Dallas Cowboys: Michael Irvin

Cowboys' top plays: Aikman to Harper

July, 7, 2014
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Alvin Harper and Troy AikmanUSA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in team history. In the next two days we’ll include the sack of Bob Griese by Bob Lilly in Super Bowl VI and Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the 1975 playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings. Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys’ most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 30, 49ers 20
Date: Jan. 17, 1993 Site: Candlestick Park

If you’re looking for the moment the Dallas Cowboys took over as the best team in football in the 1990s, this was it.

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With San Francisco scoring a touchdown to cut the Dallas lead to 24-20 with 4:22 to go in the NFC Championship Game, Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson told offensive coordinator Norv Turner to attack. On the first play of the ensuing drive and with the 49ers expecting a run, Troy Aikman connected with Alvin Harper on a 70-yard completion.

That Harper caught the pass was something of a surprise. He lined up to Aikman’s left only because Michael Irvin switched positions. Having run the play a few times earlier in the game, Aikman had thrown to Harper in the slot. Once he heard the play called in the huddle, Irvin switched to the slot believing the ball would come to him with the game and season on the line.

Seeing a blitz before the snap, Aikman knew the ball had to go to Harper on a slant quickly. The receiver won at the line of scrimmage and sprinted to the 49ers 9-yard line before getting tackled.

Three plays later, Aikman found Kelvin Martin for the game-clinching touchdown and the Cowboys had earned their first Super Bowl trip since 1978.

Two weeks later, the Cowboys would win their first of three championships in a four-year span by whipping the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, but the Aikman-to-Harper pass is the moment when the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys arrived.

The play signified Johnson’s willingness to take a chance when other coaches would have run the ball to kill the clock, especially on the road. Going to Harper in a big moment showed Aikman’s precision as a passer and decision-maker.

Aikman-to-Harper didn’t end in a touchdown, but it did spark a Super Bowl run that had been unmatched up to that point.

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Ernie Zampese wins PFWA award

June, 9, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese was named to the inaugural four-man class as winners of the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award by the Pro Football Writers of America.

Zimmerman was a long-time Sports Illustrated writer and loved the X's and O's of the game, spending hours with assistant coaches across the NFL. The award is a lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL.

Joining Zampese in the class are Howard Mudd, Fritz Shurmur and Jim Johnson.

“I had some great quarterbacks who ran the offense great,” Zampese told Peter King of TheMMQB. “It comes back to being in the perfect spot so many times. In Dallas, what a great position that was to be in, with such great offensive talent.”

Zampese was an NFL assistant coach from 1979-99 with the San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Cowboys and New England Patriots. He was a Don Coryell disciple and was one of Norv Turner’s mentors.

From 1994-97, he directed the Cowboys' offense with the Triplets – Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He served as a consultant with the Cowboys in 2000-01.

In his Hall of Fame speech, Aikman called Zampese, “one of the best offensive minds and greatest people that this game has ever known.”

After clinching a spot in Super Bowl XXX, Aikman said of Zampese, “He’s just tremendous the way he prepares for a game. Not very often do we go into a game when a team throws something at us that Ernie hasn’t anticipated.”

For Cowboys, 1964 draft tough to top

May, 1, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Roger Staubach found out he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 10th round of the 1964 NFL draft by reading the Washington Post.

“I was in my room at the Naval Academy,” Staubach said. “No one called me. They had this little story, ‘Staubach drafted in Round 10.’ … To me, it wasn’t a big deal. I had five years to go before I could go play.”

Staubach is the greatest 10th-round pick in NFL history. He surely is part of one of the best draft classes ever. The 1964 NFL draft produced a record 11 Hall of Famers, and three were drafted by the Cowboys: Mel Renfro (second round), Bob Hayes (seventh round) and Staubach.

“You know why it was special?” said Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel at the time. “Because basically Tex [Schramm] and I did it by ourselves. We didn’t have nine scouts and all that stuff.”

The only team to produce more Hall of Famers from the same draft class in NFL history is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in 1974.

The Cowboys had 19 picks in 1964, and Brandt can recite scouting reports on all of them to this day. Only seven played for the club, but the Hall of Fame trio makes it Brandt’s favorite draft.

