Dallas Cowboys: The 50 Greatest Players in Silver Stars History
Love them. Hate them.
With the Dallas Cowboys, there is no in between.
No matter where you stand on "America's Team," there is no denying the fact the franchise has been front and center in the evolution of professional football in the last 50 years. From setting the trend of using computers to analyze talent, reviving the Shotgun formation (and oh, those Cheerleaders), the Cowboys have been madly successful with five Super Bowl championships and a small village of Hall of Famers to prove it.
Deciding who the greatest player to ever wear a Cowboys jersey is a subject of wild debate, so one can imagine how difficult a task of choosing the 50 best was.
As the team celebrates its 50th anniversary, we pay homage by selecting the cream of the crop from a franchise whose blue and silver star is known the world over.
50. Mark Stepnoski, C (1989-94, 1999-2001)
A three-time Pro Bowler, Stepnoski served as the anchor of the offensive line during Dallas’ title wins in Super Bowls 27 and 28. After leaving the Cowboys as a free agent after the 1994 season, Stepnoski played four seasons with Houston/Tennessee before spending the last three years of his career with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 1989 draft.
49. Dexter Coakley, LB (1997-2004)
One of the few bright spots of the post-Super Bowl era, Coakley was a tackling machine that earned three trips to the Pro Bowl. His best season came in 2001 when he recorded 95 total tackles and intercepted two passes for touchdowns.
Considered undersized at 5’10", 236 pounds, Coakley shed the image by scoring five times (four interceptions, one fumble) in his career while finishing with 696 tackles and 13 interceptions with Dallas.
48. Roy Williams, S (2002-08)
The most recent of a long line of outstanding safeties in franchise history, Williams was also one of the decade’s most feared hitters. A member of five straight Pro Bowl teams (2003-07), Williams intercepted 19 passes, recovered nine fumbles and had 6.5 sacks while holding down the deep middle for the Cowboys secondary.
47. Don Bishop, CB (1960-65)
A big (6’2", 210-pound) corner for his day, Bishop joined the franchise in the 1960 expansion draft and became one of the league’s top ballhawks. The converted receiver from Los Angeles Community College picked off 22 passes as a Cowboy, including eight in 1961. He followed up with six picks in 1962, where he finished the season with a trip to his only Pro Bowl.
46. Erik Williams, OT (1991-2000)
Many of Emmitt Smith’s yards came as a result of holes opened by Williams, whom the Cowboys discovered from tiny Central State (Ohio) in the third round of the 1990 draft. The mammoth 6’6, 324-pounder became a starter in his second season and earned the first of two All-Pro nods the following campaign.
Williams started 133 of his 141 games with Dallas and was selected to four Pro Bowls.
45. Frank Clarke, WR/TE, (1960-67)
Clarke played sparingly with Cleveland from 1957-59, joining the Cowboys as part of the expansion draft. He didn't play much in 1960, but he averaged 32.2 yards and scored three times with his nine catches, giving head coach Tom Landry reason to find a way to put him in the lineup the following season.
After a 41-catch, 919-yard, nine-touchdown campaign in 1961, Clarke emerged as one of the NFL’s top deep threats in 1962, averaging a league-best 22.2 yards per reception and 14 touchdowns (a team record that stood until Terrell Owens topped it in 2007) while catching 47 passes for 1,043 yards. He caught 10 more touchdowns in ’63 and set a then-team record with 65 catches in 1964 before moving to tight end in order to get Bob Hayes into the lineup.
Clarke’ s 281 receptions is the 11th best in Dallas history, while his 50 touchdowns are fourth.
44. Robert Newhouse, RB (1972-83)
The 5’10", 210-pound bowling ball from Houston bridged the gap between Calvin Hill and Tony Dorsett, serving as the team’s featured back from 1974-76. He ran for a career-best 930 yards in 1975 and had 721 yards during the 1977 campaign, where he capped off the season with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Golden Richards that clinched the Cowboys’ 27-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XII.
Newhouse, who scored 36 touchdowns in his career, is the club’s fifth all-time leading rusher with 4,784 yards.
43. Billy Joe DuPree, TE (1973-83)
Had he arrived in the NFL 10-15 years later, DuPree would have been a household name, but the sure-handed standout from Michigan State still carved an impressive career resume in his 11 years with the Cowboys. In an era where tight ends weren’t highly regarded as pass catchers, DuPree made three Pro Bowls (1976-78) and had seven seasons of at least 29 receptions.
