cowboys. There was not much pride left in Dallas after the 27-0 loss.
2. Minnesota 46, Dallas 36 (1998)
A few thought the 8-3 Cowboys could contend with the 10-1 Vikings. Then rookie Randy Moss made his first visit to Texas Stadium. The Cowboys had no clue how to stop him as he caught three passes for 163 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Aikman threw for 455 yards, but Dallas was never really in the game. The Cowboys finished the season at 10-6 and lost to the Cardinals in the playoffs.
1. Washington 38, Dallas 31 (2012)
At 5-5, the Cowboys had hopes they could contend for the NFC East title. Instead, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III rode into Dallas, and Rob Ryan’s defense had no clue how to stop him. It was 28-3 at halftime thanks to three RGIII touchdowns, and Tony Romo’s 441 passing yards meant nothing in the loss.
The 2006 season was the first one I covered for this blog. The Cowboys looked very mediocre early that season as Drew Bledsoe continued to earn a “statue” nickname and Terrell Owens did little to help the Cowboys stand out.
Then came the emergence of a new quarterback. He played college in Charleston, Illinois, which is where I was born. The college was Eastern Illinois University, which is where my father received two degrees. The new QB was also the kick holder, which is the nickname I used on here because I couldn’t think of anything else.
I’m not sure what all of that was supposed to mean, but none of it turned out to be good luck in the end. The Cowboys made the playoffs as a wildcard but had to travel to Seattle to face the defending NFC Champions.
Though Dallas fell behind in the second half, a 93-yard kickoff return by an unknown receiver named Miles Austin gave the Cowboys a lead. In the fourth quarter, that lead was 20-13.
Then came what amounted to an implosion. Dallas had the ball at its own 2 with 6:42 remaining. Romo threw a short pass to Terry Glenn, who fumbled. This lead to a safety (after a review), and the Dallas lead shrank to 20-15.
Though Seattle regained the lead, the Cowboys were still in a position to win the game. Many tend to forgot that with just under two minutes left to play, Romo hit Jason Witten on a 3rd-and-7 play, and the original mark gave Dallas a first down at the Seattle 1. Had the spot held up up, the Cowboys would have run down the clock and probably kicked on third down. Had there been an error on the snap, the Cowboys would have had a second chance.
Instead, the replay moved the ball to the 2, and Dallas faced a fourth down. Here’s the play that everyone does remember:
My comments after the game:
How is it that I use the name kickholder on here even though I haven’t actually been a kick holder since high school (er… I guess I did hold some kicks on the practice squad in college, but that is beside the point)? And how does the Cowboys season end? On a dropped snap by Tony Romo when he served as a kick holder.
* * *
Anyway, I well beyond sick right now and hope that the shock keeps me numb for a couple of days. Nothing good can possibly come from this loss or this season as a whole, unless you want to prove the Dallas Cowboy franchise is one that has no clue how to win in this league on a consistent basis. Enjoy the off-season, boys.
I’ve been at this blogging stuff for more than five calendar years, covering six seasons. That means I’ve had the privilege of blogging about the botched snap in Seattle, the Cowboys implosion against the Giants in ’07, the collapse at Philadelphia to end ’08, the shining moments of ’09 followed by the team’s disappearance at Minnesota, the disgraceful season of ’10, and the disintegration in the final month of the ’11 season.
I became a Cowboys fan at the age of 6 in 1977. For the first 12 years that I followed this team, the franchise had character, run by a group of characters. The lead character was the guy in the funny hat—the only coach the Cowboys ever had. Many of us talk about those characters with reverence because we truly revered them.
In the six seasons I’ve covered as a blogger, the team has had three head coaches. I’ve written about characters that I really don’t like. That starts but does not end with Jerry Jones. We had every reason as Cowboys fans to hate Terrell Owens. So Jerry signed him. We had every reason as Cowboys fans to hate Buddy Ryan and any offspring of Buddy Ryan. So Jerry hired one of those offspring.