[+] EnlargeRoger Staubach
AP Photo/Tony DejakRoger Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances in his Hall of Fame career.
The Cowboys’ 1975 draft became known as the "Dirty Dozen" with 12 picks making the team, led by Hall of Famer Randy White. From 1988 to 1990, the Cowboys' first-round picks were Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. All three call the Pro Football Hall of Fame home.

Drafting Renfro, Hayes and Staubach spoke to the Cowboys’ advantages over other teams in that day -- and a little bit of good fortune.

Had they not held training camp in Forest Grove, Ore., it is doubtful Brandt ever meets Renfro as a high school senior. Air Force assistant coach Pepper Rodgers was recruiting Renfro and brought him to Cowboys camp, where he met Brandt.

Brandt remained in contact through Renfro’s time at Oregon. When it came time to pick in the second round in 1964, the Cowboys held up the draft for six hours so a doctor could examine Renfro’s injured wrist. After getting the news they wanted, they picked Renfro, and Brandt was on a flight from Chicago to Portland the next day.

“I called Mel. ‘Mel, I’m coming in on United flight so and so, and I get in at 1,’ or whatever time it was, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll meet you at the airport,’” Brandt said. “I get off the plane, go down three or four steps and there’s Mel. We signed right there in the airport.

“Now the coup de grace is you had to get the contract witnessed at the time because this was during the war between the two leagues. So we’re in Portland and we’ve got to get down to Eugene, but we’ve got to get this contract witnessed, so we stop at Oregon State to get a contract for an Oregon kid witnessed.”

Renfro made the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 seasons, six at safety and the final four at cornerback. His 52 career interceptions remain a team record, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.

Like Staubach, Hayes was a future pick, but not many teams knew he was eligible. Brandt went to Florida A&M to visit with the coaches.

“I saw him in person, but he was like a third-team running back,” Brandt said. “He wasn’t a typical sprinter. He was well-defined. I mean he was a strong guy.”

He also visited Hayes’ mother in Jacksonville, Fla., at the restaurant where she worked.

“The big thing then was Pepsi Cola, 12 full ounces for a nickel too,” Brandt said, recalling the soda’s jingle at the time. “When you ate those chitlins, you drank one of those big 12-ounce Pepsis.”

With Hayes’ speed, Brandt saw a game-changing wide receiver. Hayes went on to win two gold medals in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, earning the “fastest man in the world” title, and joined the Cowboys in 1965.

[+] EnlargeHayes/Renfro
AP Photo/NFL PhotosThe Cowboys selected three future Hall of Famers in the 1964 draft, including Bob Hayes (20) and Mel Renfro.
The Cowboys took Hayes with the 88th pick in the draft, one spot before the Detroit Lions took a future Cowboys head coach in Bill Parcells. Hayes caught 46 passes for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1965 and was named to the Pro Bowl three times in his career. Because of his speed, Hayes changed the game, forcing defenses to use zone coverages.

In 2009, Hayes was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Staubach wasn’t even sure he was eligible for the draft. Because he spent a year at the New Mexico Military Institute in 1960 before going to Annapolis, the Cowboys were able to use a future pick on Staubach.

“It was about 2 o’clock in the morning when we drafted Roger,” Brandt said. “At that part of the draft, it’s all about taking risks.”

The summer before Staubach’s Heisman Trophy season, Brandt visited the quarterback’s parents in Cincinnati. Brandt wanted to see if Staubach could get out of his five-year commitment to the Navy after graduation.

“Gil likes to tell the story about talking to my mother and she threw him out of the house. ‘Roger has an obligation to the Naval Academy,’” Staubach said. “And that was that.”

The AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs also drafted Staubach, but he chose the Cowboys because he was an NFL guy, growing up as a Cleveland Browns fan. It also helped that they agreed to pay him $500 a month and a $10,000 signing bonus in his years with the Navy.

After returning from Vietnam, Staubach was stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and took two weeks leave to go to Cowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in 1967.

“That’s what made the difference, changed my life, really,” Staubach said. “I had a really good camp, and I think Coach [Tom] Landry thought I was mature enough so they possibly wouldn’t have to get a veteran quarterback.”

In 1969, Don Meredith retired unexpectedly. Craig Morton, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 1965, would take over. Jerry Rhome, who was picked in the 13th round in 1964, was traded to Cleveland.