DuPree pulled in 267 passes for 3,565 yards and 41 touchdowns in a career that saw him appear in seven NFC championship games and three Super Bowls.
42. Dennis Thurman, CB (1977-85)
The leader of “Thurman’s Thieves,” the former USC star is fourth all time in Dallas annals with 36 interceptions. His best season came in 1981, where he had nine picks for 187 yards.
His nose for the end zone nearly rivaled his nose for the ball, as Thurman returned four interceptions for touchdowns and returned a fumble for a fifth score.
41. Walt Garrison, RB (1966-74)
A cowboy in every sense of the word, Garrison spent years as a professional rodeo performer while blasting his way to 3,886 yards and 30 touchdowns in his nine-year career in Dallas. He rushed for 818 yards in 1969 and ran for 787 yards in 1972 while leading Calvin Hill to his first 1,000-yard campaign.
Garrison was also an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, pulling in 182 passes, including a career-high 40 during Dallas’ first Super Bowl title season in 1971.
40. Bill Bates, S (1983-97)
The undrafted free agent from Tennessee defied the odds and spent 15 seasons as a jack-of-all-trades on both defense and special teams. Bates made the Pro Bowl in 1984, a season that saw him record five sacks despite starting only two games. He specialized in blitzing the quarterback before moving primarily to special teams in 1989, where he served as the captain and emotional leader of the unit for most of his final eight years.
No one has donned the silver star more than Bates, who remains Dallas’ career leader with 217 games, including 15 playoff appearances and three Super Bowls.
39. Nate Newton, OT/OG (1986-98)
The USFL castoff evolved into one of the keys to the club’s success in the 1990s, earning six Pro Bowl nominations and two nods to the All-Pro team. The 6’3", 318-pounder spent much of his career at left guard, where he and Larry Allen teamed up to form a devastating duo in the latter stages of his career.
Newton’s longevity was best exemplified in 1998, where he made his last Pro Bowl team at the age of 37.
38. Jay Novacek, TE (1990-95)
The sure-handed Novacek spent his first five seasons languishing on the Cardinals bench before signing with the Cowboys as a Plan B free agent. Armed with a fresh start, the 6’4", 230-pounder became the security blanket for QB Troy Aikman, catching 59 passes in his first season in Dallas.
The Aikman-Novacek connection was sheer gold over the following five seasons, as he caught 280 passes and 18 touchdowns while playing the role of silent partner while Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith and WR Michael Irvin garnered the bulk of the headlines. “The Triplets” were the vanguard of an offense that won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, but their success might not have been possible had it not been for the work of Novacek, whose fearlessness over the middle kept many a drive alive.
37. Larry Cole, DE/DT (1968-80)
Cole spent much of his career tormenting the Washington Redskins, scoring all four of his career touchdowns against Dallas’ hated rival. A solid presence on the defensive line throughout the 1970s, Cole was versatile enough to move to defensive tackle midway in his career.
The rugged Cole is tied for fourth on the career list of most playoff starts, as his 23 games is a mark he shares with Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
36. George Andrie, DE (1962-72)
A charter member of the original “Doomsday Defense,” Andrie spent 11 seasons harassing opposing quarterbacks. While there are no official records of his sack totals, the five Pro Bowl trips (1965-69) are a clear indication offensive coordinators spent plenty of Saturday nights attempting to contain him.
Andrie’s signature moment came in Super Bowl VI, where he and Bob Lilly stalked Dolphins QB Bob Griese for a memorable 29-yard loss that helped Dallas earn its first NFL title.
35. Darren Woodson, S (1992-2003)
The former Arizona State LB shined on special teams as a rookie and entrenched himself in the starting lineup the following season, ushering in a career that featured three Super Bowl rings, three All-Pro selections and five trips to the Pro Bowl while recording 803 tackles and 23 interceptions.
Woodson had 155 tackles in 1993 and had a career-high five interceptions the following year, which earned him his first All-Pro selection. Known for his savvy ability to dissect offenses, he continues to do the same as an analyst for ESPN.
34. Jason Witten, TE (2003-Present)
The first of two active players on the list, Witten joined the starting lineup during his rookie campaign and has become one of the game’s premier tight ends, earning six straight Pro Bowl appearances.