The results? Owens provided theater that I didn’t want to watch and certainly don’t miss. Ryan runs his mouth for no reason at all other than to run his mouth, and this team’s defense can’t come anywhere close to backing up his boasting.
I don’t dislike this team’s stars—Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, and perhaps Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Witten has played at a consistent level for a long time, and I think most have concluded correctly that he’s the greatest tight end in the team’s history. The others are good players, even if Romo doesn’t belong in the same conversation as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman and even if I think that the franchise had defensive ends that were just as disruptive as Ware has been as an outside linebacker.
What I don’t like is that this core really hasn’t accomplished anything as a team. Witten, along with Terence Newman and Bradie James, were part of a very solid 2003 draft. The result? Four playoff appearances in nine seasons, with a record of 1-4. The 2005 draft was even better, and that’s how this team got Ware, Ratliff, and Marcus Spears. The result? Three playoff appearances in seven seasons, with a record of 1-3.
So what has prompted me to rehash all of this? It was an email from Darlene in Greenville, Texas (and thanks for including your location, Darlene). I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been accused on the Internet, anonymously or not, of not being a “real fan” of this football team. Darlene was the latest to accuse me of this. She asks, “Do yoa [sic] even watch the games, or are you to [sic] busy writing smartass comments? Cause us real fans are going to watch the Boys win or lose.”
Maybe there was no way for Darlene to know that I’ve followed this team for 35 seasons. Even if she did, that doesn’t matter to some diehards. I’m convinced that some of those who have attacked my fanhood are no older than 15.
As for watching the Cowboys, win or lose, I will admit I started liking the team during a season in which the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. At the age of six, I didn’t know what that meant and really didn’t appreciate it. In my six-year-old mind, the Cowboys were more fun to watch than the hometown St. Louis Football Cardinals.
I understood the game better when the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. I balled my eyes out at the age of eight when Vince Ferragamo threw a touchdown pass to Billy Waddy to allow the L.A. Rams to beat Roger Staubach in his final game with the Cowboys.
Then there were the three consecutive losses in the NFC championship game, including The Catch in 1981.
Then there was the first losing season since 1964. Then there were the bad years of four wins in two seasons.
Yes, we all enjoyed the dynasty.
But there was all the drama in the second half of the decade, followed by what we’ve seen in the new century. And what has happened over the course of the past decade, even after the team rebuilt itself, is that we’ve become conditioned to expect to lose games that really matter.
Darlene, do you really want to compare how many losses we’ve both watched? Did you watch all 33 losses between 2000 and 2002, yet hold out some unrealistic hope that Jack Reilly was going to learn how to call plays or that Bruce Coslet was going to get the most out of Quincy Carter? Did you shrug off the agony of losing playoff games to the Seahawks and Giants when you were completely convinced that the team was going to win and advance? Did you happily enjoy the 2008 offseason, even when every time you saw a reference to the Cowboys, you saw this score: Philadelphia 44, Dallas 6?
You are perhaps some sort of Pollyanna, Darlene. If so, you have a better outlook on life, and you will probably live longer. Or perhaps you drink too much Kool-Aid—especially the Jerry Jones brand—in which case the processed sugar isn’t healthy. It’s still better than smoking crack.
Anyway, I’m not as negative today as I was last night. I’m just numb. This post is the first of what will be yet another very long offseason.
But no matter what Darlene or anyone else thinks of my attitude or my blog, I’ll keep it going. Whether it works or not, this has become my therapy.
Quick question: Name the season that has been the most frustrating for you in the past 15 years.
“Yes” is not an acceptable answer. Understandable, but not acceptable.
There was once a season in which the Cowboys led in every game yet only finished 8-8. That season was 1999. For me, it was the most frustrating season I’ve ever seen…until this year.
Thus, the catchy title. And this blog isn’t known for anything catchy titles.
