I used to drive a fully-loaded Olds 88. (That’s insider talk for Oldsmobile 88. Wink.) I enjoy the musical stylings of the Old 97s (not to mention their nostalgic-sounding, cool-vibing name.)
But for Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver and rookie of the year candidate Dez Bryant, any appreciation of team history begins with the Old 88s.
One of the smartest things general manager Jerry Jones has done for team owner Jerry Jones in recent years was to draft Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. The jury is still out on most of this year’s picks, but dazzling Dez has both hushed the mouths and dropped the jaws of his critics. Every week, he shows himself to be one of the best players on the field and one of the most electrifying in the entire league. Former player/analysts from Troy Aikman to Chris Collinsworth and pundits with names like Lombardi (Michael, not the ghost of Vincent) are hinting that the kid with the giant hands and circus-like acrobatics might just be the steal of the draft.
The smartest thing owner Jerry Jones has done for general manager Jones is put his faith in the pick by awarding Dez Bryant the number 88 and making a big deal about it, both to the kid and the football world at large.
In the sparkling history of the NFL’s shiniest franchise, there have been some numbers that have stood out and that, when mentioned, can only stand for one player. No one can see a Cowboys’ jersey bearing the number 12 and think of anyone but the transcendent leader and legendary quarterback of five Super Bowls, Roger Staubach. 74 is Mr. Cowboy himself, Bob Lilly. 33 is Tony Dorsett. 55 is Lee Roy Jordan. Troy Aikman is the 8-ball.
Almost without exception, you think of one name in team history associated with each of the standout jersey numbers. I say almost, because there is that number 54 on defense. The old guard (and no, I am not the old guard, so shut up) would blurt out the name Chuck Howley. And with good reason. Howley was a six-time Pro Bowler and was named All-Pro five times in his thirteen-year Dallas Cowboys career.
The middle guard, of which I am proudly a member, would shout, “Randy White!” Nine times a Pro Bowler, seven times All-Pro, NFL Hall of Fame member, and the meanest son of a gun to ever be converted from linebacker to defensive tackle, dadgum it.
On offense, only two numbers have that kind of dynamic duo distinction. 22 was worn by the one-time world’s fastest human and the reason zone defenses came into existence, Hall of Famer Bob Hayes. It was also worn by the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and Super Bowl MVP Emmitt Smith.
The other number is 88.
We children of the 70s, the ones who lost our voices screaming when we saw Roger Staubach throw the original Hail Mary pass to the original 88, Drew Pearson, to win a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota as time expired will always see that bushy afro bulging from under the helmet when we see the number 88. It was 1975 and We all knew that Mr. Pearson was Mr. Clutch.
But then the mind immediately skips to the big, strong, outlandish 88 of the 90s. We see Michael Irvin out-fighting defenders for underthrown passes, snagging touchdown passes to salt away a Super Bowl victory before halftime has even arrived, and generally wreaking havoc across the NFL on his way to Canton.
Michael Irvin is in the Hall of Fame. Drew Pearson is a member of the all-70s team and ought to be in the Hall of Fame. And maybe one day, if he stays healthy and keeps that wonderful fire in his belly, Dez Bryant will be enshrined in the annals of football glory, as well.
Bryant is off to a good start. Nine games into the season, he has 41 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns. He has also returned two punts for touchdowns. In a forgettable season, Bryant has already strung together a half dozen memorable moments.
When Jones gave Dez the number, the rookie said, “I know me having a chance to put on No. 88 really means a lot to Mr. Jerry Jones. I’m excited to wear it, and I’m very excited that he thinks I can be a great player and wear that number.”
We are all excited, Dez. The Old 88s play like a treasured vinyl record in our football brains, reminding us of glories past, of gridiron crunch-time heroics, of Super Bowl winning teams, and dreams that did come true.
We hope you can make the old new again. If you can, Old 88 might just become the single greatest jersey number in Dallas Cowboys history.