10 Most Underrated Dallas Cowboys in Franchise History
This week, it's only fair to offer my thoughts on the most underrated players ever to wear the blue star.
Underrated is not to be confused with over-exposed, an element associated with many Dallas players since the glory years of the 1970s. As time has progressed, football has become more and more visible and accessible to fans. The result is a great deal of perceptions that often don't take into account the full body of work turned in by a given player.
Every name on this list is well-known to any Cowboys fan at least 30-35 years old. If a couple of them are new to you then do the research for yourself and then you can decide if that player got his due credit. There are no secrets here, however.
In some cases, you might prefer the term under-appreciated over underrated, and this works just as well. There will still be players that you and I can think of that were certainly better than they showed during their time in Dallas, but these are among the biggest names there is.
Simply put, each of these players made a significant impact on the multi-generational legacy of the Cowboys—one of them is actually still doing it.
10. Joey Galloway: WR (2000-03)
If owner and general manager Jerry Jones would have had a crystal ball during the offseason of 2000, Joey Galloway would have never been a Cowboy, period.
Granted, the cost of getting Galloway was far too expensive, especially given exactly where the franchise was at. This is about the worst calculation ever made by Jones during his 25 years calling the shots at Valley Ranch.
But Galloway was an incredibly talented wide receiver that was among the fastest players in the NFL while he played. He also had strength, ran great routes and had very good hands.
Aside from the single game in which he caught all of four passes from Troy Aikman before going down with an ACL injury to open the 2000 regular season, Galloway only had Quincy Carter throwing passes his way.
If we don't count Galloway's last two seasons with New England and Washington, his 15th and 16th seasons in the league, Dallas is the only team in which he failed to cross 1,000 yards receiving. He accomplished that feat three times with Seattle to begin his career and three more times in Tampa Bay after being traded for Keyshawn Johnson in 2004.
Galloway never failed the Cowboys—Dallas failed him, period.
History shows that the Cowboys really should have kept him around.
9. Roy Williams: SS (2002-08)
Ever seen a lion flag down a baby cape buffalo somewhere in the Serengeti? If so, you fully understand how one-sided that brief contest generally is.
Well, this is what it generally looked like when former Oklahoma safety Roy Williams hammered a wide receiver, running back—or anybody.
Williams gets a pretty unfair legacy because of Dallas' difficulty in transitioning from the 4-3 defensive scheme, where Williams was highly effective, to the historically awful 3-4 that never stopped the run well. Williams was eventually exposed and became expendable along with other Dallas defenders that no longer fit.
It's crucial to remember what Williams did well and it's something very difficult to do in the NFL.
Simply put, he caused fear—and a lot of it.
He was never thought of as a ball-hawking free safety, regardless of the fact he was an early draft pick.
Lost amidst the painful highlights of Santana Moss catching those two late touchdowns during the home-opener of the 2005 regular season is the true gold surrounding Williams' game. I'm talking about the dropped passes, poorly run routes, forced fumbles and opposing players knocked out of games because of Williams' hitting power.
When the NFL has to change it's tackling rules because you're eliminating players from competition, you're doing something pretty dang good.
8. Bob Hayes: WR (1965-74)
When you're nickname is ''Bullet'', it's a good guess that speed has something to do with that.
Bob Hayes would not live to see his own induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, but he did plenty to lay the groundwork for Dallas becoming America's Team.
Hayes would not only win two Olympic gold medals in 1964 but would also win an NFL championship following the 1971 regular season in Super Bowl VI. Hayes is the only NFL player to win a gold medal and a professional football championship.
Much like the aforementioned Williams, Hayes changed the NFL game defensively, but certainly not for reasons associated with injuries.
As he entered the NFL in 1965, there was absolutely nobody that could run with Hayes—nobody even close, really. Not long after his arrival, zone-based secondary schemes were designed to try to minimize the damage that Hayes could create from anywhere on the field—and if he was alive today, he'd be just as dangerous.
