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An Abbreviated History of Unproven Backups


Rookie Dak Prescott is making the Dallas Cowboys’ brain trust look very good thanks to his first-half performance against the Rams on Saturday night. Jameill Showers had one very nice play to salvage a third-down. His overall performance was weak, however, compared with Prescott.

The Cowboys historically had good backups ready to take over in case injuries occurred to their starters. This has continued to be the case for the most part under Jerry Jones, but Jones is less willing to develop younger players.

Here is a quick look at situations where Dallas had to roll the dice with unproven backups.

1964, John Roach: During the Cowboys’ first four seasons, they had both Eddie LaBaron and Don Meredith. When LaBaron retired, though, the backup job went to John Roach, an SMU graduate who had started 16 games in six years for the Cardinals and Packers. Roach started four games for the Cowboys that year but lost all four. One year later, the Cowboys drafted Craig Morton, and Roach was out of football.

1975, Clint Longley: I’ll go ahead and throw this one in here. The Cowboys traded Morton midway through the 1974 season, leaving only Clint Longley as the backup. We all know that Longley was the savior on Thanksgiving Day in 1974, but he was still relatively unproven when he served as the backup in 1975. He started one game that season, leading Dallas to a 31-21 win over the Jets.

1980, Glenn Carano: Carano had been the team’s third-string quarterback since 1978, but he had never thrown an NFL pass in a regular season game. The Cowboys drafted Gary Hogeboom in 1980, but Carano was the team’s second-string QB in 1980 and 1981.

1986, Steve Pelleur: The Cowboys traded Hogeboom to the Colts in 1986, leaving Steve Pelleur and his eight career passes as the backup.  When the 6-2 Cowboys lost White for the season with a broken wrist, Pelleur led the team to a 1-7 finish.

1988, Kevin Sweeney: White was the backup to begin the 1988 season, but he had nothing left in the tank. Sweeney was Tony Romo before there was a Tony Romo in Dallas—exciting to watch in preseason, and fans wanted to see what he could do as the starter. Well, two starts, two losses, and a passer rating of 40.2 ended the Sweeney era.

1990, Babe Laufenberg: The Cowboys entered the 1990 season with Steve Walsh as the backup, but Dallas traded Walsh to New Orleans early in the season. This left Babe Laufenberg and his 2-4 career record as a starter with the Chargers. When Aikman went down with a season-ending injury and the playoffs were on the line, Laufenberg’s performance guaranteed that the Cowboys would watch those playoffs from home.

1993, Jason Garrett: This one falls under the same category as Clint Longley. Dallas had success with Steve Beurlein as the backup in 1991 and 1992, but he signed with the Cardinals. That left Jason Garrett. Although most fans remember Garrett for leading Dallas to a comeback win on Thanksgiving Day in 1994, he first served as the second-stringer in 1993. With the Cowboys trying to defend their Super Bowl title, Jones signed Bernie Kosar midway through the season, and Kosar came through in the playoffs to help Dallas secure a win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Garrett needed a few more years to develop.

2001, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner: The starter named to replace the retired Troy Aikman was Quincy Carter. When Carter was injured, Dallas went through a cycle of players who had no business starting, including the infamous first-round bust Leaf and former Arkansas Razorback Stoerner. Of course, Wright and Stoerner both one games that season, and their two wins were one more than Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore managed in 2015.

2002, Chad Hutchinson: The Cowboys signed former baseball player Hutchinson as something akin to buying a lottery ticket. He wasn’t ready to start in 2002, but the Cowboys decided to start him anyway after Carter struggled. Dallas went 2-7 with Hutchinson, and he threw only two passes the following season as Carter’s backup.

2004, Drew Henson: Dallas was not finished buying lottery tickets in the form of former baseball players. Henson had started at Michigan, and when Dallas went 3-7 under Vinny Testaverde, Bill Parcells decided to start Henson on Thanksgiving Day. Henson completed only four passes, and Parcells decided he had seen enough and sent Testaverde back in.  Henson never threw another pass for the Cowboys.

2005, Tony Romo: Yes, Romo worked out quite well, but he had never played a down in a regular season game before becoming the backup to Drew Bledsoe in 2005. He did not play a down in 2005, either, but he was firmly entrenched as the starter by the middle of the 2006 season.