Witten has caught at least 64 passes in that span, including a career-high 96 in 2007 that placed him on the All-Pro team. With 543 receptions, he is already second only to Michael Irvin on the Cowboys’ career list; only 29 years old, the glue-handed Witten is well on track to surpass “The Playmaker” at some point in a potential Hall of Fame career.
33. Darryl Johnston, FB (1990-99)
Emmitt Smith’s emotional tribute to Johnston during his induction into the Hall of Fame is all one needs to know about the value of “Moose” during his 10 seasons with the Cowboys.
Johnston ran the ball only 232 times, but it was his superior blocking and receiving that made him the unsung hero of the Cowboys’ dynasty. A devastating lead blocker, Johnston paved the way for many of Smith’s record-setting 17,162 yards in a Dallas uniform while also providing Troy Aikman with a reliable safety valve out of the backfield, as he finished his career with 294 receptions and 14 touchdowns.
Currently an analyst for FOX Sports’ NFL coverage, Johnston remains as reliable and effective in the broadcast booth as he was earning three Super Bowl rings.
32. Dan Reeves, RB (1965-72)
One of the most versatile players in franchise history, Reeves’ career was stalled by a variety of injuries, but he still managed to account for over 4,500 yards from scrimmage while scoring 42 touchdowns, including a league-best 16 in 1966. He was also a feared presence as a passer, completing 14 passes for 370 yards and two scores.
Reeves’ most memorable moment came when he threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Lance Rentzel early in the fourth quarter of the 1967 NFL title game. The score gave Dallas a 14-10 lead, but Bart Starr’s classic QB sneak in the closing seconds allowed Green Bay to escape the “Ice Bowl” with a 17-14 win and a trip to Super Bowl II.
Head coach Tom Landry turned Reeves into a player-coach in 1970, opening the door for Reeves to learn from him for 11 seasons before Landry's pupil began a 23-year head coaching career that saw him win 190 games and four conference titles with Denver, the New York Giants and Atlanta.
31. Tony Hill, WR (1977-86)
“Thrill” Hill teamed up with Drew Pearson to give the Cowboys one of the most prolific receiving duos of the late 70s and early 80s. He and Pearson—along with Tony Dorsett—helped Dallas become the first team in NFL history to have two 1,000-yards receivers and a 1,000-yard running back when he recorded a 60-catch, 1,062-yard, 10-TD season in 1979.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Hill had three 1,000-yard seasons for the Cowboys in a career that saw him catch 479 passes for 7,988 yards. The most memorable of his 51 career touchdowns came when he pulled in the final scoring toss of Roger Staubach’s stint with the Cowboys that defeated the rival Redskins in the 1979 regular season finale that clinched the NFC East title for Dallas.
30. Jim Jeffcoat, DE (1983-94)
Since the NFL officially began counting sacks in 1982, no other Cowboy has recorded more QB takedowns than Jeffcoat’s 94.5. The club’s first round pick in 1983, the former Arizona State Sun Devil tortured opposing passers in a career that featured five seasons of at least 10 sacks, including a personal-best of 14 in 1986.
The 6’5", 275-pounder never made the Pro Bowl, as his peak seasons occurred in the franchise’s lean years from 1986-1989. He enjoyed a revival in 1992, as his 10.5 sacks helped pace a young Dallas defense that evolved into a Super Bowl champion. Jeffcoat also scored four touchdowns, including a 65-yard interception return that clinched the NFC East title in a home win over the New York Giants in 1985.
29. Danny White, QB/P (1976-87)
White had the unenviable task of replacing Roger Staubach as the Cowboys’ starting field general, and while he put together an impressive 61-30 regular season record, it was his failure in three straight NFC title games (1980-82) that left him as a footnote between Staubach and Troy Aikman in the eyes of most hardcore Dallas fans.
White had four seasons of 20-plus touchdown passes and threw for 21,959 yards in his career. His best statistical season came in 1983, when he fired 29 TD strikes and passed for a then-club record 3,980 yards. He served at punter from 1976-84, averaging 40.2 yards a boot while also becoming known as a threat to pull a fake at key junctures.