There are quite a few parallels between the 1999 and 2011 seasons. Here’s a look:
1999—Leads in 17 games, 8-9 record
The Cowboys played 17 games in 1999, including a playoff game against the Vikings. Dallas led in every single game yet couldn’t manage a winning record.
The worst: Dallas had a 24-17 lead over the 2-12 Saints on Christmas Eve during week 16. New Orleans pulled out the win. Dallas also had a 17-0 lead over the Vikings and a 17-6 lead over the Colts in back-to-back weeks. Both were losses.
2011—Leads in 13 games, 8-7 record
The only games in which the Cowboys did not lead in 2011 were the two losses to the Eagles. Dallas has lost double-digit second-half leads three times. The worst: blowing a 27-3 lead at home to the Lions.
1999—OT Win vs. Washington
The Cowboys had no business winning the opening game at Washington. Dallas trailed 35-14 heading into the fourth quarter, but Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin led a comeback. Aikman’s legendary pass to Rocket Ismail in overtime gave Dallas the win.
2011—Loss to N.Y. Jets
There was simply no way the Cowboys were going to blow a 24-10 fourth quarter lead to the Jets. But that’s what happened. Tony Romo committed two costly turnovers in the loss.
Garrett was in his final season as the Cowboys backup quarterback. He filled in for Aikman in a handful of games, including two starts. He threw two touchdown passes in a win over the Packers but looked poor in games against the Vikings and Cardinals.
Garrett is in his first full season as the Cowboys’ head coach. Most expected the Cowboys to struggle, but few expected those struggles to be the result of Garrett’s bad decisions.
Former Head Coaches Visit Dallas
1999—Jimmy Johnson, Miami
Former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson faced Chan Gailey and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Dan Marino threw five interceptions in a 20-0 Dallas win. The loss dropped Johnson’s record against the Cowboys to 0-2. Neither Johnson nor Gailey survived the 1999 season.
2011—Chan Gailey, Buffalo
Gailey coached in the college ranks for several years but returned to coach the Bills. He brought his 5-3 team to Cowboys Stadium on November 13 only to see Ryan Fitzpatrick throw three interceptions in a 44-7 Dallas win.
Weak Effort vs. Weak NFC East
1999—Sweep of Redskins but Maddening Losses to the Eagles, Giants, and Cardinals
The Cowboys swept Washington, but the Redskins went on to win the NFC East with a 10-6 record. The NFC East had not been as week in quite some time, as none of the other four teams managed a winning record. Dallas suffered a pair of 13-10 losses to the Eagles and Giants, followed later by a 13-9 loss to the Cardinals.
2011—Sweep of Redskins but Maddening Losses to the Eagles and Giants
For the first time ever, the winner of the NFC East will have fewer than 10 wins. Dallas swept a weak Washington team but lost twice to the Eagles and once to the Giants (thus far).
Season Finale vs. N.Y. Giants
1999—Win Meant Playoff Appearance
The Cowboys were 7-8 after their loss to the Saints, but losses by the Packers, Panthers, Lions, and Giants meant that five teams had 7-8 records heading into week 17. Dallas had to beat the Giants in the final week, and a 26-17 victory ensured the Cowboys of a playoff berth. Few were excited about the Cowboys’ chances.
2011—Win Means Division Title
Dallas travels to New York for a winner-takes-all matchup with the Giants. You probably know that already.
For years (and years and years) most Cowboys fans have heard some variation of this clever insult: “The Cowboys aren’t really America’s Team.”
The most recent iteration of this comes on the heels of a vitally important poll showing that defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay is the most popular team in America. That led the author to state definitely that “actual data exists and reveals the Cowboys aren’t ‘America’s Team,’ having been replaced by the Green Bay Packers, according toPublic Policy Polling’s newest national survey.”
The last time I had a serious online argument with someone about whether the Packers or the Cowboys were truly “America’s Team” was the last time that the Packers were the defending champions. That was 1997.