2015, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore: Weeden and Cassel don’t quite fit the “unproven” label, but I’ll throw this summary in here. The Cowboys had brought in several veterans to back up Romo between 2007 and 2014, including Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton. Weeden was a veteran, but he was generally unproven even though he had started 20 games for the Browns. After he led the Cowboys to three losses, the team signed Cassel, another veteran, but Cassel went 1-6. Moore finished out the season but could not lead the Cowboys to a win in two starts.

2016: Dak Prescott (presumably): Unless Prescott really falls apart in the remaining three preseason games, it looks if the backup job is his to lose. Hopefully, we see much more of this…

The Dallas Cowboys Back Then: August 1

Mike Vanderjagt thought Tony Romo was partly to blame for part of the kicker's preseason woes in 2006.

This is another post in a short series focusing on the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. This blog launched on August 20, 2006.

A few stories about the Cowboys during their training camp in August 2006…

Vanderjagt Doesn’t Like His Holder

The Cowboys signed kicker Mike Vanderjagt during the offseason in 2006, but he did not get off to a good start.

According to an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Vanderjagt blamed his struggles on having a new holder—backup quarterback Tony Romo. His comment:

It’s a transition because he is a quarterback. He doesn’t have a lot of time for me. We are going to have to work to find time and work the kinks out. In the past, I have had a punter. We can hang out all day and kick field goals. Tony is going to have to find time for me.

What actually happened: Vanderjagt made only 13 of 18 field-goal attempts in 2006 before being cut after ten games. Romo remained the holder after Dallas signed Martin Gramatica. Sadly, Romo botched the hold of a short field goal attempt late in the playoff game against Seattle, and the miss lost the game for Dallas.


Romo Getting Plenty of Work

Romo did not have much time to work on his holding because he was taking plenty of snaps at QB.

Bill Parcells said Romo had shown promise, but Parcells did not trust Romo to play during a regular-season game in 2005. Parcells commented:

I’ve got to decide where he is. Our plans are to play him a lot. I’ve been around him for three years now. I see a guy that’s pretty smart. It looks like in practice, he’s making fewer and fewer mistakes. Had we just thrown him to the wolves two years ago or something, it probably would have ruined his career. But now he’s got enough background and enough knowledge and enough training and enough understanding that it’s time to go forward.

What actually happened? Romo’s preseason performances in 2006 once again excited fans, and he took over the starting QB position from Drew Bledsoe six weeks into the season.

Would It Be Julius Jones‘ Season?

Bill Parcells generally required his running backs to start performing around year 3.

Julius Jones was entering his third year in 2006 and needed to put up better numbers.

Jones said,

It’s a big year for me. Parcells likes to see what a player can do in their third year. He gives you three years to prove something. I still have something to prove.

What actually happened? Jones started all 16 games and became the first running back not named Emmitt Smith to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Herschel Walker in 1988.

The Dallas Cowboys Back Then: What Was Happening in July 2006?

In 2006, the Cowboys hoped Bill Parcells had some magic left in him.

Know Your Dallas Cowboys is nearly ten years old.  In light of the forthcoming anniversary, and given that the blog has been on life support this offseason, I figured now would be a decent time to start a new series.

Let’s look back at what was happening a decade ago before I decided the blogosphere needed yet another Dallas Cowboys blog.

Training Camp

On July 23, 2006, the Cowboys were preparing to open their training camp in Oxnard, California. The team planned to move its training camp to San Antonio in 2007, and it was not clear whether the Cowboys would return to California again.

The team was trying to improve on their 9-7 finish from 2005 and hoped that Bill Parcells recreate some of his past success.

What actually happened…The Cowboys alternated between Oxnard and San Antonio for several years. They have held training camp in Oxnard each year since 2012.

(Backup) Quarterback Controversy

parcellsDrew Bledsoe entered his second season as the starting quarterback. He threw for more than 3,600 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2005, but not all fans were happy with him. Nevertheless, few thought the team would roll the dice with one of the inexperienced backups.

Who the principal backup would be was an interesting topic. The play of Tony Romo excited many fans during the preseason in 2005, and the Cowboys still had Drew Henson.

Regarding the QB race, former Dallas Morning News reporter Todd Archer wrote the following:

The skinny: Bledsoe is the starter, but Parcells has said Romo will get plenty of work in preseason. Bledsoe, 34, is in fine shape, but Parcells doesn’t want to overwork him. Henson was decent in NFL Europe, his first extended game action since 2000, but he’ll need to impress early to push Romo. Jeff Mroz, a free-agent pickup, could be a long-term project.