28. DeMarcus Ware, LB (2005-Present)
The Cowboys haven’t been disappointed with the former Troy State pass rush specialist since using the 11th pick of the 2005 draft on him. Since his arrival, Ware has recorded 70.5 sacks, including a team-record 20 during the 2008 season. He has six sacks in his first four games this season, putting him on pace for his fifth straight season of double-digit totals.
Ware is a three-time All-Pro and has four Pro Bowl selections to his credit. He is well on his way toward surpassing Jim Jeffcoat’s career mark of 94.5 sacks and at the age of 28, Ware is rapidly building a resume that could one day lead him into the Hall of Fame.
27. Calvin Hill, RB (1969-74)
A big (6’4", 227-pound), physical back from Yale, Hill earned Rookie of the Year honors by rushing for 942 yards and eight touchdowns in 1969. He shared the backfield with Walt Garrison and Duane Thomas the following two seasons, but burst out on his own in 1972 by becoming Dallas’ first 1,000-yard runner (1,036).
Hill rushed for a career-high 1,142 yards the following season, but a contract dispute led to his departure from the Cowboys after an 844-yard campaign in 1974. The father of NBA standout Grant Hill remains Dallas’ fourth all-time leading rusher with 5,009 yards and 39 touchdowns in a career that saw him earn an All-Pro nod and four Pro Bowl appearances.
26. John Niland, OT (1966-74)
One of the strongest players of his time, Niland worked his way into the starting lineup after being drafted in the first round of the 1966 draft. The former Iowa star was a physical mauler who ignited the Cowboys run game while also serving as one of the era’s premier pass blockers.
Niland made six straight Pro Bowls (1968-72) and was selected to the All-Pro team in both 1971 and 1972.
25. Everson Walls, CB (1981-89)
Left out of the 1981 draft, Walls worked his way into the starting lineup and left the league’s 27 other teams wondering how they missed his skills as he led the NFL with 11 interceptions. He topped the league again in 1982 and duplicated the feat in 1984, becoming the only player to lead the NFL in interceptions three times.
Walls intercepted 44 passes in his time with Dallas before being released after the club’s 1-15 season in 1989. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Walls, who became a key part of the New York Giants’ win in Super Bowl XXV.
24. Jethro Pugh, DT (1965-78)
One of general manager Gil Brandt’s gems, Pugh was unearthed from tiny Elizabeth City State (N.C.) in the 11th round of the 1965 draft and was a member of both versions of the Doomsday Defense. He earned a second-team All-NFL nod in 1968, but for all of his success as an unsung member of Dallas’ vaunted defensive line, Pugh never played in a Pro Bowl.
Pugh did appear in 23 playoff games (ninth all-time) and led the NFL in fumble recoveries in 1967.
23. Deion Sanders, CB/KR/WR (1995-99)
“Prime Time” and “America’s Team” formed a perfect marriage during five seasons, the first coming in 1995 when Sanders signed a lucrative deal with the Cowboys and became the final piece to the puzzle that propelled Dallas to its third Super Bowl title in four years.
Sanders was a three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler with Dallas, where he also spent much of the 1996 season as a receiver and caught 36 passes. The most feared return specialist of all time also returned four punts for touchdowns as a Cowboy and intercepted 14 passes (two touchdowns) while cementing his status as the game’s greatest cornerback.
22. Cliff Harris, S (1970-79)
Harris (along with Charlie Waters) was one half of a hard-hitting safety duo that led the Cowboys to a pair of Super Bowl titles and seven NFC championship game appearances in the 1970s. In the process of forming one of the best safety tandems in history, Harris received six nominations to the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro team three times.
Known for his hitting prowess, Harris was also a solid kickoff returner who averaged 25.7 yards. He intercepted 29 passes while recovering 18 fumbles. He was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2004, but has not reached the last stage since.
21. Don Perkins, RB (1961-68)
After failing to make the Baltimore Colts roster in 1960, Perkins arrived in Dallas the following season and gave the franchise its first featured runner. While he never rushed for 1,000 yards, Perkins led the Cowboys in rushing in each of his eight seasons,including a career-best 945 yards in 1962.
His most memorable effort came on November 24, 1966, when he ran for 111 yards on 23 carries in Dallas’ 26-14 win over Cleveland that clinched the team’ s first division title. Perkins retired as the team’s all-time leading rusher, and his 6,217 yards ranks third only to Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
20. Larry Allen, OG/OT (1994-2005)
The pride of Sonoma State was one of the strongest players in NFL history, and his freakish strength served him well as he became an 11-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro while spending his Sundays physically mauling his overmatched opponents.
Allen began his career starting at right tackle before moving to right guard during the team’s Super Bowl winning season in 1995. He remained there until his was needed to play left tackle in 1998 and went to left guard the following year, where he remained for the rest of his 166-game stint with the Cowboys.
19. Cornell Green, CB (1963-74)
Green began his career at cornerback, where his 6’3, 210-pound frame allowed him to physically dominant opposing receivers. He moved to safety at the start of the 1970 season and served as a mentor to future All-Pros Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters before retiring at the end of the 1974 season.
Green intercepted 32 passes in his career, including two seasons (1963,1967) of seven picks. He was selected to five Pro Bowls (three at CB, two at S) and was named first team All-Pro three times.
18. Ralph Neely, OT/OG (1965-77)
The Cowboys won the rights to Neely only after a protracted battle with the AFL’s Houston Oilers, and the former Oklahoma University star rewarded them with 13 solid years along the offensive line.
Neely and LG John Niland comprised an impressive left side that paved the way for the likes of Don Perkins, Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas and Tony Dorsett to spearhead the Dallas running attack. His work was honored by three trips to the Pro Bowl and two visits to the All-Pro team while starting 19 postseason games.
17. Chuck Howley, LB (1961-72)
The only player to be named MVP on a losing Super Bowl team (two interceptions in the SB V defeat to Baltimore), Howley was a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro who was still somewhat overshadowed in a golden era of Hall of Fame linebackers. Howley’s credentials (24 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries) stands up with the likes of DickButkus and Joe Schmidt, but he has yet to draw serious consideration from the Veterans’ Committee.
Howley appeared in six NFL/NFC championship games during his 12 seasons with the Cowboys and ranks in the club’s top 10 in both interceptions and fumble recoveries.
16. Harvey Martin, DE (1973-83)
The easy-going Martin was anything but on the field, as he and Randy White teamed up to give birth to the second version of the Doomsday Defense. While officially credited with 10 sacks, Martin’s unofficial totals probably put him in the neighborhood of Jim Jeffcoat and DeMarcus Ware on the team’ s all-time list.
Martin and White shared a signature moment in Super Bowl XII, as they were named co-MVPs during a 27-10 Dallas win that was highlighted by a Cowboys defense that forced eight turnovers while holding Denver and ex-Cowboys teammate Craig Morton to just 182 yards of offense. Martin recorded two sacks that day as the Cowboys won their second of five World Championships.
15. Rayfield Wright, OT/TE (1967-79)
Another gem uncovered by Gil Brandt, Wright emerged from Fort Valley State and became a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler who anchored the Cowboys’ offensive line throughout the 1970s. The 6’6", 255-pounder actually began his pro career as a tight end and spent his first three seasons at the position before moving to the line in 1970.
Wright caught the last pass of Roger Staubach’s career during an NFC divisional playoff loss to the Rams in 1979 (he was an ineligible receiver, by the way), which also turned out to be the final game of his career, which was capped off by his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
14. Lee Roy Jordan, LB (1963-76)
A five-time Pro Bowler who was also named to the All-Pro team in 1969, Jordan was a Hall of Fame finalist in 1988, but hasn’t come close since. Another of the overlooked ‘ backers from the 1960s, Jordan spent 12 seasons in the middle of head coach Tom Landry’ s 4-3 “ Flex” defense, destroying runners while also becoming one of the best pass coverage linebackers in history.
Jordan intercepted 32 passes in his career, including three for touchdowns. He had six interceptions in 1975, as the then-34-year-old discovered the fountain of youth while helping Dallas become only the second wild card team to reach the Super Bowl.
13. Charlie Waters, DB (1970-78, 1980-81)
There was a point where Waters’ future was in doubt, as the former Clemson quarterback struggled with the transition to cornerback, but once Tom Landry moved him to safety, Waters found at home that led him to three straight Pro Bowls before a devastating knee injury cost him the 1979 season.
Waters bounced back in 1980, recording five of his 41 career interceptions. He retired
after playing in 25 postseason games (currently fifth all time) while teaming up with Cliff Harris to comprise an effective and intimidating safety combination that served as the air defense for Doomsday II in the 1970s.