“We’re getting ready to leave Pensacola and then go to Thousand Oaks, and I told [his wife], ‘I’m second team and I haven’t done anything. Don’t worry,’” Staubach joked. “But if not for that year before, I think Coach Landry would’ve traded for a veteran quarterback behind Craig.”

By 1971, Staubach delivered the Cowboys their first title, winning Super Bowl VI and earning Most Valuable Player honors. The Cowboys won Super Bowl XII and appeared in five Super Bowls with Staubach, who earned the Captain Comeback nickname for his 23 late-game wins.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Like fishing stories, scouts have famous stories about the ones that got away. As good as the ’64 draft was, Brandt knows it would have been better if they were able to get Paul Warfield and Dave Wilcox, who went on to Hall of Fame careers.

The Cowboys would have drafted Warfield in the first round but made a wink-wink trade with the Steelers for wide receiver Buddy Dial. The Steelers received the Cowboys’ pick in return, Scott Appleton, who signed with the Houston Oilers instead of the Steelers.

Dallas did not have a third-round pick in 1964 but were so confident they would land Wilcox that Brandt had scout Red Hickey with the defensive end. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers took Wilcox with the first pick of the third round.

“We could’ve had five [Hall of Famers] if it would’ve gone right for us,” Brandt said. “We could’ve had four, but we had three. And I thought that was pretty good.”

More than pretty good.

Cowboys' 1991 draft earns high marks

April, 9, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- There was a time when the way the Dallas Cowboys ran their draft room was the envy of the league.

One of those years was back in 1991 and Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth ranked the Cowboys selecting Russell Maryland and Alvin Harper that year as ninth best on the all-time list of teams with two first-round picks.

The Cowboys actually had three first-round picks that year thanks to a deal with the Washington Redskins, but traded Kelvin Pritchett to the Detroit Lions for picks in the second, third and fourth rounds.

In Maryland, the top overall pick, the Cowboys got a vital piece to their vastly underrated defensive line. In Harper, the No. 12 pick, they got a complement to Michael Irvin who Norv Turner knew how to maximize.

In trading Pritchett, who had a solid career, the Cowboys got linebacker Dixon Edwards, guard James Richards and defensive end Tony Hill. Edwards was a starter, but Hill lasted two seasons and Richards didn’t make the team.

The Cowboys had two first-round picks in 1992, 2005 and 2008 as well.

In 1992, they took cornerback Kevin Smith (No. 17) and linebacker Robert Jones (No. 24), who became starters on Super Bowl teams. In 2005, they took outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (No. 11) and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (No. 20). Ware became the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. In 2008, the Cowboys selected running back Felix Jones (No. 22) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (No. 25). Neither signed a second contract, although Jenkins had a Pro Bowl season.

Jerry Jones' top five moments

February, 27, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Jerry Jones’ purchase of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Stadium for $140 million.

The highs have been high, but the lows have been low, especially since the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl in the 1995 season.

Here we will look at Jones’ top five moments as the Cowboys' owner and general manager while realizing that a large segment of the fandom will not give him any credit for what happened in the early years when Jimmy Johnson was around.

1. How do you like those Super Bowls?

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
AP Photo/Charles KrupaOwner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson celebrate their 30-13 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII on Jan. 30, 1994, in Atlanta.
The Cowboys won three titles in Jones’ first seven years as owner. They became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span, becoming the team of the 1990s with the Triplets -- Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- becoming household names. The Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII by a combined score of 82-30. They claimed Super Bowl XXX with Barry Switzer as coach by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17, exacting some revenge for the ‘70s Cowboys who could not beat Terry Bradshaw & Co.

2. Hiring Jimmy Johnson

Jones expressed regret Sunday about the rushed nature of firing legendary coach Tom Landry, but there is no doubt he made the right decision in bringing his former college teammate Johnson with him to the Cowboys. Johnson was the best coach in college football at the time at the University of Miami and brought a brashness that took the NFL by storm. The Cowboys suffered greatly in 1989 by going 1-15, but by Johnson’s second year they were competing for a playoff spot in the final week of the season and winning a playoff game by the third year. By Year No. 4, Johnson had his first of two straight Super Bowl wins. It ended badly between Jones and Johnson, wrecking what could have been a history-making era because of the egos of the owner and the coach.