What actually happened?… Do I really need to tell you that Tony Romo became the starter in 2006?

What about Jeff Mroz?…He never made the team. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007, but also failed to make that team. According to his LinkedIn page, he is the co-founder of a nutrition company.

A Record, Long-Term Deal for Jason Witten

Many fans focused on the offseason signing of Terrell Owens (and we will address him later).

Less memorable is the fact that the Cowboys signed Jason Witten to a long-term deal. The team announced the contract extension on July 23, 2006.

The contract called for Witten to make $12 million in guaranteed money, which exceeded the amounts given to Jeremy Shockey and Tony Gonzalez.

What actually happened?…The Cowboys have never been in danger of losing Witten, and he has remained productive throughout his long career. He made the Pro Bowl in 2006 before having an all-pro season in 2007. His base salary in 2006, after the signing, was $500,000. By comparison, his base salary in 2016 is $6.5 million.



ESPN Poll: 47% Expect the Cowboys to Win the East

Tony Romo will return in 2016 to lead the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys are quickly becoming favorites to win the NFC East in 2016 despite last season’s 4-12 record. Everyone is well aware that the Cowboys will welcome back a healthy Tony Romo.

In a recent ESPN poll, 47% said they expect the Cowboys to win the division, compared with 23% for the Giants, 20% for the Redskins, and 11% for the Eagles.

Here’s the comment by Todd Archer:

There has not been a repeat division winner in the NFC East since the 2003-04 Eagles, so that would seem to rule out the Redskins. The Eagles and Giants have new head coaches, and they sometimes need time to find their footing. That leaves the Cowboys. They are not your typical 4-12 team. Tony Romo is healthy. Dez Bryant is healthy. They drafted Ezekiel Elliott. They have the best offensive line in the division. There are several defensive questions, but the offense can negate many of the defensive inefficiencies. The Cowboys won the division in 2014 with that formula, and they will do it again. And they will be the only NFC East team to qualify for the postseason. Matching up with the AFC North and NFC North will not allow the second-place team to make it as a wild card.

Several reporters also predicted that Romo will be the division’s MVP. The fact that the Cowboys fell from 12-4 in 2014 to 4-12 in 2015, due largely to Romo’s injury, has factored heavily into these predictions.


A bit of a history lesson, though, is in order. Entering the 1986 season, the Cowboys had just won the NFC East and raced out to a 6-2 start before incumbent starter Danny White broke his wrist. The 6-2 start, and 20 consecutive years of winning seasons, went down the drain as Dallas finished with a 7-9 record.

The L.A. Times ran a story summarizing the problems with the 1986 Cowboys.

The reasons for Cowboys’ demise went well beyond White and his backup, second-year man Steve Pelluer. In 1986, the Cowboys had a number of holes that led to only the second season since 1966 that they failed to make the playoffs. The offensive line was porous, the defensive line was aging, and nagging injuries bothered other veteran superstars such as running back Tony Dorsett and wide receiver Tony Hill.

By comparison, the 2015 Cowboys had a talented offensive line that underperformed, a defensive corps that struggled throughout the season, and nagging injuries that bothered Dez Bryant, the team’s best playmaker.

No, the circumstances were not the same in 2015 as they were in 1986, but there are a number of similarities. Hopefully, Tony Romo at the age of 36 can bounce back and do what Danny White at the age of 35 in 1987 could not.

Quote Trivia: Not the End of the Road

The 1975 Dallas Cowboys were a team on the rebound. After Dallas had at least reached the NFC Championship Game each year between 1970 and 1973, the Cowboys didn’t even make the playoffs in 1974.

One player had a poor year in 1974 after being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1973. He said he played with injuries and was almost ready to hang up his cleats. However, he signed a two-year deal and returned in 1975.

The player’s quote appears in the quiz question below.

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  


The “Randy” that appears in the quote above was Randy White, whom the Cowboys had drafted in 1975.

The player quoted above noted the following about White:

“He’s got great quickness and movement. No hangups about moving around in there. And those 250 pounders won’t be knocking him around like they do me.”

White played linebacker before being moved to defensive tackle in 1977. Of course, that was the year he shared co-MVP honors with Harvey Martin after the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII.


