NFC East: Troy Aikman

Roger Staubach and Drew PearsonAP Photo/Bill Kostroum
Score: Cowboys 17, Vikings 14
Date: Dec. 28, 1975 Site: Metropolitan Stadium

With nearly 40,000 votes cast, Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson was voted as the most memorable play in Dallas Cowboys' history by the ESPN.com readers.

Troy Aikman’s fourth-quarter pass to Alvin Harper in the 1992 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers that set in motion the 1990s dynasty finished second. Bob Lilly's sack of Bob Griese in Super Bowl VI was a distant third even if it propelled the Cowboys to their first championship.

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The voters got this one right. Staubach is the most iconic player in franchise history, and that play is frozen in time. It was one of the most iconic plays in NFL history and introduced “Hail Mary,” into the league’s lexicon. You cannot write the history of the NFL without that play.

To recap the play: With time running out in a 1975 divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had the ball at midfield and needed a miracle. They had dominated statistically, but the Vikings had a 14-10 lead.

Staubach pumped to his left after taking the shotgun snap, in hopes of moving safety Paul Krause away from the sideline. As he pumped, Staubach said he nearly lost the ball and as a result the pass was underthrown.

Subsequently, Pearson had to pull up and either knocked Nate Wright down (Minnesota's version) or made an excellent adjustment to the ball (Dallas' version) to score the winning touchdown, pinning the ball against his right hip.

Some of you wondered why Tony Dorsett's 99-yard run, Emmitt Smith's carry in which he broke Walter Payton’s rushing record or his stiff-arm of Lawrence Taylor playing with a separated shoulder, Clint Longley's Thanksgiving Day heave against the Redskins or even Leon Lett's miscue in Super Bowl XXVII didn’t make the list.

Two of my personal favorites: Marion Barber’s run out of the end zone against the New England Patriots breaking seven tackles and Tony Romo's first-down scramble vs. the St. Louis Rams after a shotgun snap sailed over his head didn’t make the list either.

There needed to be some historic value to the play. The Hail Mary had that, so did Aikman-to-Harper and Lilly’s sack.

But there’s no question which play had the most value.
Alvin Harper and Troy AikmanUSA TODAY Sports
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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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Tony Romo firmly believes that he has a bright future as the franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

He declared during an interview on 105.3 The Fan that he'll come back from his second back surgery in less than a year "a better player than I've ever been." He expressed confidence that he'll hold up for the duration of the six-year, $108 million deal he signed last offseason.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/James D. SmithIf it were simply a matter of toughness, Tony Romo would most certainly fulfill his goal of playing out the duration of his contract.
"There's no question in my mind, not only am I going to be able to make it through 16 games, I'll make it through another five years," Romo said during his appearance Wednesday on the "Ben and Skin Show."

"Some people have issues just based on their body alignment and degenerative things, but none of those are my issues. Mine is just something small and I just got hit at the wrong time and that's part of what happened. If you play football long enough, you're going to have something."

If it's about toughness, Romo will be right about his future. After all, he's the guy who has led the Cowboys to comeback wins while playing with a punctured lung and fractured ribs on one occasion and a herniated disk in his back on another.

Too bad toughness will have little to do with Romo's longevity.

Few stood in the pocket and took hits as fearlessly as Troy Aikman, but back problems forced him to retire at 34, Romo's age now. Larry Bird's toughness was part of his legend, but the NBA great's bad back forced him to hang up his sneakers at 35.

The Cowboys have addressed what they can control regarding Romo's future under center extending another five years. They've invested first-round picks in offensive linemen in three of the last four drafts, meaning Romo should be protected as well as he's ever been. By all accounts, Romo has attacked rehab with passion and a purpose. And the Cowboys make sure Romo gets the best medical care possible.

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Of course, Dr. Drew Dossett also operated on Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison's back. Now, Harrison's career is in jeopardy after further complications with his back, and he doesn't even have to deal with complicated blitzes or 300-pound defensive linemen driving him into the turf.

For Romo to have a chance to accomplish his goal of leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, he must believe with every fiber of his being that his best football is ahead of him. But his prediction of playing five more years is based purely on hope, not the gloomy reality of the history of great athletes with back problems.

