Let's Talk: Picking Top 10 Dallas Cowboys Bound to Stir Talk

Greg FordContributor IJune 14, 2009

23 Nov 1995:  A number of Dallas Cowboys helmets sit on the goal line during the Cowboys 24-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT

A recent poll created quite a buzz in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It had nothing to do with politics or world affairs. No, to the locals, it was much more important than that.

Rather, the poll, or more appropriately a list, was the NFL Network's ranking of the Top 10 Dallas Cowboys of all time. It's release was quite appropos, considering the Cowboys are entering their 50th year of competition.

The discussion centered around where players were ranked, such as having Michael Irvin at No. 3, ahead of teammates Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.

There also was some discussion about whether Tom Landry should have been No. 1, ahead of Roger Staubach and Bob Lilly, two players without whom Landry probably never would have won a Super Bowl.

The debate was civilized but spirited, and in the hopes of keeping it that way, I will now present my top 10. It will not include coaches or front office personnel, which means Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Tex Schramm or Jerry Jones have been excluded.

This list is reserved for the players who bled and sweat on Sundays, and with whom the final outcome of each game rested.

No. 10:Β  Bob Hayes

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There is legitimate debate whether Hayes' overall numbers warrant inclusion into the NFL Hall of Fame, but there is none regarding his impact offensively with the 1960s Cowboys.

When he showed up, the Dallas offense quickly became one of the most explosive attacks in football. All great teams have a signature play, and for the Cowboys their first, and perhaps most famous, was the long bomb to Bob Hayes.

No. 9: Don Meredith

Who do think was throwing those rainbows to Hayes between 1965-68, which were Hayes' most productive years. Most people remember Meredith as Howard Cosell's folksy foil on Monday Night Football, but on the field he was a talented, gritty competitor who often played in pain.

His only "crime" seemed to be that he couldn't beat Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship. The spoiled Dallas fans didn't appreciate his ability, but opposing teams certainly did.

No. 8: Larry Allen

How quickly we forget how dominant a player Allen really was during his prime. During his pro career, the Santa Clara product excelled at drive blocking and pass protection, eventually earning All-Pro status at different positions.Β 

No. 7: Michael Irvin

Irvin epitomized the best and the worst of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.

Off the field, he was a law breaker who paid for his crimes. On the field, Irvin was Dallas' emotional leader who could catch any pass thrown his way, and was willing to do whatever it took to win.

No. 6: Mel Renfro

Renfro was Deion Sanders before Deion, and unlike Deion, Renfro could tackle. He excelled as a cornerback and safety, and during one Pro Bowl, Renfro returned two punts for touchdowns.

After Renfro retired, he was not a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, but when he was selected, there was no good argument against him getting in.

No. 5: Lee Roy Jordan

For 12 seasons, all good ones, Jordan was Dallas' middle linebacker, patrolling from sideline to sideline, picking off passes, chasing down opposing runners, and calling the defensive signals.

He wasn't as big as Dick Butkus or as intimidating as Jack Lambert, but Jordan was sly like a fox and had the tenacity of a wolverine.

No. 4: Troy Aikman

A Hall of Famer who still doesn't get the credit he deserves. Granted, Aikman never put up Marino or Elway-like numbers, but that was never his job.

He guided the Cowboys' ball-control offense, and kept teams from crowding the line of scrimmage by tossing laser-like passes to Irvin, Alvin Harper, and Jay Novacek.

Aikman was also the glue that kept his teammates focused during games.

No. 3: Roger Staubach

Roger the Dodger wasn't as big as Aikman, and he didn't have his arm strength or accuracy. What Staubach did have, though, was a never-say-die attitude and an uncanny ability to improvise, either on the run on in the huddle.

Check Cowboy history and you'll find that almost all of their most memorable plays from 1970s were when Staubach and one of his receivers decided to alter a pass play.

No 2: Emmitt Smith

The NFL's all-time leading rusher was elusive and durable. Some say he was the result of Dallas's system.

Yet, how good was that "system" when Smith missed the first two games of 1993; the result of a contract dispute provoked by Jerry Jones. Dallas's running game faltered without him, but found its stride once Smith returned.

No. 1: Bob Lilly

The one and only Mr. Cowboy. Lilly was so good that some teams triple-teamed him using two linemen and a running back. He was so quick teams ran at him to negate his pursuit.

Even with that, Lilly still dominated. His most memorable play: Chasing down Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss in Super Bowl VI.

There are players I've left off, such as Randy White and Drew Pearson. The former, in my opinion, was a top defensive tackle, and I'd probably put him at No. 11 if I was to make a top 15 list.Β 

For all the hype he gets, Pearson was not even Dallas' best receiver for most of his career. Check the stats, when Tony Hill became a starter in 1978, he immediately was the go-to guy, primarily because of his size, speed and ability to catch whatever was thrown his way. Yes, I would list him above Pearson when ranking Dallas receivers.

So, go ahead and start the debate. What did I get right and what did I get wrong? Who wants to begin?


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