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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


Dallas 34, St. Louis 31: Improbable Life

Bruce Carter recorded not only his first career interception but also his first career touchdown. Good timing.

Bruce Carter recorded not only his first career interception but also his first career touchdown. Good timing.

It came as no big surprise when DeMarco Murray fumbled on the Cowboys’ first offensive drive of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. It was the third time in three games that Murray had lost a fumble early in the game.

It was hardly a shock that Tony Romo threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the middle of the second quarter. The score gave the Rams a 21-0 lead with 6:06 remaining in the first half.

Up to that point, the Dallas defense displayed that Can’t St0p Anyone look that opposing offenses love. Dallas made second-year quarterback Austin Davis look like Norm Van Brocklin or Bob Waterfield or Pat Haden (or just help me out here by inserting an old Rams QB you might remember).

Anyway, following Murray’s fumble, Davis threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Brian Quick, who beat Morris Claiborne deep. It was neither the first nor the last time the Rams picked on poor Claiborne, who looked more like one of those just-signed-off-the-street guys than a #6 draft pick.

Only twice in franchise history have the Cowboys won games after trailing by 21 points. In both of those games (1984 vs. New Orleans and 1999 vs. Washington), Dallas won in overtime.

Fortunately, the Cowboys rebounded a bit in the second quarter. They took advantage of a pass interference call in the end zone, giving Dallas the ball at the St. Louis 1 just before the two-minute warning. Murray scored to cut the Ram lead to 21-7.

Davis fumbled a snap a few plays later, and the Cowboys drove down to kick a field goal before halftime.

It had seemed improbable that the Cowboys could erase a 21-point deficit, but Dallas trailed by just 11 points at the half.

It seemed improbable that Romo would be able to lead a comeback, given that his throwing has been off all year thus far.

But on the fourth play of the second half, Romo found a wide open Dez Bryant on a 68-yard touchdown play that cut the St. Louis lead to 21-17.

Midway through the third quarter, a 44-yard run by Murray set up a Dan Bailey field goal. St. Louis 21, Dallas 20.

The Rams kicked a field goal to increase their lead to 4, but Dallas answered with a touchdown drive, giving the Cowboys their first lead, 27-24.

Improbable, it seemed, that the shorthanded defense would make a critical play when the Rams got the ball back. But on the first play after the Dallas touchdown, linebacker Bruce Carter recorded his first career interception and returned the ball for his first career touchdown. Dallas then held a 10-point lead.

The Rams still had life, and Davis continued to pick on Claiborne. Davis’ touchdown pass to Austin Pettis ( who snuck behind Claiborne in the end zone) cut the Dallas lead to 3.

The Cowboys had a chance to put the game away, but Romo was unable to connect on a third-down pass just before the two-minute warning. The Rams got the ball back with 1:58 left to play.

Nearly all of us prayed the Rams would not pick on Claiborne, who had trouble covering anyone.

Improbable at that point for Claiborne to make a key play.

But when Davis threw a deep pass to the left sideline to Quick—the same guy who burned Claiborne earlier in the game—Claiborne made the play, reaching to grab the overthrown pass and secure the win with the interception.

Dallas is now 2-1 and alone in second place in the NFC East. The Eagles are 3-0 after beating Washington.

Cowboys’ Odds to Win Super Bowl XLIX: About 50 to 1

The Dallas Cowboys are just below the middle of the pack regarding their odds to win Super Bowl XLIX.

English: Vector image of the Las Vegas sign. P...

The odds of the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl are about 50 to 1.

According to one site (no affiliation), the Cowboys’ odds are 50 to 1.  According to another site, the odds are 55 to 1.

Below is a list of all teams. Predictably, most oddsmakers think the Seahawks and Broncos will play again.

