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After a poor performance to open the 2014 season, the Dallas Cowboys have stunned many people by winning six consecutive games.
Historical context: this is the eighth time in team history that the Cowboys have won six straight regular season games. The team made the playoffs during each of the previous seven times. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl during three of those seasons.
The Cowboys opened the season by going 6-0 and finished the regular season with a 12-2 record. However, the Cowboys fell apart in the playoffs, losing to Cleveland.
For the second consecutive season, Dallas started with a 6-0 record. However, after finishing 11-2-1, the Cowboys stumbled again in the playoffs, losing to the Browns.
The Cowboys stumbled out of the gate in 1971, recording a 4-3 record after seven weeks. However, Roger Staubach took over as the full-time starter and led Dallas to an 11-3 finish. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl that year.
Dallas had its strongest start in team history in 1977, going 8-0. The Cowboys finished the season 12-2 and won Super Bowl XII.
The Cowboys looked like world-beaters in 1983, starting at 7-0. However, the team stumbled in the season half of the season and was knocked out of the playoffs in the wildcard round.
Dallas started the 1993 season by going 0-2 while Emmitt Smith held out. Once Smith returned, the Cowboys won seven straight and finished the regular season at 12-4 before winning Super Bowl XXVIII.
The last time anyone considered the Cowboys to be among the best in the league was 2007. Dallas started at 5-0 and won seven straight later in the season to improve to 12-1. However, the team lost two of its last three and finished 13-3. Dallas then lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in the playoffs.
Here is another animated GIF, with this one featuring Emmitt Smith. Trivia questions are below the image.
(1) During which season did this play occur?
(2) Smith scored two touchdowns during an 18-second span. However, he missed the entire second half because of an injury suffered on this play. What was the injury?
(3) Troy Aikman was also removed from this game because of a concussion. Who replaced Aikman at QB, and how did the backup perform?
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 1990 NFL Draft, where the Cowboys targeted USC linebacker Junior Seau.
In real life…
The 1988 Dallas Cowboys finished with a league-worst 3-13 record, giving the team the first overall pick in 1989 NFL Draft. Most knew the Cowboys would take quarterback Troy Aikman, and the team did so.
The team also took a chance in the supplemental draft that year by picking up another quarterback in Steve Walsh. The idea was that if Aikman had failed, the team might have a franchise QB in Walsh.
Aikman evolved into a franchise quarterback, but that took time. Meanwhile, the team finished with a 1-15 record and would have had the first overall pick in the 1990 draft. However, the team lost its pick because of its selection of Walsh. That meant that the first pick went to the Colts, who took Jeff George.
Most believe that the Cowboys would have taken USC linebacker Junior Seau, who went to the San Diego Chargers with the fifth pick overall. The Cowboys later traded up to get the #17 overall pick and took Florida running back Emmitt Smith. Not bad.
Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL but tragically died in 2012.
What if the Cowboys had drafted Seau?
1. The Cowboys would not have taken Walsh in the supplemental draft.
The Cowboys would have needed a high draft pick in 1990 to take Seau. This means that the Cowboys would have likely needed that first overall pick they lost because of the Walsh pick.
Walsh was the starting QB in the team’s only win in 1989. Of course, his numbers hardly suggest that the team would have lost without him. He completed 10 of 30 passes for 142 yards in the win over the Redskins.
2. The Cowboys would have taken Smith with the 17th overall pick.
The Cowboys traded a 1st and a 3rd pick to Pittsburgh to get the 17th overall pick. Even with the team taking Seau with the first overall selection, the Cowboys would have traded up to get Smith.
3. The Cowboys would not have had the 70th overall pick to take tackle Erik Williams in 1991.
The Cowboys traded Walsh to the Saints for three draft choices. One of these picks was the 70th overall selection in the 1991 draft, and the Cowboys took tackle Erik Williams.
Whether the Cowboys would have taken Williams at all is a good question. Williams came out of Central State in Ohio and was one of the great finds for any NFL team during the 1990s. Perhaps the Cowboys would get him in the 4th or 5th round, but the Cowboys would have had to grab him somewhere around the 97th pick.
The other picks received from the Walsh trade did not yield great results. The Cowboys traded the 14th pick from the Saints to the Patriots in exchange for 1st and 4th round picks. Dallas then traded down again to wind up with the 20th overall selection. However, the Cowboys were only able to pick up defensive lineman Kelvin Pritchett and linebacker Darrick Brownlow with those selections.
4. Seau would have been a major part of the dynasty years.
The Cowboys had some quality linebackers in Ken Norton, Dixon Edwards, Darrin Smith, and Robert Jones. However, Seau was significantly better than any of these players. The team would have had its core group of Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Daryl Johnston, Jay Novacek, Alvin Harper, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, Charles Haley, and so forth. Adding Seau to this mix would just make the team better.
