Danny White, QB-P (1976–1987)
Danny White was the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback in-waiting behind Roger Staubach from 1976–79. He was also the team’s starting punter. As a punter, he was dangerous. Not only was he among the league’s best at his craft, he was always a threat to throw or run for a first down.
In 1980, White became the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. Staubach, who remains the team’s greatest icon (along with Landry), retired after the ’79 season, and Danny White was finally given the reins he had been chomping at the bit to take.
White wasted no time establishing himself as a more-than-capable replacement for the legendary QB. In his first year as a starter, he guided the team to the NFC championship game, which the Cowboys lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a tough loss and a bitter pill, but it gave Cowboy Nation the confidence that their beloved team was in good hands.
In 1981, Danny White’s second year at the helm, the Cowboys returned to the NFC championship game. This time, the game was in San Francisco at Candlestick Park. The 49ers were led by the young upstart quarterback Joe Montana. They were young, talented, and hungry.
The game would prove to be a classic. It was a back and forth battle of gargantuan proportions. Down 27–21, Montana led his team down the field but stalled in the red zone. On a scrambling desperation play, with Ed “Too Tall” Jones bearing down on him, Montana heaved a prayer into the end zone as he was falling out of bounds. Receiver Dwight Clark, with cornerback Everson Wall trailing him, was crossing the back of the end zone. Clark made an improbable leaping catch on a ball that seemed to be sailing harmlessly overhead. The touchdown gave the 49ers a 28–27 lead late in the fourth quarter.
The play was simply called “The Catch,” and stands as one of the most famous plays in the annals of NFL history.
On the ensuing drive, White would lead his team into San Francisco territory, only to be sacked and fumble the ball. What seemed to be an inevitable field goal that would have secured a 30–28 victory was not to be. The Cowboys lost.
The following season, the Cowboys would make the NFC championship game for a third straight season. They would lose again, this time to the Washington Redskins.
In his book “The Catch,” which chronicles the impact the Montana to Clark pass had on the two franchises, the coaches, and the players involved, author Gary Myers says no player’s career was more adversely impacted than Danny White’s. He sees it as the turning point, the catastrophic moment that would mark the beginning of the Cowboys’ slow descent into mediocrity, and would keep White from being recognized as a truly great NFL quarterback.
Danny White was selected to just one Pro Bowl, but he closed out his career in possession of many of the franchise’s career records. The numbers he posted were anything but pedestrian:
• 21,959 yards passing
• 1761 completions on 2950 attempts (59.7 percent completion ratio)
• 155 touchdowns to 132 interceptions
• 482 yards rushing, with eight rushing touchdowns
• He had a 62–32 regular season record and was 5–5 in the playoffs
• His career quarterback rating was 81.7
• He punted 610 times, averaging 40.4 yards per punt