That's not to say Romo's plan is impossible. Peyton Manning just had a record-shattering season at age 37, a couple of years removed from multiple neck surgeries.

But Romo's health in the future is far from a guarantee, no matter what he says or how hard he works. The Cowboys can hope for the best with Romo, but they better be prepared to deal with the worst.
IRVING, Texas -- For all of the talk about the Dallas Cowboys drafting a quarterback, they never really considered selecting one.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoThe Dallas Cowboys are viewing 30-year-old backup Brandon Weeden as their "developmental quarterback."
After the first round, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said picking Johnny Manziel, "wasn't even a thought," despite loving the former Texas A&M quarterback who ended up with the Cleveland Browns.

The Cowboys liked several lower-round quarterbacks, such as Tom Savage, but passed on all of them. The Cowboys have not drafted a quarterback since taking Stephen McGee in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Since 1989, the Cowboys have drafted only four quarterbacks: Troy Aikman, Bill Musgrave, Quincy Carter and McGee. Steve Walsh was taken in the first round of the 1989 supplemental draft.

With Tony Romo coming off his second back surgery and Kyle Orton's future in question, many thought the Cowboys would take a shot at a quarterback.

"We feel in signing Brandon Weeden, he can be viewed as that developmental guy," coach Jason Garrett said. "A first-round pick a couple of years ago, coming from a baseball background, has all the physical tools you want. We view him as in that role right now, so we wanted to be selective about anybody else we wanted to bring in here."

So no Savage, no Aaron Murray, no AJ McCarron. The Cowboys did sign Dustin Vaughan as an undrafted free agent and he was on their draft board.

At quarterback, "the best players who play typically come from the top rounds," Garrett said. "I do think with how the league has changed, there is a demand to play those guys earlier and that changes the dynamic of taking your time to develop guys year after year and they play in years four and five. The thing you’re concerned about is developing them for somebody else. You develop them for two, three, four years and he goes and plays for another football team. We don’t think that’s a worthwhile thing. There’s been a theory around the league, teams like Green Bay for years always took a guy late and if that player develops into something that was a good thing for their team or to trade to somebody else. There were some examples of them doing that. It’s a philosophy a lot of teams, they agree with that. But when you have other issues on your team I think it becomes a little bit of a luxury to do that. When you feel good about your starter and you feel good about your backups, we feel it’s better to take a position player, a guy we know can contribute on special teams, instead of trying to develop that guy [quarterback]."
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys reaffirmed their love of QB Tony Romo on Thursday night when they passed on selecting Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL draft.

In 2007, they made a very similar move.

Romo
Back then, there were questions about Romo even after he took the NFL by storm and lifted the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2006.

Was he truly a franchise quarterback? Would a new coaching staff see him the same way the previous coaching staff saw him? Would there be any aftereffects from the bobbled snap in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks?

The Cowboys had searched forever, it seemed, for Troy Aikman’s successor. They tried Quincy Carter. They tried baseball players, such as Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson. They tried veterans, such as Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

In 10 games, Romo threw for 2,903 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He went to the Pro Bowl.

He was also in the final year of his contract. Would the Cowboys make him a mega-offer with such a short track record?

Staring at the Cowboys as they were about make the 22nd pick in the '07 draft was Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Nobody expected him to be there. He was the Cowboys’ highest-rated quarterback. Forgetting what we know now, he had the stamp of approval from Charlie Weis, a coach who worked with Tom Brady. Quinn put up some strong numbers.

On the clock, the Cowboys traded out of the first round when they secured the Browns' second-round choice in 2007 and their first-rounder in 2008. Eventually they moved back into the first round in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to take Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick.

The Cowboys affirmed their love for Romo. Seven games into the 2007 season, they signed him to a six-year, $67.5 million deal that included $30 million guaranteed.

About 14 months ago, the Cowboys reaffirmed their love for Romo with a six-year, $108 million extension that included $55 million.

Like in 2007, he faces some questions in 2014. Some are football-related. He has not led the Cowboys to the playoffs since 2009. He has a 25-28 record since the beginning of the 2010 season. There are a lot of questions about his health because he is coming off his second back surgery in less than a year. He turned 34 last month.

