The NFL Network recently offered an episode in its Top 10 series in which they named their top ten Dallas Cowboys of all time. While the names on their list are all undeniably great, they used flawed logic in their selections. I intend to set the record straight by giving you the real top ten Cowboys of all time.
First, the NFL Network’s Top 10:
- Tom Landry
- Roger Staubach
- Michael Irvin
- Bob Lilly
- Emmitt Smith
- Troy Aikman
- Tony Dorsett
- Randy White
- Don Meredith
- Drew Pearson
The biggest flaw in the Network’s approach was their allowing a non-player on the list. Tom Landry certainly ought to be considered the number one greatest Cowboy of all time on any list that included players and coaches. But if you include coaches, then you have to consider Jimmy Johnson. Moreover, if you include coaches, then what about front office personnel and ownership? Clint Murchison, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt might have something to say about any list that was not restricted to players.
For that reason, in my estimation, the lists ought to be kept separate. Make one for players and another for non-players.I, therefore, present for your approval the top ten players to ever wear the Star on their helmet.
As with any good list, I will start at the bottom and work my way to the (drum roll) top.
10. Drew Pearson – Drew has yet to be honored with membership in the ring of honor, let alone the NFL Hall of Fame. Still, without his production and contribution, the ’70s Cowboys would never have made five Super Bowl appearances in ten years.
9. Mel Renfro – The greatest defensive back in team history, Renfro earned ten Pro Bowl honors in his first ten years in the NFL. As a rookie, he led the team with seven interceptions and led the league in punt and kickoff return average. Mel is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor.
8. Michael Irvin – He was one of the Triplets of the ’90s, and the spiritual leader of that team. His off-the-field antics aside, Irvin was recognized by teammates and opponents alike as the hardest-working, most fiercely competitive member of one of the greatest teams in NFL history.
7. Lee Roy Jordan – For fourteen years, Jordan was a fan favorite. He was supposed to be too small and too slow to play middle linebacker. He proved he was neither. Jordan was named to five Pro Bowls and was also named All-Pro once. He remains perhaps the greatest linebacker in team history (although, DeMarcus Ware may have something to say about that some day.)
6. Tony Dorsett – It pains me not to put Dorsett higher. He is one of my all-time favorite football players. He was pure poetry in motion. When he arrived at the University of Pittsburgh they had gone 0-11. His senior year, they were 11-0 and national champions. When his college days were done, he was the all-time leading rusher in the NCAA and remained such until Ricky Williams finally surpassed him twenty years later. Until the Herschell Walker trade, the trade with the Seahawks for the draft pick that would become Tony Dorsett was the greatest draft day coup in team history. Dorsett would go on to win offensive rookie of the year, gain nearly 13,000 yards in his career and anchor the running game for two Super Bowl teams.
5. Randy White – Dubbed the “Manster” – half man, half monster – Randy White remains one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history. He was named to nine consecutive Pro Bowls and was selected All-Pro each of those nine seasons (1977-85). He was NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1978 and was co-MVP of Super Bowl XII. If not for number two on this list, I would have Randy ranked higher and name him the greatest defensive player in team history.
4. Emmitt Smith – Emmitt was too slow to be a great halfback. Everybody knew that. Everybody but Emmitt, who set his eyes on a huge prize and pursued it relentlessly until he had achieved it. That prize was the revered all-time rushing record, held at the time by the great Walter Payton. By the time he retired, Emmitt was the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and had been one of the key components of the football machine that claimed, for the first time in league history, three Super Bowls in four years. That said, he remains my second-favorite Dallas runner. I would take Tony any day. However, with Emmitt’s mind-boggling, odds-defying accomplishments, he deserves this number four spot.
3. Troy Aikman – The first overall pick in the 1989 draft, Troy spent his rookie season playing a human pinata. He got the stuffing kicked out of him as he languished on the worst team in franchise history. The Cowboys only won one game that year. That could have been disastrous. Such experiences often are to young quarterbacks. But Troy had “it.” He had that intangible quality that makes a man a leader, a winner. He would guide his team to four consecutive NFC title games and three Super Bowl victories in that four-year span…and would only be a seven-year veteran when it was done. He made five straight Pro Bowls and six overall. He was All-Pro three times. He resurrected the franchise from the grave known as the late 80s.
2. Bob Lilly – The Cowboys first-ever draft pick remains the best first-round pick they have ever made. Bob Lilly was recognized by many as the greatest defensive lineman of his generation. The official website of the Pro Football Hall of Fame says this about Lilly:
For…14 seasons, his play on defense was so outstanding that he became popularly known as “Mr. Cowboy.” Bob starred as a defensive end in 1961 but then moved to a defensive tackle spot in his third season with even more sensational results. As a tackle, Lilly was a first-team All-NFL choice every year from 1964 through 1969, then again in 1971, and 1972. The only years he missed first-team honors was his final two seasons in the league and in 1970 when he was a second-team choice.
Equally effective as both a pass rusher and a rushing defender, Lilly continually battled double-team and even triple-team opposition but he rarely was delayed in his pursuit of the ball carrier. Quick, agile and coordinated, he even scored four touchdowns in his career. One came on a 17-yard interception return in 1964 while the other three came on fumble recoveries. Altogether, he returned 18 fumbles for 109 yards.
Lilly would easily have been number one, if not for…
1. Roger Staubach – I came into full football consciousness in the 1970s. It was a great time to be a Dallas Cowboys fan. They made five Super Bowls in a ten year span. The team was stacked with men who played the game at the highest possible level. Great names like Dorsett, Garrison, White, Renfro, Pugh, Jordan, Martin, and Jones patrolled the gridiron with ferocity and a deep-seated dedication to excellence. It was the era of the DoomsDay and DoomsDay II defenses. It was the time of the Dirty Dozen rookies. It was glorious. But above them all, leading men into battle like the soldier and warrior he had always been was Roger Staubach.
Every Dallas Cowboy fan of that era knew that, regardless the score, if Roger “Dodger” “Captain America” Staubach was on the field, our team was never out of it. He was the king of the comeback. The greater the pressure, the better he played. Again, I let the HoF website speak:
Roger Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys as a 27-year-old rookie in 1969 and didn’t win the regular quarterbacking job from until his third season in 1971. But for the nine seasons he was in command of the potent Cowboys attack, the Dallas played in six NFC championship games, winning four of them, and also scored victories in Super Bowls VI and XII.
The 6-3, 200-pound Staubach wound up his career after the 1979 season with an 83.4 passing rating, the best mark by an NFL passer up to that time. His career chart shows 1,685 completions in 2,958 passing attempts, which were good for 22,700 yards and 153 touchdowns.
Making Staubach particularly dangerous was his ability to scramble out of trouble – his 410 career rushes netted him 2,264 yards for a 5.5-yard average and 20 touchdowns. He led the NFL in passing four times. He was also an All-NFC choice five times and selected to play in six Pro Bowls.
So many great players have worn that star on their helmet, it seems almost a shame to even make a list like this. But, hey, as David Letterman knows, everyone loves a list.
This is one of mine. There will be others. In fact, I have determined to offer my Top Ten Top Ten Lists.