Note that when the Patriots were defending champions three times in the early 2000s, their fans said they should be America’s Team.
And note that when the Steelers became champions after the 2008 season, they should have been America’s Team.
And further note that when the Saints won the title after the 2009 season, they should have been America’s Team.
Using the logic espoused by most of these commentators, whichever team holds the Vince Lombardi Memorial Trophy should strip the Cowboys of their nickname.
Please, come up with something more original.
A few thoughts:
1. You know why nobody is shouting that the Patriots, Saints, or Steelers are America’s Team right now? Because none of those teams hold the Lombardi Trophy right now.
2. Even when NFL Films first coined the term “America’s Team” for the Cowboys after the 1978 season, the Cowboys had as many haters as they did true fans.
3. The Cowboys have done nothing worth mentioning to retain their fan base in 15 years, yet the Cowboys rank high on these lists year after year. The team went 6-10 last year and currently stands at 8-6, yet the team ranked second in this survey. And should the Cowboys win another title someday, I would bet anything that the Cowboys rank #1 on both the Most Liked and Most Hated team lists.
The only time I ever “earned” a link on Deadspin was a few months after I launched. I posted a clip from the Dallas Cowboys Christmas ’86 video.
On a day where I should have had 10,000 visitors, though, my host apparently installed an upgrade of some sort, and my page wouldn’t load for hours. That’s the kind of luck this blog has had, mirroring the luck of the Cowboys….
Every Christmas, those videos show up on various blogs, including this one. I finally found my CD containing the original files. Here is the first of four clips from the video:
Thanks to a Google Book search, I was able to stumble across more information regarding the Christmas video. Twenty-five years ago today, Billboard posted an article about the original distribution of the 1986 video. Here is the text:
Web Banks on Cowboys Vid
by Greg Reibman
Billboard, Dec. 20, 1986
DALLAS The Video Works chain, based here, hopes to score some extra points this holiday season with an exclusive distribution pact for a new Christmas video starring the Dallas Cowboys.
Although Sears and local grocers Tom Thumb Page and Minyard will also stock limited quantities of the five-song “Dallas Cowboys Christmas ’86” charity video, the 16-store outfit will be the only video retailer on the Cowboys’ home turf with this product.
“This is a terrific opportunity for us,” says Video Works president Gary Meinershagen. “And, of course, it is for a good cause, so we’re especially glad to be involved.” Proceeds from the tape will benefit the Cowboys’ Youth Foundation.
Video Works (Billboard, Sept. 6) also held the exclusive on the team’s first Christmas video last season. Despite the fact that the 1985 project was not available until early December, it enjoyed sales in excess of 4,500 units for Video Works. With almost a full extra month of marketing time for the new video, Meinershagen–who thinks the 1986 tape is superior to last season’s–hope to nearly double 1985’s sales. “It went over very well last year, and this one is longer and a better value,” he says.
In addition to a pair of songs featuring current team players, the new video also features a song with the celebrated Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and another number featuring ex-players.
Both the 1985 and 1986 tapes were produced by Chris Christian and Bob Breunig for their Home Sweet Home label. In addition to the videocassette, the label has also released a Dallas Cowboy Christmas album, cassettte, and songbook.
The video–available in either VHS or Beta at a retail list of $19.95–will be wholesaled to retailers outside of northeast Texas without the restrictions of an exclusive sales agreement. The record and cassette are available in many Dallas-area stores, says Home Sweet Home promotion director Robin Creasman, “but we were so happy with the way Video Works handled the project last year that we decided to give them the exclusive rights again this year.”
A major benefit in the arrangement in terms of selling-through is that fans who want to view the video must purchase rather than rent it. “Of course, there is no way to prevent someone [a competitor] from buying the tape and then turning around and renting it, but we won’t be renting it ourselves,” says Meinershagen.