3. The trade of all trades

This is where the Jimmy and Jerry camps will always be divided. If you were a Jimmy guy, he engineered the trade of Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings. If you were a Jerry guy, he had the final say. Regardless of who you want to credit, the moment is in Jones’ era as owner and is among his biggest moments. The Walker trade brought about the formation of the Super Bowl teams. The Cowboys received five players and eight picks, turning those picks into Smith, Alvin Harper, Dixon Edwards and Darren Woodson. It might be the best trade in NFL history.

4. A new home

At $2.1 billion, there is no stadium like AT&T Stadium. This will be the monument Jones leaves whenever he is no longer the owner and general manager of the team. To get the stadium built, Jones acquiesced to a degree by bringing in Bill Parcells as coach in 2003 after three straight 5-11 finishes. With Parcells and the coach’s two Super Bowl wins, Jones could show people he was serious about winning and changing his ways. The stadium is unmatched in the NFL, if not the world, with its nightclub-type feel, center-hung digital board, retractable roof and sliding doors. The Cowboys might not have the same home-field advantage they had at Texas Stadium, but the stadium has delivered a Super Bowl, an NBA All-Star Game, numerous concerts and the upcoming Final Four.

5. Trading for Charles Haley

Again, this will divide the Jimmy and Jerry camps, but Haley was the piece to the puzzle who got the Cowboys over the top. It weakened the Cowboys’ biggest rival at the time, the San Francisco 49ers, and brought the Dallas defense an attitude it lacked. The signing of Deion Sanders in 1995 also weakened the Niners, but Haley brought two titles -- if not the third, as well. The drafting of Smith, No. 17 overall, was another top moment with him becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. But Haley’s arrival brought to Dallas what the fans want most: Super Bowls.

How the Cowboys handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- When Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks to his players for the first time, he tells them to be brief and boring with the media.

It’s something the coach has mastered, although he is more forthcoming when the television lights go off.

Hatcher
Hatcher
For a team that has had colorful characters since forever, from Don Meredith to Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson to Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, the current version of the Cowboys lacks a true trash talker.

Irvin could verbally taunt defensive backs with the best of them. Sanders could do the same with wide receivers. They felt they were the best, and they let everybody know about it.

Dez Bryant might be viewed as the closest, but he does not instigate the talk. He reacts to it. And as we found out after the Detroit Lions game, his actions on the sideline are not always as dastardly as they come off.

When the Cowboys played the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in 2013, they listened to their NFC East rivals chirp all week. Jason Pierre-Paul said “blood would be shed.” Antrel Rolle said the game was the Giants Super Bowl. Terrell Thomas guaranteed a victory.

And the Cowboys won 24-21.

The Cowboys talking came after the game, which is just how Garrett would want it. Jason Hatcher spread fake Vampire blood on his face.

"I just finished eating a Giant," said Hatcher, who had two sacks of Eli Manning. "Y'all didn't see me out there? That's some leftover blood. They said blood is going to be shed, right?"

Later he added, "Action speaks louder than words, so we went out there and did what we were supposed to do tonight. They talked the talk. They had to back it up, and they didn't. We came out with the victory. We came into their house and took it from them."

NFLN survey/most respected: Cowboys

January, 16, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- With all that Peyton Manning has accomplished in his career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, there is no doubt why he is the most respected player in the NFL, according to an anonymous survey of 320 players conducted by ESPN.

Witten
Closer to home, there is no doubt Jason Witten is the Dallas Cowboys' most respected player.

Witten earned five votes in the league tally. DeMarcus Ware earned three.

In 11 seasons, Witten is the Cowboys' all-time leading receiver. He is second to Michael Irvin in receiving yards in franchise history. Only Tony Gonzalez has more catches as a tight end in NFL history. By next season he should pass Shannon Sharpe for second place in most yards all-time by a tight end. He set a record for catches in a season by a tight end with 110 in 2012. He has been named to the Pro Bowl eight times. He could make his ninth trip depending on the outcome of Sunday's conference title games.

With Witten, however, it is more than just numbers. It is physical and mental toughness. It is dedication. It is a belief in doing things the right way. He has missed only one game in his career despite numerous injuries, including a ruptured spleen in 2012. He does not miss offseason workouts.

"He's a great football player," coach Jason Garrett said after the season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. "He's the best tight end in football and has been for 10 years. He's just a helluva player, as special a guy as I've ever been around. He just is a unique individual. It's no surprise to me or any of us that he played as well as he did in this big game for us. That's what he's done his whole life. He's a great example to his teammates, a great example to his coaches about how to do things and I love him.