Long before names like Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and even Dez Bryant, there was Hayes, the first big-play wide receiver in Dallas history.
7. Tony Hill: WR (1977-1986)
It's common that primary wide receivers get most of the attention and accolades on successful teams. This was especially true back when teams didn't throw the ball nearly as often as they do today.
Yes, Pittsburgh had a couple of really good pass-catchers in Lynn Swann and John Stallworth during the Steelers' dominant run throughout the 1970s.
But the Cowboys would also become one of the first teams to feature two truly frightening wide receivers.
Once Tony Hill joined a Dallas receiving corps that already featured Pearson, Dallas would become the first NFL offense to enjoy two 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher in Tony Dorsett—all in the same season.
Hill's career stats still rank highly within the Dallas organization. He would surpass Pearson in numerous categories and would do so in a career that lasted one fewer season—yet everybody still focuses on the No. 88 as numeric royalty for Cowboys receivers.
Well, there's no denying that No. 88 has been awfully good. But so has No. 80, the number worn by Hill—and another guy named Alvin Harper who made a few plays too!
6. Jay Novacek: TE (1990-96)
Tight end Jay Novacek arrived in 1990 as a fifth-year veteran from a lousy St. Louis / Phoenix Cardinals franchise that kept him in obscurity. His arrival with the Cowboys quickly changed the Dallas offense and would pay even bigger dividends once offensive coordinator Norv Turner arrived in 1991.
Novacek, a former decathlete at University of Wyoming, became the security blanket for quarterback Troy Aikman—and the Cowboys immediately rose from the ashes of the late 1980s and began reaching the NFL postseason by '91.
During his six active seasons in Dallas, he would tally 3,576 yards and 22 of his 30 career touchdowns. The numbers don't knock your socks off, but Novacek's importance to the Dallas offense during Dallas' championship contention was immeasurable.
Novacek was critical in Super Bowls as well.
Once Novacek retired following the 1996 season, it wouldn't be until 2003 that Dallas finally found a replacement that was as good, or better, than Novacek in current Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten—check the records in years between those two players residing on the roster.
5. Danny White: QB (1976-88)
The successor to legendary quarterback Roger Staubach had some mighty big shoes to fill. When Danny White finally reported to the Cowboys following a couple of seasons in the World Football League, he was destined to eventually take the reigns.
Like current starting quarterback Tony Romo, White was mostly a bench-warmer his first few years in the NFL, aside from his punting duties, of course.
When Staubach gave his tearful retirement announcement following the 1979 season, White was in line to become the starting quarterback for the 1980 season.
Also like Romo, White would soon earn the label of a quarterback that couldn't win the big game—never mind the fact that he did lead Dallas to three consecutive NFC Championship Games during his first three seasons starting.
White's biggest issues were fan expectations and a declining franchise that wasn't able to keep up with the youth and talent being gathered by other teams in the NFC—San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and eventually the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
Without White, Dallas would have likely fallen well before the mid-to-late 1980s. He's a perfect example of a fall guy who was blamed for simply not having championship talent surrounding him when he needed it most.
4. Emmitt Smith: RB (1990-2002)
Emmitt Smith began his professional career as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1990.
He ended his career some 14 seasons later as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, having shattered the mark set by Chicago running back Walter Payton a couple season prior.
Yes, there are numerous other awards and distinctions surrounding Smith. It takes awhile to identify all of them, especially if you go back to his college days at the University of Florida.
But somehow, the debate seems to surface now and then about whether or not Smith was even the best Cowboys running back of all time, let alone the best in NFL history.
Sure, Tony Dorsett was faster and Hershel Walker was bigger and faster. There's numerous other runners over history that do surpass some of Smith's skill set and athleticism.
My favorite argument to attack regarding the minimization of Smith's accomplishments with Dallas is the idea that his offensive line deserves the credit—as though Smith had nothing but Pro Bowl linemen in front of him every year he played.