* * *
Here’s something strange (and kind of funny) about this article (besides some company thinking that this video presented an opportunity):
The article about the Cowboys’ video appears on the same page that leads with the headline, “Industry Eyes Cincinnati Adult Video Trial Ruling.” That article was about a case involving a ban on certain themes at adult video stores.
But then to the right of the Cowboys article is Billboard‘s Top Kid Video Sales for the week. Sleeping Beauty ranked number one.
Here is the page:
Ah, editorial decisions that I must not be able to understand:
Editor #1: Frank, what else can we put on the page about the ban on porn videos?
Editor #2: Uh, I dunno. Maybe we can slap on that one about the Christmas tape?
Editor #1: Yeah, you got it. And we can fill the rest of the page with the list of kid’s videos. Let’s go grab a beer.
* * *
What was also peculiar were the ads that appeared on the pages before and after the page featuring the article about the Cowboys. On the page below it was an ad for Rainbow Brite.
A best seller, I’m sure. But above it was an ad for…Reform School Girls!
Jerry Jones just can’t shut up. We all know that.
[As in, don’t talk about the playoffs right now, Jerry. Let this team focus on beating the Eagles]
However, since he is going to open his mouth anyway, perhaps he could show a little bit more appreciation for this team’s legacy.
Last night, the main leaders of his team participated in a montage featuring a quote about winning.
That quote came from Vince Lombardi.
Cowboys fans older than 30 need immediately to place their foreheads into their hands. Let’s say this in unison…
Jerry, you just don’t cite Joe Gibbs. And in the name of all that is Tom Landry, you don’t quote Vince Lombardi.
Let’s go with this one:
I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game.
— Tom Landry, whose teams would have already won this damn division.
That all said, Jerry was pretty funny during the pregame show last night.
Of course, I continue to forget my principal rule that I should never listen to anything Jerry says.
* * *
The Cowboys rid themselves of some underproductive and overpriced veterans last season. Dallas also let a long-time special teams ace leave via free agency.
Unlike a few other recent events, those decisions have not come back to haunt the Cowboys this year. Here’s a summary:
Roy drove us crazy during his tenure in Dallas. He would make a play now and then, but in between those plays, he would often drop some very easy passes that came his way.
He hasn’t improved during his time in Chicago this year. Consider this comment.
Williams didn’t rank among the league’s top 20 and, in fact, rookie teammate Dane Sanzenbacher has dropped more, but Williams’ problem beyond drops has been more one of bobbling catches. Some of the incompletions on passes thrown to Williams have resulted from Williams bobbling the ball first, allowing defenders to break up the throw or — in the case of a goal-line pass against Kansas City — come up with an interception.
Inconsistency has been Williams’ biggest problem. He failed to come up with a single catch in six games and hasn’t had more than 62 yards receiving, while scoring just one TD. Yet he continues to get starting time, and a lot of that has to do with his blocking ability.
Against the Chiefs on December 4, Williams had a chance to catch near the goal line. The ball, however, bounced off his hands and wound up in the hands of a Kansas City defender. The Bears lost, 10-3.
One week later, former Marion Barber was the culprit in a Chicago loss. He had a great game for much of the contest, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown. However, with time running out in the fourth quarter, Barber ran out of bounds instead of falling to the ground. That stopped the clock and eventually gave Denver enough time to tie the game.
In overtime, Barber looked as if he would run for a touchdown, but a Denver defender stripped the ball. The Broncos turned around and won the game on a field goal.
The Chicago media then criticized Barber for not speaking to reporters until the middle of this week.
Many of us thought the Cowboys had made a mistake by not signing Hurd. It turns out, though, that Hurd had a side business while in Dallas, and he continued to run that business after he signed with the Bears this summer.
A transaction related to that business required Hurd to try to buy 5 to 10 kg of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana. That’s about five times more pot than the amount that sent Nate Newton to prison in 2002.
Of course, there’s also the matter of Charles Haley, who was accused of slapping a woman on the butt at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving. Yes, that was two weeks after he was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor.