Did You Know…
That Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s father played for the Dallas Cowboys?
I didn’t, so on the day after Father’s Day, David Ponder is our Most Obscure Player of 1985.
David Ponder was a defensive tackle who played at Florida State from 1980 to 1983. He was not drafted in 1985 and signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys.
Ponder played in only four games with the Cowboys. One of those was the 44-14 win over the Washington Redskins during the famous “Happy Birthday, Joe Theismann” game to open the season. Ponder recorded a half-sack during that game, and this was his only official statistic as a professional.
He apparently remained in the Dallas area, as Christian was born in Dallas and raised in Grapevine. Christian later played at Florida State before being drafted in 2011.
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Here is a story about Christian Ponder signing with FSU in 2005. It mentions David Ponder’s all-important contributions to his college fraternity.
Florida State’s decision is very good news for Pi Kappa Alpha. David Ponder was not only a great player for the Seminoles, he was also a popular leader and Brother of Delta Lambda Chapter. David was an active member of the Pike rush committee, and won the FSU Intramural All-Greek Heavyweight Wrestling Championship for the Pikes. In 1984, David received the coveted Ken Spence Award honoring the varsity athlete who best exemplifies the qualities of loyalty and devotion to Pi Kappa Alpha.
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Another point of obscurity: Ponder was one of two players who first wore a jersey number in the 90s. Ponder wore #97, while Kevin Brooks wore #99.
The Cowboys faced several issues in 1984, and many of those related to personnel. The team’s talent level had fallen, and stars such as Drew Pearson and Harvey Martin were replaced with more mediocre players.
Poor drafts did not help matters. Dallas spent its first pick on Texas A&M linebacker Billy Cannon Jr., who lasted only half of one season because of injuries. The picks that followed included Victor Scott, Fred Cornwell, Steve DeOssie, and Steve Pelleur. Although the latter two started some games, these players hardly provided the foundation for the future.
The team’s second pick in the fifth round was Iowa fullback Norm Granger. He had gained just over 1,000 total rushing yards in four seasons at Iowa but was considered an important part of the Hawkeyes’ Rose Bowl team in 1982. He was also co-MVP of the 1983 team.
Dallas already had two fullbacks in Ron Springs and Timmy Newsome, so having a third fullback was hardly a necessity. Early reviews of Granger were positive.
Regarding Granger, Dallas assistant coach Al Lavan said, “He’s got exceptional hands, just exceptional. He’s about a step ahead of most other rookies at this point.”
Results: Granger played in 15 games, mostly on special teams.
Rushing attempts? Zero.
Kickoff returns? Two.
Total return yards? Six.
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In 2004, Granger served as an honorary captain in a game between Iowa and Iowa State. Iowa won, 17-10.
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Granger lost his Rose Bowl ring shortly after the game in 1982. Twenty-five years later, it was recovered when a collector saw it being sold on eBay.
The 1983 Dallas Cowboys had a few players even the most knowledgeable fans would have trouble remembering.
Punters Jim Miller and John Warren?
RB Gary Allen?
LB Scott McLean?
TE Cleo Simmons?
For the Most Obscure Player of 1983, we are going to go with a running back. At Clemson, Chuck McSwain gained a total of 2,320 yards in four seasons with the Tigers. He also had one of his biggest games during the Tigers’ National Championship season in 1981. Here is a snip from a Clemson fan site:
The Clemson tailback rushed for a career-high 151 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 29-13 victory over South Carolina to cap an 11-0 regular season in 1981. Six weeks later, Clemson beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the National Championship.
There is even a video of McSwain from that game against South Carolina:
The Cowboys took McSwain in the 5th round of the 1983 draft, and he made the team.
He played in a game, returning a kickoff in a week 3 win against the Giants.
And then, he tore a tendon on the ring finger of his right hand, and he was gone for the season. He returned in 1984 and returned 20 kickoffs in 15 games, but he never recorded a single rushing attempt.
Like another of our MOP Award winners (Angelo King), McSwain saw action as a replacement player in 1987. He played in three games for the New England Patriots. He gained a total of 23 yards on nine carries.
That ended his career.
He has since become a high school athletic director in North Carolina. Here is his bio page.
(Now why did I pick him? Because I found his bio page. That’s why.)
The 1982 season for the Dallas Cowboys started out notoriously, as the team lost its first opening game since 1964. The Cowboys were 1-1 when the players went on strike and remained 1-1 until play resumed in November.
When the NFL returned to the field, the Cowboys enjoyed a five-game winning streak. Losses to the Eagles and Vikings dropped the team’s record to 6-3 to end the regular season.
What most people remember about the season was Tony Dorsett’s 99-yard run in the season finale against the Vikings. (It was obviously a great highlight of all time, but it is easy to forget the play came during a loss.)
The right guard on the 99-yard run was not Kurt Peterson, who was the regular starter. No, the right guard was #73, a future Survivor named Steve Wright.
That’s Survivor, the reality television series. Wright appeared on Redemption Island, for those who still watch that show, which I generally do. He was the 13th player voted out and ended up on the jury.
So he did not win Survivor, nor did he last with the Cowboys. He is, though, our Most Obscure Player of 1982.
After playing in 25 games as an undrafted free agent, Wright was traded to the Baltimore Colts in 1983 for a sixth-round pick, which the Cowboys used for defensive lineman Kurt Ploeger. Wright eventually became a starter with the Los Angeles Raiders.
The Dallas Cowboys were still a talent-laden team in 1981 and featured plenty of household names. We had a few candidates for the Most Obscure Player Award, but the name we are going with made the cover of the prestigious Dallas Cowboys Weekly on December 26, 1981.
The player: linebacker and special-team ace Angelo King. Congratulations to him for the MOP Award, but I frankly know little about him.
Of course, if I spent 99 cents on Ebay, I could buy the December 26, 1981 issue of the Dallas Cowboys Weekly and would know much more about the obscure subject of this post.
But I didn’t.
His Wikipedia page in its entirety: “Angelo King was a professional American football player who played linebacker for seven seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.”
He joined the Cowboys as a rookie free agent in 1981 and played in 15 games. He recorded two fumble recoveries and apparently made many special-teams tackles.
King lasted three years in Dallas before the team traded him to Detroit in 1984 for a sixth-round pick in 1986. King played two full seasons in 1984 and 1985 and played in 11 games in 1986.
He returned in 1987 to play in one game as a replacement player during the first of the infamous scab games. With the Lions (led the great QB Todd Hons) leading 10-0 over the visiting Buccaneers (led by the equally great QB Mike Hold), King had his career moment. He recovered a fumble and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. It was his first fumble recovery since his rookie season in 1981 and gave the Lions a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Lions fell apart after that, though, and lost the game 31-27. Even worse was that King never played another game again.
Incidentally, the Cowboys used the sixth-round pick in 1986 to take quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who did not end up playing a down in the NFL until 1989.
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I’m not sure what King is doing these days, but he showed up on the list of celebrities at a golf tournament benefiting citizens of Haiti. Other former Cowboys on the list included Drew Pearson, Too Tall Jones, Everson Walls, Rocket Ismail, and Doug Donley.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1979 Dallas Cowboys were Bennie Barnes and Aaron Kyle.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1981 Dallas Cowboys were Everson Walls and Dennis Thurman.
The starting cornerbacks for the 1980 Dallas Cowboys? Think hard (and don’t look at the title of this post).
One was Steve Wilson, who became a part-time starter for the Denver Broncos and even started at right cornerback in Super Bowl XXII. He was one of the guys who Doug Williams burned in the Redskins’ 35-point second quarter.
The other was our Most Obscure Player for 1980: Aaron Mitchell.
The Cowboys took him in the second round of the 1979 draft, thanks largely to a good time in the 40-yard dash. He played his college football at UNLV and a football factory known as…
College of the Canyons in California. This was the same community college that produced Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants. Here is a piece about Mitchell posted on the college’s website.
Mitchell started 15 games with the Cowboys in 1980 and recorded three interceptions. The Cowboys traded Mitchell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1981 season, though. Mitchell played one year in Tampa Bay. He later played for the Arizona Wranglers and Los Angeles Express of the USFL.
The Cowboys’ personnel problems had already begun by the early 1980s. Dallas used Tampa’s 11th-round pick to take a wide receiver named George Thompson, who never played a down of football in the NFL.
Even worse, the Cowboys got nothing for Wilson, waiving him after the 1981 season.
This one was a little bit too easy. The winner of the Most Obscure Player Award for 1979 was the first center the Cowboys ever took the first round of a draft: Robert Shaw.
The Cowboys now have two centers taken in the first round with the selection of Travis Frederick in 2013.
Shaw was an all-conference center at Tennessee. The Cowboys had the 27th pick (out of 28 picks) in the 1979 draft, and they took Shaw with the pick.
At the time, the Cowboys still had John Fitzgerald, so Shaw played sparingly in 1979 and 1980.
Fitzgerald retired after the 1980 season. Shaw got his chance to start but only made it through three games in 1981 before suffering knee injury.
Shaw attempted to come back for the next 20 months but could not pass a physical. He officially retired in July 1983.