5. Seau would have left via free agency.
The Cowboys did not put a high priority on signing linebackers during the championship years of the 1990s. The Cowboys let the likes of Ken Norton, Robert Jones, Vinson Smith, Darrin Smith, and Dixon Edwards leave via free agency.
Keeping Seau would have meant the team would have lost another player. This would have made it difficult for the team to sign Deion Sanders or keep some other stars during the mid-1990s.
My bet? Seau would have left via free agency after the 1995 season.
* * *
In 2011, I wrote another piece asking what if the Cowboys had hired Norv Turner instead of Wade Phillips in 2007. Here is that article.
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.
By 1990, the Dallas Cowboys roster started looking like the team that would eventually win three Super Bowls in four years. There were a few lesser-known players, but not as many as there were in 1988 or 1989.
The Most Obscure Player of 1990 is better known for being an obscure Super Bowl hero. In Super Bowl XXII following the 1987 season, rookie Timmy Smith gained 204 rushing yards on 22 carries and nearly won the Most Valuable Player award.
He managed two 100-yard games for the Redskins in 1988 but never came close to duplicating his Super Bowl success. The Redskins released him after the 1988 season, and he sat out the 1989 season because teams suspected drug use.
He joined the Cowboys for the 1990 season and even started the opening game of the season. The result?
Six carries for six yards.
Rookie Emmitt Smith saw the field that day as well, gaining two yards on two carries.
In fact, Troy Aikman rushed for 15 yards, outgaining the combined totals of Emmitt Smith, Timmy Smith, and Daryl Johnston.
The leading rusher in the 17-14 win for the Cowboys?
Tommie Agee, who gained 59 yards on 13 carries.
Anyway, Timmy never played in another NFL game after the Cowboys released him on September 11, 1990. He later spent time in a federal prison on drug charges.
Fans will remember Paul Palmer from the 1989 Dallas Cowboys before they will remember several other players.
Junior Tautalatasi? Curtis Stewart? Eric Brown? Steve Hendrickson? Onzy Elam? Garry Cobb? Kevin Lilly?
The reason Palmer is the Most Obscure Player of 1989 is his place among starting running backs in team history.
Everyone remembers Tony Dorsett. Everyone remember Herschel Walker. And, of course, everyone remembers Emmitt Smith.
In between them was Palmer, who replaced Walker in the starting lineup when Dallas traded Walker to Minnesota for enough draft picks to build a Super Bowl champion.
By the time the Cowboys did win that Super Bowl title, Palmer was long gone, having lasted just one year with the Cowboys.
He was the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 1987 draft, taken by Kansas City. He lasted two season with the Chiefs, gaining just 607 yards before being waived just before the 1989 season.
The Lions signed im, but he only saw the field as a kick returner. When Dallas unloaded Walker, the Cowboys sent two late draft picks to the Lions to acquire Palmer.
For a few weeks, it looked as if Palmer might have some promise. The Cowboys faced the Chiefs on October 22, 1989—just five days after the Cowboys signed Palmer—and he rushed for 85 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Two weeks later, he recorded the only 100-yard rushing game of his career when he gained 110 yards against the Redskins in the Cowboys’ only win of the 1989 season.
In the final six games, however, he only gained a total of 206 yards, including three games where he rushed for less than 20 yards.
Dallas waived him, and though the Bengals signed him during the 1990 offeseason, he never played in the NFL again. He played one season with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football in 1991.
DallasCowboys.com is showing a video with Emmitt Smith’s 22 greatest runs as part of the celebration for Smith’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, several of the runs featured in the clip show Smith running wild against the Washington Redskins.
During Smith’s 13 seasons in Dallas from 1990 to 2002, Smith faced the Redskins 24 times. In those 24 games, he had a total of 528 rushing attempts for 2431 yards and 23 TDs. That’s an average of 22 attempts, 101.3 yards, and .96 touchdowns per game. He gained at least 100 yards in 12 of those 24 games.
Against all other opponents while he was with the Cowboys, Smith averaged 19.9 attempts, 83.2 yards, and .73 TDs per game.
The Cowboys went 17-7 against the Redskins in the 24 games that Smith played against Washington. Smith missed the season opener in 1993 while holding out during a contract dispute. He also missed the season finale in 1996 when the team was resting its starters. Dallas lost both games.
His final game with the Cowboys was also against the Redskins, and it is the one game he probably would like to forget. He needed only 38 yards in the season finale to surpass 1,000 for the 12th year in a row. Instead, Washington held him to just 13 yards in 18 carries, as he finished with 975 yards for the year.
Here’s a summary:
9/23/1990 (Wash. 19, Dal. 15): 17 att., 63 yds., 1 TD.
