With the recent passing of former Cowboys great Robert Newhouse, we were reminded once again about the underrated and less celebrated nature of the fullback position. History seems to prove that this overlooked job is earmarked for the less talented, non-athletic body types. Yet any perennial 1000 yard rusher will tell you these guys are indispensable to them and their own success.
Fullbacks are the swiss army knives that chip away at the mountain of sweaty beasts in hopes of creating an opening for the tailbacks to squirm into so they can strike touchdown gold. They are the go-to guys for short yard running situations, and the reliable pass catchers of nondescript swing passes. They are a bit of a dying breed in today’s high flying NFL as the Cowboys once again tease us with the promise of their return.
If any NFL team would understand the valuable nature of the fullback, you would think it would be one that plays on Sunday afternoons in Arlington, Tx. Of course, the last time a fullback of any consequence plowed the way for a dynamic running game was when the team played in Irving, Tx. Nevertheless, the Boys have a true legacy of fullback greatness that is rarely mentioned in the same way the quarterbacks, running backs, and defensive linemen are.
Let’s correct that shall we?
Don Perkins (1961-1968)
The legacy began with Don Perkins who at 5’10’ 204 lbs, was inducted into the Ring of Honor along with QB Don Meredith in 1976. Perkins went to 6 Pro Bowls (back when they meant something) and finished with 6,217 career rushing yards. By far the best runner of all Cowboys fullbacks, he epitomizes the under appreciated aspect of the position. He was a vital cog in the Cowboys offensive attack yet remains way down the list of what one thinks about when reflecting on the 1960’s team. Referring to that decade, everyone remembers Dandy Don, Bullet Bob Hayes, Bob Lilly and the doomsday defense. Meanwhile the leading rusher of the decade was the 5th all time career rusher in NFL history by the time he retired!
Walt Garrison (1966-1974)
No player has ever been more worthy of the name Cowboy than Garrison. Walt traded his Cowboy cleats for cowboy boots as he competed as a bulldogger, wrestling steers in rodeos during the off-season. His persona and legend only grew during his years as a spokesman for smokeless tobacco. “Just take a pinch between my cheek and gums, and I get full tobacco pleasure” was the memorable line of a Skoal commercial that I’m sure every 10 year old boy memorized at the time. (well, I did anyway). Although he was a spittoon firing cowpoke, that didn’t take away from his real value as a football player. He will be remembered for his grit and toughness playing through a myriad of injuries, and a personality that really shines in the NFL Films documentary of Super Bowl VI where Walt’s face mask drips blood while he grinds out yards in one of the final drives, whooping and hollering all the way. Fittingly, his football career was not ended due to collisions with linebackers; rather it was from a knee injury sustained when wrestling a steer!
Robert Newhouse (1972-1983)
Before Tony Dorsett began his hall of fame career in 1976, Coach Tom Landry was employing running back-by-committee 30+ years before the term was invented. After Don Perkins retired and Duane Thomas silenced himself out of the league, it was often difficult to know which Cowboys runner to prepare for. There was Calvin Hill, Walt Garrison, and Robert Newhouse. While Hill was the first 1000 yard rusher in team history, Newhouse actually came close to being the 2nd in 1975. It was the year of the Dirty Dozen which culminated in an unexpected Super Bowl 10 appearance (thanks to Hail Mary) and Newhouse was the leading rusher with 930 yards and a respectable 4.4 ypa. He was not flashy. He was described as a bowling ball who went straight up the “5 pin” of the defense leaving defenders scattered and spinning. When Dorsett came the following year, Newhouse and his 44″ thighs accepted his role as lead blocker and helped Dorsett to over a fourth of his 12,739 career yards. Bob, as his teammates called him, will certainly be best remembered for his perfect spiral of a halfback TD pass that floated safely over the shoulder of Golden Richards in Super Bowl 12. The awkwardly built fullback who ran the play left instead of right throwing the ball against his body is responsible for one of the best executions of a gadget play in Super Bowl History.
Darryl “Moose” Johnston (1989 -1999)
From the time Newhouse retired until Johnston arrived in 1989, Landry employed the use of more versatile fullbacks, namely Ron Springs and Timmy Newsome. They were used very effectively, but it’s arguable that they were more running back than fullback. When the “Moose” was drafted, however, there was no mistaking his position. He is regarded as the most pure fullback who ever donned the Star and embodies the position, perhaps more than any other. He was often considered the 6th offensive lineman on the field by those who lined up in front of him. Johnston fit in better with those guys then he did with the triplets of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Like all great fullbacks, Johnston did the dirty work. He literally led the way for Smith, who is the all time leading NFL rusher, and he was a very effective safety valve in the flat for Aikman’s dump off passes. It was not uncommon for the Moose to take one of these passes and turn a full head of steam upfield and convert a 1st down. Unlike Perkins and Newhouse, he never put up big rushing numbers in any one season. He simply did the job his position required and others are in the hall of fame as a result. His career ended after the 1st game of 1999 due to, anyone would guess, a neck injury. Moose Johnston was always putting his head down and leading the way so that others could flourish and the team would win as a result. Although the Hall of Fame is usually reserved for those with a statistical gleam, it’s the opinion here that Johnston’s 9 years of blocking for the majority of Emmitt Smith’s yardage and 3 Super Bowl wins is a better resume than most who ever played the pure fullback position.
The Cowboys legacy at this position is impressive to say the least, and their record since their last significant fullback is…well, you know.