12. Bob Hayes, WR/PR (1965-74)
The seventh-round selection of the Olympic 100-meter gold medalist in 1964 didn’t register even a blip, but the speedy sprinter from Florida A&M helped change the course of NFL history.
In his first four seasons, Hayes caught 212 passes for 4,142 yards (19.5 yards per catch) and 45 touchdowns, 29 of which came from beyond 30 yards. His blistering speed was too much for opposing corners to handle individually, causing the birth of the zone defense, which was designed to contain him.
His numbers tailed off a bit following the1968 season, but Hayes averaged at least 16 yards per catch in nine of his ten years with Dallas, including four of more than 20 yards per haul.
A two-time All-Pro who also averaged a whopping 20.8 yards per punt return in1968, Hayes finished his career in Dallas with 365 receptions for 7,295 yards and 71 touchdowns. “ Bullet Bob” passed away in 2002, but was finally rewarded with a long overdue induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
11. Ed "Too Tall" Jones, DE (1974-78, 1980-89)
At 6’9", “Too Tall” lived up to the promise expected from being the first overall choice of the 1974 draft. With a wingspan that stretched more than eight feet, Jones was able to overwhelm opposing tackles and made it nearly impossible for a quarterback to throw over him once he got into range.
Jones shocked the Cowboys when he chose to pursue a boxing career prior to the 1979 season, but returned to the team after a less than impressive six-bout stint. He picked up where he left off, recording two seasons of double-digit sack totals during the 80s,including 13 in 1985. A three-time Pro Bowler, Jones remained a solid pass rush threat well into his 30s, including a seven-sack campaign at the age of 37 during the 1988 season.
Officially, Jones was credited with 57.5 sacks, placing him fifth on the team’ s career list.
10. Mel Renfro, CB (1964-77)
Blessed with blazing speed and rare elusiveness, Renfro was briefly tried at running back before embarking upon a Hall of Fame career as one of the game’ s greatest corners. His ability to make receivers disappear resulted in an All-Pro honor in 1969 to go along with 10 Pro Bowl nominations. He led the league with 10 interceptions in ’69 and had two other seasons in which he picked off seven passes during a career in which in finished with 52.
Renfro was also a productive return specialist early in his career, leading the NFL in both punt and kickoff return yardage in 1964 (one of only a handful of players to do so) while averaging 30 yards on kickoffs in 1965. Three of his six career touchdowns came from returns,including a 100-yard kickoff return that opened Dallas’ 39-31 win over San Francisco on November 7, 1965.
After reaching the final cut three times, Renfro was finally selected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
9. Don Meredith, QB (1960-68)
The first of many colorful Cowboys, Meredith’s laid-back nature overshadowed the fact he was a tough, rugged field general whose ability to withstand punishment bordered on near-mythic status.
Meredith spent his first three years splitting time with Eddie LeBaron before taking the reins in 1963. As he matured, the franchise’s fortunes rose with them, culminating in a breakout 1966 campaign that saw Meredith throw for 2,805 yards and 24 touchdowns as the Cowboys reached the first of the franchise’s 17 conference title games.
"Dandy Don" led Dallas back to the NFL title game the following season, but chose to retire after the 1968 season, a year in which he made his third straight Pro Bowl following a 2,500-yard, 21-TD performance. The pressure of failing to reach the Super Bowl—along with years of numerous injuries—led to his shocking departure at the age of 30.
Meredith achieved greater fame as the witty counterpart to the abrasive Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football from 1970-84. He was also a successful actor in a string of 1970s TV movies along with a recurring role on the hit show “ Police Story.”
8. Drew Pearson, WR (1973-83)
The third-leading receiver in franchise history (489 catches), Pearson was one of the game's elite big-game wideouts, developing a knack for making critical receptions in white-knuckle situations.
Pearson made the team as a free agent and established himself as a game-breaker when he caught an 83-yard touchdown pass that broke open a 1973 NFC divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams. He was on the receiving end of the immortal “Hail Mary” TD pass that sunk the Minnesota Vikings in the ’75 NFC divisional playoffs and caught two fourth quarter scoring passes that lifted them past the Atlanta Falcons in the ’80 NFC divisional round.