"I love him to death. He just does things the right way. He puts more into this than anybody I know. His commitment is as strong as anybody' and it's just disappointing for him. Again, he can walk out of the locker room with his head high and shoulders back because he does [it] the right way and he's done it the right way for a long time. He's going to be a Hall of Fame player and he's a Hall of Fame individual as well."

Five Wonders: Quick decision on staff?

December, 31, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- For the next six or seven months the Dallas Cowboys will be wondering about the plays that could have made the difference in finishing 8-8 for the third straight year or making the playoffs.

We're just wondering about five things in the end-of-season installment of Five Wonders:

Away we go:
  • I wonder if the Cowboys make quick decisions in regards to their coaching staff. The decision to fire Rob Ryan last year came 11 days after the season ended. With six teams looking for head coaches, the Cowboys would be wise to make any moves sooner rather than later. A lot of times the search for assistant coaches becomes a game of musical chairs. They often just switch golf shirts and gym shorts. You don't want to be the last team looking for assistant coaches with the top choices already scooped up. And as a mini-wonder inside a wonder, I wonder if Jason Garrett's future could make it hard for the most sought after assistants to say yes. Would they be willing to come to Dallas with a head coach that will be on the hot seat and possibly in the final year of his deal or go to a more stable job -- and one with less stature -- than the Cowboys?
  • I wonder if Jason Witten will end up with the same cruel fate as Tony Gonzalez. Witten will enter his 12th season with the Cowboys in 2014 and he is already the franchise leader in catches. He is second to Michael Irvin in receiving yards. Gonzalez is the only tight end in NFL history with more catches than Witten. By next season only Gonzalez will have more receiving yards as a tight end than Witten. Shannon Sharpe had 10,060 in his Hall of Fame career. Witten will enter 2014 with 9,799 yards. For all that Gonzalez accomplished he won only one playoff game in his career. That came last year with the Atlanta Falcons. He returned to the Falcons this year thinking he could go out on a Super Bowl run and they finished 4-12. For all that Witten has done, the Cowboys have won one playoff game. It has to be maddening for the eight-time Pro Bowler.
  • I wonder if the Cowboys wanted Tony Romo to have his back surgery sooner rather than later to make sure he is involved in the offseason program. Romo could not take part in the conditioning last year because of a procedure to remove a cyst from his back. If you remember, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Romo was “uniquely running mountains” in California the weeks before training camp to help his conditioning. It was among my favorite quotes of the season. He checked in at 236 pounds, the most he has ever weighed since joining the Cowboys. In 2012, Romo was listed at 230 pounds. In 2011, he was 227. The generally feeling is that Romo will need three months to recover from the back surgery. By having him ready for the conditioning program the Cowboys will be able to monitor Romo much better this spring and make sure he is in better shape when camp starts.
  • I wonder how much of an effect the new contract Robbie Gould signed with the Chicago Bears will impact any discussions the Cowboys have with their kicker, Dan Bailey. Gould signed a four-year deal with the Bears worth up to $15 million and included $9 million guaranteed. Bailey is set to be a restricted free agent. The Cowboys would likely place the second-round tender on him, which will be a little more than $2.1 million. The first-round tender would be close to $3 million. Gould is 31 and has a Pro Bowl to his credit. He has made 86 percent of his kicks in his career. Bailey turns 26 next month and had a Pro Bowl-type season though was not picked. He has made 90.8 percent of his kicks in his first three seasons and has missed two kicks in each of the past two seasons. He has been clutch. He has improved on kickoffs. Jason Garrett said Bailey might be the best at his job than any player the Cowboys have. The Cowboys bought out the free agent year of safety Barry Church last year with an extension and should do that with Bailey.
  • At the midway point of the season the Cowboys really had no idea what to do with Kyle Wilber. Injury forced them to play him at strong-side linebacker and I wonder if they found what could be a long-term answer at the position. In training camp and early in the season he had a number of chances to lay claim to extra playing time with all of the injuries on the defensive line but he was passed by George Selvie, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown. Once he moved to linebacker, he performed well. He took the job with six games to go and could force Justin Durant out. If the Cowboys make a move on Durant it would save them $1.25 million in salary cap space in 2014. Wilber is set to make $570,000 next season. In a 4-3 scheme, the strong-side backer might be the least important position because of how much nickel defense is used. The nickel corner will play more snaps in a season than a strong-side linebacker with the way the game is played. Wilber performed well, was a good tackler, appeared to fit in well at the spot and was tough. Sometimes in personnel it's better to be lucky than good.