But just like seven years ago, Jerry Jones backed Romo once again.

“I think that Tony has everything to do with this decision,” Jones said of Dallas' selecting OT Zack Martin over Manziel. “We have a big commitment to Tony. We feel that anything we look at at quarterback would be down the road and in the future in the development of that quarterback. If you look at the difficult dynamic, giving up this player [Martin] that really enhances what we can do on offense and what Tony can do for the future, just on a pretty quick consideration [taking Manziel] didn’t make sense. That was the driving force behind it.”
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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.

Status has its privileges

April, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Back in the day American Express made famous the slogan, “Membership has its privileges.”

It was that iconic ad that popped into my head when I saw the picture of Tony Romo and Jason Witten in Jerry Jones’ suite at AT&T Stadium Monday night at the NCAA men’s basketball final with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Running back DeMarco Murray was also in the suite, but not in the much-circulated photo.

I tweaked the ad some: status has its privileges.

New SEC Network hire and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears sparked debate on Twitter Monday and it continued on Tuesday. Spears wondered if teammates of Romo and Witten would be upset to see them hanging with the presidents and celebrities.

Spears has a point, but if Cam Lawrence or Ronald Leary were upset Romo, Witten and Murray were in the suite, oh well. Should I be upset Chris Berman gets to play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am every year and I don't? Oh well.

Status has its privileges in any line of work. Those three have status, especially Witten and Romo, and we don’t know who else was invited to sit in the power suite to see Connecticut beat Kentucky but unable to attend for whatever reason.

Witten and Romo have been with the Cowboys since 2003. Witten has been to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012. Romo owns most of the Cowboys’ passing records and has been to three Pro Bowls. Jones has showed his faith in the quarterback by signing him to two big-time contract extensions. Murray is coming off his first Pro Bowl season.

As teams go, not all players are created equally. Jimmy Johnson didn’t treat Troy Aikman the same as he treated a third-string safety. Bill Parcells treated “his guys” differently than the other guys.

Too many people believe professional sports are entirely different than an office you or I may work in. There is office politics everywhere.

You like some people. You’re OK with some people. You distance yourself from some people. You loathe some people. But you do your job for the common good, be it winning football games or producing widgets.

It can be safely assumed Witten, Romo and Murray were invited by Jones to the suite. He’s the boss. He’s the guy who signs the checks. You have a chance to talk with Presidents Bush and Clinton and some other celebrity folks, would you say no to your boss because the guy in the next cubicle didn’t get invited?

Of course you wouldn’t.

To me, the question is should Jones have put those three guys in position to be perceived as above their teammates in a public way? I doubt the question even crossed Jones’ mind and I’m not sure it even needed to cross it. He was simply making a kind gesture to three of his top players -- and maybe more -- and they took him up on the offer.

If there are players that are upset, then, well, they’ll just have to get over it. But they should also realize Witten, Romo, who is also rehabbing from back surgery, and Murray have been working out at Valley Ranch well before the official start of the offseason program on April 21.

That’s what should matter most to them.

Like just about everything with the Cowboys, perception overrules reality. The perception of the photo might tell one story, but it doesn’t mean it’s the whole story.

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.
IRVING, Texas -- Last Friday, I mentioned Babe Laufenberg’s thought about Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman's possible involvement in the Dallas Cowboys’ front office, similar to the way John Elway operates the Denver Broncos.

It’s a terrific thought, but it would never happen. Appearing Thursday on KTCK The Ticket radio in Dallas, Aikman admitted he didn’t think it would happen with the Cowboys with Jerry Jones in control.

“Babe has been kicking the tires on that scenario for a couple of years,” Aikman told "The Morning Musers" show. “I think every guy who's played the position in the NFL and has spent time within the league has had maybe some aspirations, at one point in time, of moving into that capacity. I visited with John [Elway] last summer at length one evening at the Hall of Fame and talked to him about some of the challenges and the things that he had done there with the organization, and he's done a remarkable job. It's been very impressive. They've drafted good players. He's made good decisions, certainly, on bringing Peyton Manning in.