Much of his career was spent the NFL’s “Deadball Era” (1970-77), but Pearson was one of the league’s most productive receivers as he was a three-time All-Pro who caught 67 passes for 1,108 yards and eight touchdowns in 23 postseason games. His case for the Hall of Fame would have been strengthened had his career not been tragically shortened in a 1984 auto accident that killed his brother and left him with internal injuries that forced him to retire.
Pearson was the standard bearer of jersey number 88 in Dallas, hallowed numerals that Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and current rookie Dez Bryant have worn in honor of Pearson’s accomplishments.
7. Tony Dorsett, RB (1977-87)
The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner from Pittsburgh landed to the Cowboys with the second overall pick (via trade with Seattle) and immediately energized a once-dormant ground game once head coach Tom Landry took the reins off him. Dorsett ran for 1,007 yards as a rookie and helped Dallas to a Super Bowl XII win over Denver, scoring the game’s first touchdown.
Dorsett ran for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons, with the strike-shortened 1982 campaign being the exception. He averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry in that span, twice reaching the 4.8 mark. The only player to ever have a 90-yard scoring run and scoring reception, no play better defined Dorsett’s explosive running style than the record-breaking 99-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings on January 3,1983, where he turned a simple off-tackle play into one of the NFL’ s signature moments.
The four-time Pro Bowler earned All-Pro honors in 1981 when he ran for a career-best 1,646 yards, and became the fifth player to rush for over 10,000 yards during the 1985season. Dorsett rushed for 12,036 yards and 72 touchdowns (an accomplished receiver, he also caught 398 passes) in his 11 years in Dallas and was an easy choice for selection into the Hall of Fame in 1994.
6. Randy White, DE/DT (1975-88)
From the moment the Cowboys chose him with the second pick of the 1975 draft,the “Manster” lived up to his nickname, devouring opposing backs in a career that saw him be named All-Pro seven times while making nine trips to the Pro Bowl.
At 6’4", 260 pounds, White was versatile enough to be moved throughout the front seven, but it was at defensive tackle where the former Maryland star created the most havoc. Stopping him one-on-one was nearly impossible, and when opponents tried to double-team him, it only opened the door for fellow Doomsday Defense II members Harvey Martin, Ed "TooTall” Jones and Larry Cole to move in and destroy plays.
White had a three-year stretch (1983-85) in which he recorded 35.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position; the numbers prior to 1982 would probably be higher if the NFL had kept track of the totals.
He remained a productive player until – to the delight of all quarterbacks—he retired after the 1988 season. In the same manner he disrupted plays, White’s 1994 induction in the Hall of Fame was a rapid display of domination, as he made it on the first try.
5. Emmitt Smith, RB (1990-2002)
He wasn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest, but no runner had more heart—or gained more yards—than the biggest gift that came from the blockbuster trade of Hershel Walker to Minnesota in October 1989.
The 17th overall pick of the 1990 draft, the choice of Smith turned out to be a shrewd move by head coach/general manager Jimmy Johnson, who was rewarded immediately as Smith ran for 937 yards and 11 touchdowns in a rookie campaign that saw Dallas go from 1-15 the previous year to 7-9.
Smith busted into superstar status when he led the league with 1,563 yards in 1991, beginning a stretch in which he topped the NFL in rushing four of the next five years, including a career-high 1,773-yard, 25-touchdown gem during the 1995 campaign that was capped off by the Cowboys’ third Super Bowl title in four years.
While he shined in the postseason (including MVP honors in Super Bowl XXVII), Smith’s defining moment came on January 2, 1994 when he rushed for 168 yards on 32 carries while catching 10 passes for 68 yards—almost all of it on a badly separated shoulder—as Dallas defeated the New York Giants to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Smith rushed for over 1,000 yards in 11 straight seasons (1991-2001) and surpassed the late Walter Payton atop the career rushing list against Seattle on October 27, 2002. He finished his time in Dallas with 17,162 yards before ending his career in Arizona. His remarkable career (which included being named All-Pro four times) culminated this past summer when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
4. Michael Irvin, WR (1988-99)
His exuberance and flair for showmanship made him an annoying figure to those who loathed the Cowboys, but there was no denying that “The Playmaker” was a well-deserved nickname for the last first-round pick of the Tom Landry era.