Cowboys leaned on backup QBs before

December, 26, 2013
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IRVING, Texas – With the season on the line, the Dallas Cowboys most likely will have to rely on backup QB Kyle Orton to deliver a victory Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles because starter Tony Romo is battling an injured back.

It won't be the first time the Cowboys have needed a backup up to deliver in the Jerry Jones era.

[+] EnlargeKyle Orton
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys may look to backup Kyle Orton to keep their postseason hopes alive.
In 1990, the Cowboys faced a win-and-in scenario without Troy Aikman because of a knee injury and turned to Babe Laufenberg against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cowboys lost 26-7. Laufenberg completed 10 of 24 passes for 129 yards with two interceptions, including one that was returned by Deion Sanders 61 yards for a touchdown. Laufenberg was also sacked three times in his first start of the season.

"It still bothers you," said Laufenberg, who is the sports director at KTVT in Dallas and in his 21st year as the color analyst for the Cowboys radio network. "This time of season, it's like the death of your mother when the anniversary comes up. Seriously. It still bothers you. Now that was my last game, too, as it turned out."

If Romo is unable to play, Orton will make his first start for Dallas and the 70th of his career. Orton is 35-34 as a starter but has not started a game since the 2011 season finale with the Kansas City Chiefs. He is in his second season with the Cowboys.

While Laufenberg's memories are not positive, the Cowboys have had backups deliver for them in big moments before.

In 1991, the season after Laufenberg's start, Steve Beuerlein replaced an injured Aikman and won his four regular-season starts as the Cowboys finished 11-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1985. He also helped the Cowboys win their first road playoff game since 1980 when they beat the Chicago Bears in the wild-card round.

In the regular-season game in which Aikman hurt his knee, Beuerlein connected on a touchdown pass to Michael Irvin in the fourth quarter, and Dallas beat the then-undefeated Washington Redskins 24-21. He finished the regular season with five touchdown passes and two interceptions.

What changed for the Cowboys in Aikman's absence was the increased workload of RB Emmitt Smith. He carried the ball at least 25 times in each of Beuerlein's starts and had at least 109 rushing yards in three of the games. The defense also played its best, allowing more than 14 points just once in Beuerlein's four starts.

In 1993, the Cleveland Browns cut QB Bernie Kosar for "diminishing skills." The Cowboys, led by coach Jimmy Johnson, signed Kosar two days later – and four days later he delivered a 20-15 Dallas win against the Phoenix Cardinals. With Aikman out (hamstring) and the offense sluggish under backup Jason Garrett, Johnson turned to Kosar. Kosar completed 13 of 21 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.

A week later, he made his only Cowboys start, a 27-14 loss to the Falcons. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cowboys would lose only one more game that season – the famous ice game on Thanksgiving against the Miami Dolphins – before winning Super Bowl XXVIII.

Garrett had his moment in the sun in the Thanksgiving game in 1994. With Aikman and Rodney Peete out, Garrett outdueled Brett Favre, throwing for 311 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys put up 36 second-half points to beat the Green Bay Packers 42-31.

While that game is often remembered, Garrett also had a 6-3 record as a starter with the Cowboys.

"Shoot, you live for that," Laufenberg said. "I just hate [hearing], ‘Ah, backup quarterback is the best job in the world.' Ask them. Ask Jason. All you want to do is play."

Storied pasts loom over Cowboys, Packers

December, 13, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- As the Cowboys walk to the team meeting room every day, they are met with pictures of Dallas' five Super Bowl winners. Each collage has a team photo and pictures of smiling players, coaches and executives from winning NFL championships.

At Lambeau Field, the photos from the great moments in Packers history line the wall from the tunnel to the locker room. When the stadium was renovated years ago, they took a row of old bricks and moved it to the new tunnel so players can say they walk over the same ground as the greats who played at Lambeau Field.