Dallas 41, Chicago 28: 8-8 No More

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys' 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys’ 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

I have made no secret that I thought the Cowboys would go 3-13 this season. Had I been right, the Cowboys would have traveled to Chicago tonight with nothing on the line.

Instead, Dallas remains in the playoff hunt. And the team needed a win against the Bears to help its chances in that playoff hunt.

The result: Dallas jumped out to a 35-7 fourth quarter lead and held on to win 41-28. The win was the Cowboys’ ninth of the season and guarantees the first winning season since 2009.

DeMarco Murray was amazing, touching the ball 41 times. He rushed for 179 yards and added another 49 receiving yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Receiver Cole Beasley only caught three passes, but two of them were touchdowns, and he was tackled at the half-yard line on the other. He also recovered an onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have had problems holding on to leads during the Jason Garrett era, and it appeared that Dallas might struggle to hang on to its 28-point fourth-quarter lead.

Chicago scored early in the quarter. The Bears scored again, then recovered an onside kick when Gavin Escobar could not hang on to the ball. When Jay Cutler rushed for a touchdown with just over six minutes left, the Dallas lead was only ten at 38-28.

But Dallas recovered the next onside kick attempt, then drove the ball inside the Chicago 20. A field goal gave Dallas a 13-point lead.

The Bears nearly scored again late in the game, but Orlando Scandrick picked off a Cutler pass in the end zone, effectively ending the game.

Dallas is off for 10 days before playing the Philadelphia Eagles a week from Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 5 (1986)

This is the fifth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

November 2, 1986

New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

“Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”

The Dallas Cowboys opened the 1986 season with a 6-2 record. For a franchise that had recorded 20 consecutive winning seasons dating back to 1966, it seemed almost a sure thing that the Cowboys would continue to win and return to the playoffs.

But Dallas had to travel to Meadowlands on November 2, 1986 to face the tough New York Giants, who were also 6-2. The Cowboys suffered a huge blow when they lost quarterback Danny White early in the game.

Steve Pelleur played  fairly well, but the Giants took a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, the Cowboys kept game close thanks to a touchdown run by Tony Dorsett.

Dallas could have tied the game or scored the game-winning touchdown late in the game thanks to two long plays inside the Giant 10. But both plays were called back thanks to penalties on tackle Phil Pozderac, who also gave up a costly sack. Rafael Septien’s 63-yard field goal attempt came up short, and the Cowboys lost.

The game cost the Cowboys more than a single loss. Several years ago, I summarized the loss of White as follows:

[I]n five full seasons as a starter, White led the team to the playoffs five times and to the NFC Championship Game three times. Prior to his injury in 1986, his record as a full-time starter beginning in 1980 was 62-24 (the team went 5-6 in games that he did not start during that time period). The team’s record for the remainder of the decade after he suffered his injury was 11-36, with no winning seasons. There were, of course, other factors involved, but the sharp contrast of the team before his injury compared to what happened afterward shows his value.

Among the pivotal regular season games I am summarizing on here, this one ranks right there with the Cowboys’ win over the Washington Redskins in 1991 in terms of importance.

Stay tuned.


Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10


Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10: No Thanks

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Last Sunday evening, the Giants tore through the Dallas defense to take a 21-10 lead. The Cowboys might have had a much more difficult time coming back had Barry Church not picked off an Eli Manning pass in the third quarter, after which Dallas scored to take the lead. Of course, Dallas won the game after a clutch drive in the final two minutes.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles made it look even easier to run through the Dallas defense. With the Eagles leading 23-7 in the third quarter, it looked like Dallas got another big break in the form of a turnover. The Cowboys stripped LeSean McCoy from the ball and recovered at the Philadelphia 13. DeMarco Murray then gained nine yards on first down, giving Dallas a 2nd-and-1 from the Philadelphia 4.

A touchdown would mean the Cowboys would cut the lead to 9 with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. That would have been a manageable deficit.

Instead, the Cowboys lost a total of six yards on the next two plays and had to settle for a field goal. The deficit was still 13.

And the Dallas defense still could not stop the Eagles. On the next drive, Philadelphia went 80 yards on six plays, capped off by a 38-yard touchdown run by McCoy. The touchdown extended the Eagle lead to 30-10 and ended the competitive phase of the game.

Romo played his worst game of the season, throwing for less than 200 yards with two interceptions. The Eagles contained the entire Dallas offense, holding Murray to 73 rushing yards and Dez Bryant to 73 receiving yards. McCoy outgained their combined yardage total with 159 rushing yards.