Irvin’s potential was offset by injuries in his first three seasons, but the former Miami (Fla.) product exploded in 1991, as he caught 93 passes for 1,523 yards and eight touchdowns while earning All-Pro honors as the Cowboys returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1985. It also marked the first of five straight seasons of at least 78 receptions and 1,241 yards for Irvin, who reached career-highs with 111 catches, 1,603 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1995.
Off-field indiscretions took away from his magnificent play, but Irvin remained one of the league’s premier receivers before a neck injury sustained early in the 1999 season ended his career and signaled the beginning of the end for fellow “Triplets” Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
Dallas’ all-time leader with 750 receptions and 11,904 yards, the five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champ was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
3. Troy Aikman, QB (1989-2000)
Aikman threw for more than 20 touchdowns once and never went over the 3,500-yard barrier, but when it came to winning in the 1990s, no one had better numbers than the second pick of the 1989 draft.
The UCLA alum lost all 11 of his starts as a rookie, but after head coach Jimmy Johnson anointed him over Steve Walsh after the 1990 season, Aikman took control of the franchise, and the club followed his lead. After missing the final portion of the 1991 campaign due to injury, the Cowboys’ field general led them to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span, with Aikman receiving MVP honors in Super Bowl XXVII. A deadly accurate passer, he completed at least 63 percent of his passes from 1991-96 and went under 59 percent just once from 1991-2000.
Aikman finished the decade with a stellar 90-53 regular season mark and won 11 of his 16 playoff appearances. He led 16 fourth-quarter comebacks in a career that was ended following a vicious hit from Washington’s LeVar Arrington late in the 2000 season.
It was only appropriate that he and WR Michael Irvin were inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 2006. Now the lead NFL analyst for Fox, Aikman—much like his on-field career—has established himself as one of the best in the booth.
2. Roger Staubach, QB (1969-79)
In a sports world filled with flawed heroes, Staubach emerged as a larger-than-life presence that truly lived up to role model status. It seemed perfect that a tall, handsome, gifted athlete that won a Heisman Trophy and served his country as a naval officer would be the centerpiece of “America’s Team.”
Staubach was 27 before he finally joined the Cowboys (five years after he was drafted in the 10th round by Dallas), and his first 2 ½ seasons were filled with frustrating head coach Tom Landry with his daredevil style of play. His career took off midway in the 1971 season when Landry chose him over Craig Morton as the team’s starter, and the Cowboys ripped off 10 straight wins that was capped with a Super Bowl VI victory over Miami in which Staubach earned MVP honors.
In nine seasons as the undisputed starter, Staubach led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, six NFC championship games and six NFC East crowns while also winning four NFL passing titles. His scrambling ways (2,264 yards, 20 touchdowns) made him a dual threat that received six Pro Bowl nominations.
What made Staubach special was his ability to bring the Cowboys back from the edge of defeat, as he led Dallas to 15 fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives, including a 35-34 win over the rival Redskins in what proved to be his final regular season game.
“Roger the Dodger” retired as the NFL’s all-time leading passer (83.4 rating) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985. His success has continued off the field, as Staubach has become a multimillionaire through a variety of productive business ventures.
1. Bob Lilly, DE/DT (1961-74)
With apologies to Roger Staubach, a Texas-bred college legend that played his entire career in Dallas and earned the nickname “Mr. Cowboy” deserves the top spot.
The Cowboys’ initial first-round pick, the TCU standout spent 14 seasons as a one-man wrecking crew that spearheaded Tom Landry’ s 4-3 “Flex” defense. Lilly was the beacon light as Dallas worked its way toward respectability and was perhaps the best defensive player of the 1960s. He began his career at defensive end, where he earned the first of his 11 Pro Bowls in 1962 before moving to defensive tackle in 1964.The switch helped change the fortunes of Dallas, as Lilly’s combination of size,speed and strength made him impossible to stop individually and near impossible with two players. He was the charter leader of the Cowboys' " Doomsday Defense” that paced Dallas to nine straight playoff appearances from 1965-73, including six NFL/NFC championship games and two Super Bowls.
Lilly set the tone for the Super Bowl VI win over Miami when he hounded Dolphins QB Bob Griese for a 29-yard loss that inspired the Cowboys defense to limit the AFC champs to just one field goal in a 24-3 victory.
The seven-time Pro Bowler called it quits after the 1974 season and became the franchise’s first player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Lilly was also a charter member of the team’s Ring of Honor when the Cowboys honored him during the 1977 campaign.