With a loss Sunday, though, either team will need even more help to just make the postseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Aaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaCowboys QB Tony Romo, right, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers know the burden that comes with playing for franchises trying to recapture past glory.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys are constantly chasing ghosts from past teams.

The Packers and Cowboys have combined for 18 NFL championships (Green Bay 13, Dallas five) and nine Super Bowls (Green Bay four, Dallas five). They produced one of the NFL’s iconic games -- the Ice Bowl -- in the 1967 NFC Championship. They were coached by legends in Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi. They rekindled the rivalry in the 1990s, meeting in the playoffs from 1993 to 1995.

The current teams carry something of a burden with them because of the successful pasts.

“We always look at it as a sense of pride and energy to tap into,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We think it’s very important to have that and recognize it and honor it, so I always refer to it as there’s pride in the bricks of Lambeau Field and it’s something we need to tap into. We talk to our current team about it and how important it is to win and represent the Green Bay Packers the right way.”

Jason Garrett does not talk about the expectations laid out from the likes of Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Mel Renfro, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. He talks about the standard those players and teams set.

“You want to be in a place where there’s a high standard for achievement,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a good thing. That brings the best out in people. What we try to do each and every day is be our best. Come to work as players and coaches and put our best foot forward and get ready for our challenges each week and again, embrace the past. That’s a good thing. ... That drives us. That’s part of what drives us to achieve, really, each and every day, and certainly each season.”

Tony Romo is constantly measured against Staubach and Aikman. Aaron Rodgers is measured against Bart Starr and Brett Favre, but he has the Super Bowl ring that Romo is still looking for, having beaten the Steelers at AT&T Stadium in Super Bowl XLV.

Rodgers has 23 teammates on the roster with a Super Bowl ring.

Romo hopes one day to have his own, so he and his teammates can have their pictures on the wall holding the Lombardi Trophy.

“You want to be a part of a storied franchise,” Romo said. “It just makes it important. You want a challenge. You want it to matter, and you want it to be important. That’s what’s great about this organization and great about our fans.”

Alumni night part of Cowboys tradition

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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IRVING, Texas – One of the best parts of the Cowboys’ annual training camp practice at AT&T Stadium tonight is the number of former players on hand.

Jason Garrett has made it a point to pound the rich history of the Cowboys into the heads of the current players. Some of the youngest players were only a few years old when the Cowboys last won a Super Bowl with Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Most of their parents were probably old enough to remember players like Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Randy White.

“We have great history and tradition in this organization,” Garrett said. “We want to make sure that we take advantage of it for a lot of different reasons. It’s great to have those guys, to have the history and be a part of it, their own memories. But it’s also good to have our guys be around them. I think it’s a positive thing.

"They’ll be at practice and then we’ll have a dinner afterwards. Guys will sit down together and hopefully get a chance to visit and talk. Usually the linebackers migrate to the linebackers and the quarterbacks migrate to the quarterbacks. It’s just part of it. But it’s great to have those guys around and a part of our family.”

Jason Witten is entering his 11th season. He knows the alumni now, and there isn’t a player more respected by the former players than Witten. He still gets a charge from seeing the former players at practice and talking to them.

“I think that’s a great tradition that coach has done with bringing those guys back,” Witten said. “I think for a lot of the guys here, they don’t know who those guys were, and more than anything, they probably don’t remember some of the success that they had. It’s a great opportunity to see some of the support that they give. That’s a close group. Some of the best ever.

"Obviously, some people have a jaded opinion to it, but I think it’s the best franchise in all of sports. It’s a neat evening. The setting’s just special to be a part of it.”

When will Jerry Jones be inducted?

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
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CANTON, Ohio – Larry Allen became the fifth Cowboy of the Jerry Jones era to earn induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders.

Jones has been considered for the Hall of Fame in recent years and should one day be enshrined in Canton for his tenure as the Cowboys' owner and general manager.

He has presented Irvin, Smith and Allen for induction. Perhaps one day his sons, Stephen or Jerry Jr., or daughter, Charlotte, will present him for induction.

Stephen Jones, the Cowboys' executive vice president, believes his father has earned entrance into the Hall.

“He should be, in my opinion, for what he’s done for the game,” Stephen Jones said. “Obviously I’m biased being his son, but what he’s done for the NFL and the passion he has for the game, you just hope he gets the chance. And I’m sure he will, but you never take something like that for granted. Obviously there’s no bigger fan than myself for my father to one day get that opportunity.”