11/22/1990 (Dal. 27, Wash. 17): 23 att., 123 yds., 2 TD
9/9/1991 (Wash. 33, Dal. 31): 11 att., 112 yds., 1 TD
11/24/1991 (Dal. 24, Wash. 21): 34 att., 132 yds., 1 TD
9/7/1992 (Dal. 23, Wash. 10): 27 att., 140 yds., 1 TD
12/13/1992 (Wash. 20, Dal. 17): 25 att., 99 yds., 0 TD
12/26/1993 (Dal. 38, Wash. 3): 21 att., 153 yds., 1 TD
10/2/1994 (Dal. 34, Wash. 7): 16 att., 48 yds., 2 TD
11/20/1994 (Dal. 31, Wash. 7): 21 att., 85 yds., 2 TD
10/1/1995 (Wash. 27, Dal. 23): 22 att., 95 yds., 0 TD
12/3/1995 (Wash. 24, Dal. 17): 21 att., 91 yds., 1 TD
11/28/1996 (Dal. 21, Wash. 10): 29 att., 155 yds., 3 TD
10/13/1997 (Wash. 21, Dal. 16): 17 att., 61 yds, 0 TD
11/16/1997 (Dal. 17, Wash. 14): 21 att., 99 yds., 0 TD
10/4/1998 (Dal. 31, Wash. 10): 28 att., 120 yds., 1 TD
12/27/1998 (Dal. 23, Wash. 7): 10 att., 67 yds., 2 TD
9/12/1999 (Dal. 41, Wash. 35): 23 att., 109 yds., 1 TD
10/24/1999 (Dal. 38, Wash. 20): 24 att., 80 yds., 1 TD
9/18/2000 (Dal. 27, wash. 21): 24 att., 83 yds., 1 TD
12/10/2000 (Dal. 32, Wash. 13): 23 att., 150 yds., 1 TD
10/15/2001 (Dal. 9, Wash. 7): 25 att., 107 yds. 0 TD
12/2/2001 (Dal. 20, Wash, 14): 25 att., 102 yds, 1 TD
11/28/2002 (Dal. 27, Wash. 20): 23 att., 144 yds., 0 TD
12/29/2002 (Wash. 20, Dal. 14): 18 att., 13 yds., 0 TD
The Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday announced its class of 2010
semifinalists. The Cowboys are virtually guaranteed at least one player, as
Emmitt Smith is eligible for selection. Few would doubt that he will earn a spot
along with Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, and Shannon Sharpe. A few others have a more
question marks, but former Cowboy and 49er defensive end Charles Haley also has
a good shot. Here’s the complete list:
Smith, RB – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals
Haley, DE/LB – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys
Branch, WR – 1972-1985 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Tim Brown, WR/KR – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay
Cris Carter, WR – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002
Don Coryell, Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers
Roger Craig, RB – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders,
1992-93 Minnesota Vikings
Terrell Davis, RB – 1995-2001 Denver Broncos
Dermontti Dawson, C – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers
Richard Dent, DE – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996
Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles
Chris Doleman, DE/LB – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta
Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers
Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers,
1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers
Russ Grimm, G – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins
Ray Guy, P – 1973-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Lester Hayes, CB – 1977-1986 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Rickey Jackson, LB – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers
Cortez Kennedy, DT – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks
Art Modell, Owner – 1961-1995 Cleveland Browns, 1996-2003 Baltimore Ravens
John Randle, DT – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks
Andre Reed, WR – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins
Jerry Rice, WR – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004
Shannon Sharpe, TE – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens
Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League
Steve Tasker, Special Teams/WR – 1985-86 Houston Oilers, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills
Aeneas Williams, CB/S – 1991-2000 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, 2001-04 St. Louis
The modern-era Cowboy most noticeably absent from this list is safety Darren Woodson, who earned five Pro Bowl berths and was named all-pro three times. This is a pretty stout list of players, but Woodson deserves a spot.
As for the seniors, the two players selected were former Lion cornerback (and current Pittsburgh defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau and former Bronco running back Floyd Little. LeBeau would not be a bad pick, given that he had 62 career interceptions. Though his coaching career should not be a factor, it’s hard to believe that it won’t be.
The choice of Little will probably have some heads turning. His career stats include only one 1,000-yard season (he played during the 14-game-season era), and he finished his career with 6,323 yards. That number currently ranks 61st in NFL history. He retired before the Broncos
earned their first berth in a Super Bowl in 1977.
A website devoted to Little’s induction argues the following:
It’s time to elect Floyd Little
to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Without Floyd’s impact, the Denver Broncos
would have been forced to relocate over 40 yrs ago. The 5-Time Pro Bowler
who retired the 7th All-Time Rusher in NFL History saved the franchise.
No offense to Little, but this justifies Little’s induction into Broncos’ Ring of Fame, but Little is not as deserving as several Cowboys. These Cowboys are the same names we’ve heard plenty of times before: Chuck Howley, Cliff Harris, and Drew Pearson.
But given that 2010 will be the year that the Cowboys celebrate Smith’s induction, we can save other debates for future inductions.