The loss drops Dallas (8-4) to second place in the NFC East with four games remaining. In the wildcard race, the Seahawks and Lions both have 8-4 records as well. Dallas would win the tiebreaker with Seattle because of the Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks earlier this season. Detroit, however, has a better conference record than Dallas.

Even worse, Seattle looks like it is on a roll, winning two straight without giving up a touchdown. The Lions ended a two-game losing streak by beating Chicago today, and Detroit faces Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago during the next three weeks.

Dallas 31, N.Y. Giants 28: A Spark from Another Unlikely Source


Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys' 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

Cole Beasley caught two critical passes in the Cowboys’ 31-28 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys relied on an unlikely source to provide a spark to beat the New York Giants.

In October, that player was tight end Gavin Escobar, who caught two touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win.

On Sunday, that player was receiver Cole Beasley.

Dallas trailed 21-10 at halftime and was having all sort of problems stopping the Giants. This was especially true on third down. During the game, New York converted 11 of 16 third downs.

With the score still 21-10 with about seven minutes left in the third, Dallas finally forced a punt. Dallas moved the ball to the Giant 45 before Tony Romo found Beasley on a short route. Beasley did the rest of the work, weaving through four defenders and racing for the touchdown to cut the New York lead to 21-17.

Following a key interception by Barry Church deep in Dallas territory, the Cowboys regained the lead at the end of the third quarter on a touchdown from Romo to Dez Bryant. It looked as if the Cowboys could take control of the game in the fourth quarter, but with Dallas leading 24-21, a Cowboys drive stalled, forcing a punt. The Giants then took the ball 93 yards for a score to regain the lead at 28-24.

Dallas had exactly three minutes to score. Romo used Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Jason Witten to move the ball near midfield. But it was another pass play to Beasley that pushed the Cowboys into Giant territory. Beasley’s 21-yard reception gave the Cowboys the ball at the Giant 36.

Two passes to Bryant covered those 36 yards. The offensive line gave Romo more protection than he has ever had as a starting quarterback. On two plays, Romo had more than seven sections to find Bryant. The second play was a 13-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead.

The Giants had one more chance with a minute left, but Dallas forced a fourth down. It appeared that the Giants had converted the 4th-and-2, but a replay showed that Eli Manning’s pass to Rashad Jennings had not covered the distance. Dallas killed the clock to secure the team’s eighth win of the season.

Dallas remains tied with the Eagles at 8-3. The teams face one another on Thanksgiving Day.

* * *

A huge part of the Cowboys’ problems tonight was receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Among his amazing catches was a one-handed grab on a bomb early in the second quarter. No matter if we hate the Giants or not, that was worth a standing ovation, as I doubt any of us will see too many catches as impressive.

Wow. Just wow.

Wow. Just wow.

* * *

Only some children of the 1960s/1970s might know this reference:

Cole Beasley’s hair is what I might have expected on Mrs. Beasley. But as it turns out, Cole has more hair than Mrs. Beasley.

Cole's hair.

Cole’s hair.

Mrs. Beasley’s hair.

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 4 (1975)

This is the fourth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

December 13, 1975

Dallas 31, Washington 10

“Wildcard Berth It Is”

redskinsAfter the Dallas Cowboys finished the 1974 regular season with an 8-6 record and missed the playoffs, few expected much from the 1975 team. But then Dallas had a famous draft, where 12 rookies made the team.

During the 1974 season, the Cowboys came from behind to beat the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, thanks to the efforts of backup quarter Clint Longley. That game was hardly pivotal, however, because the Cowboys still missed the playoffs.

When Dallas and Washington faced one another on December 13, 1975, both teams had 8-4 records. The Redskins had already defeated the Cowboys earlier in the season, so a Dallas loss would have knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs.

Washington took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but the Cowboys took control in the second thanks to a touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Golden Richard and a touchdown run by Staubach.

Dallas then put the game away in the fourth quarter with 17 points.

With the win, Dallas knocked Washington out of the playoffs because the Cowboys finished with a better division record. The Redskins missed the playoffs for the first time since 1970.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, reached their third Super Bowl, thanks to a Hail Mary against the Vikings and dominating win over the L.A. Rams. The Cowboys started a new playoff streak that would last until the 1984 season.



Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13