There were some very good offensive lines when Dallas was winning championships. But this wasn't really the case after about 1996-97, or about the time Dallas stopped winning playoff games. But Smith kept rushing for over 1,000 yards year after year of relative mediocrity compared to the first half of his career.
Smith had the most brilliant combination of everything great running backs possess: Speed, quickness, vision, strength, elusiveness—and durability that almost no running back has ever had.
In today's age of 60 passes per game and highly disposable running backs, Smith's accomplishments aren't even close to being appreciated as much as they should be.
3. Tony Romo: QB (2003-Present)
The only active player to make this list is current starting quarterback Tony Romo.
I compared Romo to White earlier because their careers already share some distinctions that are worth pointing out. Both reached starting status later than most quarterbacks do and both are considered to be incapable of winning—obviously that last critique is pretty naive if you're familiar with all the moving parts required to have a successful offense.
It doesn't matter that Romo elevated the Cowboys beyond where former head coach Bill Parcells, the guy who wanted him to begin with, took the team. It doesn't matter that he led Dallas to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons starting—and came one victory shy in the 2008 regular-season finale from doing it four straight seasons.
Well, Romo will end up Dallas' leading passer in the near future, provided he isn't killed off due to one of the worst offensive lines in football. Yet Romo's touchdown to interception comparison of 177 to 91 is beyond remarkable.
Troy Aikman tossed 165 scores to 141 pics, by comparison.
I feel there's a better chance than not that Romo's most successful days are still ahead of him.
If so, will he ever get proper credit?
2. Troy Aikman: QB (1989-2000)
I've heard it suggested by more than I thought possible that Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was overrated, an idea that's as ludicrous as stating that the world is flat.
Ask the ghost of Bill Walsh what he thinks about Aikman and you might get a better idea—in fact, ask anybody from the business of football that isn't employed simply as an entertainer on television or radio.
Aikman, unlike White and Romo, didn't have the opportunity to watch and learn before hitting the field. He started Week 1 of his rookie year in 1989 against a very good New Orleans defense and failed to generate a point. The NFC East, at the time, featured numerous Super Bowl-caliber defenses.
But once Aikman was finally protected well and injury-free for just one full season, Dallas won its third Super Bowl following the 1992 season.
But as some choose to blame Romo for the interceptions or decisions he makes amidst a poor offensive line, they will often also blame Aikman for having too good of an offensive line. Or maybe his touchdown passes or yardage in the air wasn't up to their silly standards.
Aikman was tough, accurate and easily the best quarterback to ever play in Dallas. He wasn't necessarily the most exciting quarterback to watch, at least from a mobility standpoint. However, I can think of no other quarterback that offered a better combination of accuracy and arm strength than Aikman—and he was fearless.
Most importantly, Aikman was the first quarterback to win three championships in a four-year span. He also did so without a head coach who was quite possibly cheating too.
1. Daryl Johnston: FB (1989-99)
There's not much reason to break down the statistics of fullback Daryl Johnston.
It's much better to analyze the rushing yards gathered by his backfield partner Smith over the time frame that both occupied a championship backfield several times.
I calculate that Smith rushed for 13,963 of his 18,355-yard career total with ''Moose'' as a lead blocker.
Once Johnston retired from the NFL following the 1999 season, Smith's numbers began to decline in both rushing yards and touchdowns—age also contributed to that decline but Johnston's absence was quite noticeable.
Johnston was among the best fullbacks to ever play the game of football, period. His non-stop physicality and surprising skill set made him a fantastic blocker and a most aggravating weapon on 3rd-and-short and goal-line situations. His performance in the 1992 NFC Championship Game against the 49ers in San Francisco was nothing less than huge.
Now a color-commentator along with Kenny Albert on The NFL on Fox, Johnston's knowledge of football is perhaps even better understood with respect to how he played football.