He returned to school and earned earned a degree in architectural design and management. Meanwhile, Tom Rafferty moved from guard to center and anchored the offensive line for the rest of the 1980s.
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Not sure what other obscure trivia there is about Shaw. On the other hand, there was once an actor named Robert Shaw, who was born in Dallas, Texas. This Robert Shaw lived to the age of 89 and was known to have owned one of the most unique signed baseballs by Babe Ruth. That ball is now in a museum in Arlington, Texas.
(See, it’s kind of Cowboys-related. Er, not really.)
The Cowboys managed to find a few possible role players after their first-round selection of Travis Frederick on Thursday. In light of the fact that I was on a fishing trip all weekend and did not post regular updates, here are some trivial facts about the selections from the first three rounds.
1. Center Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
The Cowboys have selected 20 centers in their history, but the team has only taken two in the first round: Frederick and Robert Shaw (1979). Shaw suffered through injuries and only lasted three years in the league.
Of these centers, only Mark Stepnoski made the Pro Bowl. Andre Gurode was also a Pro Bowl center, but he was originally drafted as a guard.
Below is a list of the centers (not including Gurode) drafted in the first five rounds of previous drafts.
2. Tight End Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
The Cowboys have taken 31 tight ends in previous drafts. With the selection of Gavin Escobar in the second round this year, the Cowboys have now selected a tight in the second round in three of the past eight drafts. The other two were Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett, neither of whom made much of a mark in Dallas.
Escobar is the third player from San Diego State to be selected by the Cowboys. The other two were receivers named Duke Ferguson and Robert West, but neither ever played a down for the Cowboys.
3a. Wide Receiver Terrance Williams, Baylor
After avoiding receivers for many drafts during the 2000s, the Cowboys used a pick to take a receiver for the fifth consecutive draft. Terrance Williams joins a recent list that includes Manuel Johnson, Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris, and Danny Coale.
In their history, the Cowboys have used picks in the first three rounds of a draft 18 times. Among the four taken in the third round were Butch Johnson and Tony Hill.
The other two, though, were Duke Ferguson (there’s that name again) and Stepfret Williams.
Despite being only 90 miles south of Dallas, few Baylor players have joined the Cowboys. Dallas has only drafted Baylor player four previous times: G Kelvin Garmon (1999), DB Ron Francis (1987), G Bob Crenshaw (1964), and LB Sonny Davis (1961).
3b. Safety J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern
Total number of players drafted from Georgia Southern in NFL history: Eight.
Most famous of these players: kicker Rob Bironas.
Other notable player: Adrian Peterson. Just not that Adrian Peterson (Bears, 2002-2009).
The Cowboys gave up their #18 pick in the first round of tonight’s NFL draft in a trade with San Francisco. Dallas finally made a selection with the #31 overall pick and took Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.
Here’s one positive comment, though, from DallasCowboys.com:
Ed Cahill: The best center in the draft. The Cowboys were known to covet Wisconsin’s center Peter Konz last season, and they go ahead and select his successor this season. He has lined up at both guard and center, but has show a good football IQ with great upper and lower body strength. I think he’ll be a good anchor for the Cowboys offensive line moving forward. The questions will be where the Cowboys project him, center or guard?
What was more disappointing than the Frederick pick was that the Cowboys only managed to pick up an extra third-round pick (#74 overall) with the 49ers. By comparison, the Patriots traded their pick at #29 to Minnesota in exchange for picks in the second, third, fourth, and seventh rounds.
But, of course, mediocrity is mediocrity.
The 1978 Dallas Cowboys featured several running backs that many (with memories of the 1970s) would remember. This list includes not only Tony Dorsett and Robert Newhouse, but also Scott Laidlaw, Preston Pearson, and Doug Dennison.
The team did not have great candidates for the Most Obscure Player Award, so we’re going with one of the lesser-known running backs.
Option #1 was Alois Blackwell, with his 9 carries for 37 yards in 1978.
Option #2, our winner, was Larry Brinson.
Brinson joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1977. He saw action in all 14 games in 1977 but was cut during training camp in 1978.
He rejoined the Cowboys and saw action in 10 games in 1978. He only carried the ball 18 times but he scored two touchdowns in mop-up work against the Redskins (a 37-10 win) and the Jets (a 30-7 win).
He made it on the stat sheet for Super Bowls XII and XIII as a kick returner. Against the Steelers, he averaged 20.5 on two returns.
He played three years in Dallas and one in Seattle. After leaving the NFL, he became a college running backs coach. He has served on the coaching staffs at Arkansas, Clemson, Rice, Kentucky, and Kansas.