Denver Broncos 13/2
Seattle Seahawks 13/2
San Francisco 49ers 7/1
New England Patriots 9/1
Green Bay Packers 11/1
New Orleans Saints 14/1
Chicago Bears 16/1
Indianapolis Colts 16/1
Philadelphia Eagles 25/1
Atlanta Falcons 33/1
Carolina Panthers 33/1
Detroit Lions 33/1
Pittsburgh Steelers 33/1
Arizona Cardinals 40/1
Baltimore Ravens 40/1
Cincinnati Bengals 40/1
New York Giants 40/1
San Diego Chargers 40/1
Dallas Cowboys 50/1
Kansas City Chiefs 50/1
Miami Dolphins 50/1
St. Louis Rams 50/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 50/1
Washington Redskins 50/1
Cleveland Browns 66/1
Houston Texans 66/1
New York Jets 66/1
Buffalo Bills 75/1
Minnesota Vikings 75/1
Oakland Raiders 100/1
Tennessee Titans 100/1
Jacksonville Jaguars 200/1

The Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC are 26 to 1.  Dallas shares those odds with the Giants, Rams, and Lions.

The Seahawks are 16/5 favorites to win the NFC title, while San Francisco’s odds are 21/5.

What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had hired Mike Shanahan after the 2008 season?

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 Mike Shanahan, who became available as a head coach after the 2008 season.

In real life…

The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders in 2008. The team had gone 13-3 in 2007 before losing to the eventual champion Giants in the playoffs. The team a deep pool of talent in 2008, and many predicted the Cowboys would take the next step in their evolution.

Mike Shanahan

What if the Cowboys had hired Mike Shanahan after the 2008 season?

Some fans and some in the media called on Jerry Jones to fire Wade Phillips after the playoff loss in 2007 because he had allowed players to vacation during the off week.

When the ’08 Cowboys lost 44-6 to the Eagles in the final week of the season and missed the playoffs, few could believe that Phillips would return. And when Mike Shanahan was fired as the Broncos head coach, many thought Jerry Jones should fire Wade and bring in Shanahan.

Instead, Shanahan took a year off before becoming head coach of the Redskins.

What if the Cowboys had fired Phillips after the 2008 season and hired Shanahan?

The argument in favor of hiring Shanahan was that the team needed a high-profile coach to coach the high-profile Pro Bowl players. Shanahan had won two Super Bowl titles in Denver, so it stands to reason that he would repeat his success in Dallas. Right?

1. The Cowboys under Shanahan would have no better success in finding and developing talent.

Between 1996 and 2005, Shanahan had great success, including two Super Bowl titles and seven playoff appearances.

Between 2006 and 2008, the team had no playoff appearances. The team had some talent with quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, and the likes of Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, but to the extent Shanahan was involved with personnel decisions, the team was not improving its talent significantly in the last few years.

The Cowboys still had talent in 2009, but several key players were starting to age. The team needed to rebuild its line, find new skills players, and so forth.

It’s hard to believe that Jerry would give up the right to make personnel decisions, so Shanahan likely would just had a voice. And unless his voice made the Cowboys change their draft strategy in 2009, the results probably would have been the same.

2. Shanahan’s magic would not rekindle in Dallas.

The Broncos fired Shanahan after the team started the 2008 season at 8-5 but lost the final three to finish at 8-8. The Broncos missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

So the Cowboys were going to solve their annual December woes by hiring the coach of a team that had blown its playoff chances by losing three straight?


A big part of the reasoning behind hiring someone like Shanahan is that a coach who has been to the top before will know how to get there again. And, to be sure, managers in baseball, coaches in basketball, and even coaches in college football have been able to repeat success elsewhere.

For whatever reason, that has rarely happened in the NFL. No head coach has won a Super Bowl with multiple teams.

Sure, Shanahan’s Redskins beat the Cowboys to make the playoffs in 2012. His record in the other seasons in Washington, though, is 12-24, and he has made a number of questionable decisions during his tenure.

3. The Rams would have hired Jason Garrett has head coach and fired him three years later.

Jason Garrett nearly left the Cowboys after the 2008 season to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Instead, he stayed in Dallas and eventually became head coach.

The Rams were a mess in 2009, finishing at 1-15.

Garrett is smart, but Garrett would not fix that mess. He would have been back on the street after the 2011 season.

4. The Cowboys would have another head coach by now—Jason Garrett.

It is entirely possible that that Jerry would have grown tired of 8-8 seasons under Shanahan had fired him after the third season in 2011.

In hunting for a new coach, Jerry turns to…

Jason Garrett, who was recently fired as head coach of the Rams in our alternative universe.


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Dallas Cowboys Friday Photo Trivia: Cowboys vs. Chargers, 1986

The Cowboys faced the San Diego Chargers on November 16, 1986. The player featured in the puzzle below led the Cowboys in rushing during that game.

Two questions:

1. What was the significance of this game to the Cowboys?

2. What was the significance of this game to the player in the puzzle?


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The Recent Week 4 Curse

The Dallas Cowboys feel good about themselves after their 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The team can improve to 3-1 for the first time since 2008 with a win over the Chargers on Sunday.

The Cowboys are hoping to reverse a recent curse that has caused a 1-5 record during week 4 games since 2007.

The Cowboys are hoping to reverse a recent curse that has caused a 1-5 record during week 4 games since 2007.

It will require the Cowboys to win during week 4 for the first time since 2007.

Tony Romo has started during week 4 every season since 2007. The team’s record in those games is 1-5.  He has thrown at least one interception during each of these week 4 games.

The week 4 games during the last three games were especially bad.  He threw three picks against the Titans in 2010, three picks in a dreadful loss to the Lions in 2011, and five picks in a loss to the Bears last year.

Here is a complete list of those games:


Dallas 35, St. Louis 7

Romo: 21 of 33, 339 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.


Washington 26, Dallas 24

Romo: 28 of 47, 300 yards, 3 TD, 1 Int.


Denver 17, Dallas 10

Romo: 25 of 42, 255 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int.


Tennessee 34, Dallas 27

Romo: 31 of 46, 406 yards, 3 TD, 3 Int.


Detroit 34, Dallas 30

Romo: 34 of 47, 331 yards, 3 TD, 3 Int.


Chicago 34, Dallas 18

Romo: 34 of 43, 307 yards, 1 TD, 5 Int.

Dallas record during week 4 since 2007: 1-5

Romo’s statistics: 173 of 258, 1938 yards, 13 TD, 14 Int.

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Cowboys-Rams Instant Trivia: DeMarcus Ware, the Beast

sacksWith his two sacks on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, DeMarcus Ware became the franchise leader in sacks with 115.0.

The list now appears as follows:

Ware, 115.0

Harvey Martin, 114.0

Randy White, 111.0

Too Tall Jones, 106.0

George Andrie, 97.0

Of course, the numbers for the last four are unofficial stats kept by the team, given that the NFL did not count sacks as an official statistic until 1982. The official sack totals would appear as:

Martin, 10.0

White, 52.0

Jones, 57.5

Andrie, 0.0

* * *

Which player formerly held the official record for team sacks?

It was Jim Jeffcoat with 94.5.

* * *

Ware’s first sack came against San Francisco on September 25, 2005. The quarterback was Tim Rattay.

* * *

Ware had 2.0 sacks against the Rams. It marked the 24th time that Ware had 2.0 or more sacks in a game.

* * *

DeMarco Murray and the offensive line had great games against the Rams.

If Murray only played against the Rams, Emmitt Smith might start worrying about his career rushing mark.

In two games against St. Louis, Murray has had 400 rushing yards on 51 carries. That’s 7.8 yards per carry and 200 yards per game.

In 24 games against everyone else, Murray has had 1446 rushing yards on 332 carries. That’s 4.4 yards per carry and 60.25 yards per game.

* * *

The Cowboys now sit alone in first place in the NFC East with a 2-1 record.

The last time the Cowboys had sole possession of the division was not as long ago as it may seem. In 2011, the Cowboys improved their record to 7-4 with a win over Miami and held first place for two weeks. However, the 7-5 Cowboys lost to the 6-6 Giants at home, and the Cowboys lost again to the Giants in the season finale to lose a chance to make the playoffs.


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What-If Wednesday: What if the Cowboys had beaten the Rams in the 1976 playoffs?

In the weekly What-If Wednesday posts, we review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on the 1976 divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams.

In real life…

The Dallas Cowboys made the Super Bowl in 1975 and returned with a solid season in 1976. The team finished with an 11-3 record.

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

Scott Laidlaw scored from the 1 to give Dallas a 10-7 lead over the Rams in the 1976 playoffs. What if this was the game-winner?

Few probably remember that the Cowboys and Rams had quite a playoff rivalry. Between 1973 and 1985, the teams faced each other eight times in the playoffs, with each team winning four games.

The bad part for the Cowboys was that three of the wins for the Rams took place at Texas Stadium. The first of those losses was a 14-12 defeat at home during the 1976 playoffs.

Dallas had a 10-7 halftime lead thanks to a Scott Laidlaw touchdown, but the Cowboys fell behind in the fourth quarter after a Lawrence McCutcheon score. The Cowboys drove into Ram territory more than once but could not punch the ball in to regain the lead.

Charlie Waters had one of the great games in team history. He blocked two punts and had a key interception, but his efforts were not enough.

The clip below shows Waters’ second block, which could have set up the game-winner. However, on a 4th-and-10 play, Roger Staubach’s pass to Billy Joe DuPree came up inches short, and the Rams held on for the 14-12 win.

The Cowboys had almost no rushing attack, and many blamed the loss on the running game. This team featured the likes of Preston Pearson, Robert Newhouse, Doug Dennison, and Laidlaw.

The loss played a part in the Cowboys trading four draft picks to the Seattle Seahawks for the rights to the second overall pick. With that pick, Dallas took Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh.

What if the Cowboys had defeated the Rams?

If the Cowboys had beaten the Rams, Dallas would have traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings on December 26, 1976. One year earlier, the Cowboys had beaten the Vikings on the road thanks to the famous Hail Mary game.

1. The Cowboys would have beaten the Vikings again.

This is a bold statement, given that the Vikings were the best team in the NFC in 1976.  How could I possibly say that that Cowboys would win another game at Minnesota?

WhatIfSports said so. I ran ten simulations of the game on that site, and the Cowboys won seven of them by an average score of 17-15.

This is a Cowboys site. Let’s just accept our win.

2. The Cowboys would have lost another Super Bowl.

I ran another ten simulations of a Cowboys-Raiders matchup in Super Bowl XI. The Cowboys lost eight of them. That would mean back-to-back Super Bowl losses.

3. The Cowboys would still make the trade with Seattle to obtain Dorsett.

This is probably the most important prediction. The Cowboys had three second-round picks, and that would not change even if the Cowboys had made it to Super Bowl XI. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks front office would change its mind just because the Cowboys made it to yet another Super Bowl.

4. The Cowboys win Super Bowl XII but fail to make Super Bowl XIII.

The Cowboys would have become the second team (after Miami) to make three consecutive Super Bowls. After losing the previous two, Dallas would have won Super Bowl XII (just as the Cowboys did in real life).

However, the Cowboys would not make the big game four times, losing in the 1978 playoffs.

* * *

What about the other playoff losses to the Rams?

The Cowboys lost to the Rams in 1979, 1983, and 1985. The 1979 game was especially tough because it was Roger Staubach’s final game.

Had the Cowboys won that game, they would have hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Given that the Rams handled Tampa Bay in real life, it would stand to reason that the Cowboys would fare well. That means that the Cowboys would have faced the Steelers in the Super Bowl for the third time in five seasons.

(Again…Cowboys blog…Dallas wins.)

The Cowboys were not going to make the Super Bowl in 1983 or 1985 even if the Cowboys had beaten Los Angeles. The only difference a win over the Rams would have made in 1983 is that perhaps Tom Landry would not have started Gary Hogeboom during the first half of the 1984 season if White had led Dallas to a playoff win the year before.

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Most Obscure Player of 1993: Jim Price



Can you remember the key blocking tight ends who played opposite Jay Novacek in 1993? It was not Alfredo Roberts, who had played in 16 games in 1992 but who suffered a broken foot during training camp in ’93.

The Cowboys also lost Rich Bartlewski (torn knee ligament) and Fallon Wacasey (shoulder) to injury.

Some might remember Scott Galbraith, who was a starter with Cleveland before joining the Cowboys and a starter with the Redskins after leaving Dallas. He even returned to Dallas in 1997. He does not win the MOP Award.

Other blocking tight ends included Kelly Blackwell and Joey Mickey.

  • Dallas picked up Blackwell in a five-player deal with Chicago in August 1993. Dallas sent Vinson Smith and Barry Minter to the Bears in exchange for Blackwell, John Roper, and safety Markus Paul. Blackwell had caught five passes as a rookie in 1992 but did catch a pass in two games with the Cowboys.
  • The Eagles drafted Mickey in the 7th round of the 1993 draft but released him at the end of training camp. Dallas picked him up off waivers, and he played in five games.

So there were a number of possible MOP Award winners among blocking tight ends alone. The winner is Bill Price.

Price had held out for a new contract from the L.A. Rams for 51 days. He signed but never played for the Rams that year. Dallas sent a sixth-round pick to the Rams for Price.

Here’s a blurb about the trade from the L.A. Times:

“It’s a great opportunity for Jim,” Ram Coach Chuck Knox said. “Dallas is in need of a quality tight end. They called us, and, because of our tight end situation, we went ahead with the trade.”

Price left for Dallas Tuesday afternoon and will begin practice today. He expects to be ready for the Cowboys’ game Sunday at Indianapolis.

Scott Casterline, Price’s agent, said the snag in Price’s negotiations centered on the league’s new free agency system, where players are paid minimal salaries in the early stages of their contracts. The Rams originally offered $210,000 when Price wanted $275,000.

Price will be reunited in Dallas with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who was the Rams’ tight ends and wide receivers coach when Price was on the team’s practice squad in 1990.

The result? Three games, one reception, four yards.

Price returned to the St. Louis Rams in 1995 and played in 13 games.

So why does Price win the MOP Award over these other blocking tight ends?

He’s a member of the Montville (N.J.) Township High School Hall of Fame, that’s why.

Want more? Thanks to the Hall of Fame site, we know:

  • He is affectionately known as “Bambi” to his friends.
  • He began his athletic career as a dominating pitcher in Montville’s Little League program.
  • In high school, he was a 6’5” multi-talented athlete was a star in three sports: football, basketball, and baseball.
  • He became an agent in Los Angeles and has represented actors, writers, and directors.

True obscurity.

* * *

For a Super Bowl champion, the 1993 Dallas Cowboys had a surprisingly high number of potential candidates for the MOP Award.

  • Receiver Tyrone Williams caught one career pass against the Redskins on December 26, 1993 in a 38-3 Dallas win.
  • Linebacker Bobby Abrams played for four teams during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, including the Cowboys. However, he did not play in either Super Bowl.
  • Running back Lincoln Coleman gained 57 of his 132 rushing yards in 1993 against the Dolphins in the snow on Thanksgiving.

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By the Numbers: Monte Kiffin vs. Rob Ryan

MonteKiffin at the VOL Walk

Monte Kiffin will return to the NFL in 2013 as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.

It has been four days since the Dallas Cowboys officially hired Monte Kiffin to take over as defensive coordinator.

If you respect Larry Lacewell’s opinion—and a certain owner obviously does—you have reason for optimism. The former scouting director has told several reporters that Kiffin will have no trouble making his mark in Dallas.

Meanwhile, Rob Ryan will reportedly become defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. One of several reasons cited for the change in Dallas was that the defense under Ryan simply lacked discipline.

There will be plenty of time to debate the pros and cons of this move, but here are a few numbers to consider.

Age at the Beginning of the 2013 Season

Kiffin: 73

Ryan: 50

Experience as NFL Defensive Coordinator

Kiffin: 15 years

Ryan: 9 years

Defensive Philosophy

Kiffin: 4-3 in a relatively simple system known as the Tampa-2

Ryan: 3-4 with a relatively complex system of blitzes and coverages

Number of Teams Coached (Before Dallas)

Kiffin: 3

Ryan: 3

Number of Playoff Seasons While Defensive Coordinator

Kiffin: 8

Ryan: 0

Number of Seasons with Winning Records While Defensive Coordinator

Kiffin: 7

Ryan: 0

Number of Times Defenses Finished in the Top 5 in Yards Allowed

Kiffin: 8

Ryan: 1

Number of Times Defenses Finished in the Top 5 in Points Allowed

Kiffin: 6

Ryan: 0


No, these numbers don’t mean everything, but there is a good chance fans won’t have to put up with so much hype that surrounded Ryan.

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