Cowboys comment on Larry Allen's speech

August, 3, 2013
8/03/13
9:28
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CANTON, Ohio – Outside of the locker room, Larry Allen rarely let people get to know what he was really like. He was just shy.

“My goal was simple, to earn a seven letter word called respect,” Allen said, adding, “Today, my mission is complete.”

With teammates Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith on the stage and teammates like Alvin Harper, Russell Maryland and Nate Newton in the seats in front of him, Allen spoke for more than 16 minutes in a heartfelt acceptance speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He thanked family, friends and teammates.

And those close to Allen could not say enough good things about what they thought about his speech.

“What I love is that everybody got to see what Larry Allen was all about,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “That’s probably more than he said in 12 years with the Cowboys. It was amazing.”

Jason Garrett, the current coach and Allen’s former teammate, said teammates were texting him during the day about the length of Allen’s speech. Thirty seconds? A minute? Ninety seconds?

“He was just tremendous,” Garrett said. “He’s such a genuine person and I think he captured what made him great really, really well. Dominate your opponent and all those things, he’s such a prideful person, and I think that was a big contributing factor to how great a player he was.”

Larry Allen: Jerry Jones is 'father figure'

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
3:51
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CANTON, Ohio – In 2007, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones introduced Michael Irvin at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2010, Jones did the same for Emmitt Smith.

On Saturday, Jones will introduce Larry Allen.

“He’s like a father figure to me,” Allen said. “If I had a problem I couldn’t solve on my own, he would help me and say, ‘Let’s see what we can do about this.’”

Jones and Allen were able to speak for a little bit Friday afternoon before attending the gold jacket ceremony.

“Seemed like every day at practice, he’d be there over the 12 years I was there,” Allen said. “Anytime you could just go up and talk to him.”

Allen said he spoke with Smith, the man he helped become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, about what to expect during Hall of Fame weekend.

“He said, ‘Get ready,’ and he said I have to talk for 10 minutes,” Allen joked.

Allen, who is not a man of many words, has practiced his speech for the last three weeks. And it will be close to that 10-minute mark.

“I’m going to go longer than two minutes,” Allen said.

Allen said he hopes to get to Cowboys training camp next week in Oxnard, Calif., to see the offensive line. Considering the state of the interior of the line, can he still play?

“Yeah, if I had to, I could get out there,” Allen said.

Seriously?

“No, I’m done,” he said.
OXNARD, Calif. -- We’ve all heard stories about Larry Allen's strength, power and the raw athleticism that made him one of the best offensive linemen ever.

We can all recite the stories about him bench-pressing 700 pounds and chasing New Orleans linebacker Darion Connor 50 yards to prevent a touchdown as a rookie.

And we’ve all seen video of him destroying linebackers and defensive backs when he pulled, creating running lanes for Emmitt Smith.

“Across the board, he was the best football player I ever played with -- and I played with them all,” former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said. “Troy [Aikman], Emmitt, Michael [Irvin], Deion [Sanders] ... Larry Allen was the best.

“He was also the smartest.”

Say what?

That’s right. Talk to any player or coach who played with Allen during his 12 seasons in Dallas and they’ll tell you he was among the game’s most intelligent players.

Former offensive line coach Hudson Houck used to joke that Allen was the best offensive linemen on the field and in the classroom.

“He wanted to know everyone’s assignment,” six-time Pro Bowl guard Nate Newton said. “If the quarterback was rolling out, he wanted to know exactly where he was supposed to end up so he could adjust his block properly.

“He always asked a lot of questions, but he asked a lot of smart questions. He always wanted to know what we were supposed to do if the defensive player didn’t do what we thought he would do.”

Allen was a second-round pick from tiny Division II Sonoma State in the 1994 draft. Six games into the season, he was starting. The six-time All-Pro played every position except center on the offensive line.

“Do you know how smart you have to be to go from playing at Sonoma State to starting for a two-time Super Bowl champion?” Woodson said. “Think about how big that jump is. Think about the kind of offense we had in Dallas and what he ran at Sonoma State.

“I don’t know how Larry did in math or what kind of grades he made, but he understood everything about football and concepts and that’s what helped make him a great player. He anticipated things because he knew where everyone was on the field and he could adjust.”

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