"Right now, I'm happy doing what I'm doing [as a TV analyst for Fox]. At some point in time, would I entertain the idea of intentionally getting involved with an organization? Yeah, I think that would excite me to some degree. Where that may take place, who knows? But the structure in Dallas is pretty much set. I don't anticipate anything like that would happen within the Cowboy organization."
Norv Turner returning to Valley Ranch to run the Dallas Cowboys' offense just made too much sense.

So of course it won’t happen.

Turner is on the verge of becoming Mike Zimmer’s offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Ben Goessling report. It’s a shame that Turner isn’t being reunited with Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, a pupil of Turner’s during the Cowboys’ glory days.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
Harry How/Getty ImagesHall of Fame QB Troy Aikman credits much of his success to former coordinator Norv Turner.
There’s no good reason for the Cowboys failing to make an attempt to bring back the best offensive coordinator in the franchise’s history. It’s silly to keep Bill Callahan around to call the plays for Garrett’s offense -- an odd fit anyway considering Callahan’s West Coast offense background -- instead of having one of the original architects of the offense fill that role.

Really, the Cowboys should have recruited Turner last offseason instead of essentially giving Callahan a promotion that he didn’t earn. One of the possible concerns at the time was that there would be an awkward dynamic with Turner working for Garrett, potentially blurring the lines of command and eroding Garrett’s respect in the locker room.

Let the irony of Jerry Jones worrying about blurred lines of command sink in for a moment.

Garrett somehow survived Jones’ infamously “uncomfortable” offseason a year ago without losing any dignity or respect from his players. If that’s the case, those critical intangibles certainly aren’t going to be harmed by hiring an incredibly qualified offensive coordinator who used to coach Garrett.

If you gave Garrett truth serum, here’s betting he’d tell you that he wanted Turner here to help an offense that ranked 16th in the league in yards last season, which is far too low for a unit with explosive weapons at the skill positions and a rebuilt offensive line that has become a strength for the Cowboys.

How much would Tony Romo have benefited from working with a playcaller whom Troy Aikman gives much of the credit for his success? How much better could Dez Bryant have been with an offensive coordinator who helped Michael Irvin set a bunch of franchise records and Cleveland’s Josh Gordon become the NFL’s receiving leader this season?

We’ll never know.

Garrett has wisely watched his mouth about potential staff changes, being intentionally vague immediately after the season and saying nothing publicly since. However, if he wanted Callahan to continue calling plays, it’s logical to believe he would have made that clear.

There were rumblings at Valley Ranch in the days after the season ended that Jones would allow Garrett to make the staff changes he thought best. Weeks later, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

If Jones doesn’t trust Garrett enough to choose his own coordinators, he should have just fired his head coach. Maybe then the Cowboys could have hired Zimmer, a former Dallas defensive coordinator who would have been on the short list of candidates, and made the no-brainer decision to bring Turner back to Valley Ranch.
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has already said he will not use an early draft pick on a quarterback to possibly begin the process of finding Tony Romo's successor.

Could Johnny Manziel sway Jones' mind?

Manziel will be the story of this year's draft. He drives attention with his style of play, with his brashness, with how he has handled the fame since winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M. Wherever he goes in May, Manziel will be a draw.

I've already mentioned Jones can't so easily dismiss the possibility of taking a quarterback. History suggests otherwise.

Since taking Troy Aikman with the No. 1 pick in 1989, Jones has selected just three -- Bill Musgrave (1991), Quincy Carter (2001) and Stephen McGee (2009) -- in the regular draft and used a first-round pick in the supplemental draft on Steve Walsh in 1989.

Before the change in the collective bargaining agreement, he did not want to make the huge financial investment in an unproven commodity early in the draft. Now that the rookie prices have come way down, Jones remains reluctant.

SportsNation

If available, who should the Cowboys select with their first pick in the draft?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,972)

But we all know Jerry Jones loves a draw.

He didn't need to draft Dez Bryant in 2010 with the first round. He committed megabucks to Roy Williams in 2009. He had Miles Austin coming off a Pro Bowl season and would soon pay him megabucks. But Bryant kept slipping and the Cowboys moved up slightly to take Bryant with the 24th pick in the first round. Somehow he could not envision passing on Randy Moss and Bryant.

This year the Cowboys will pick either No. 16 or 17 in the draft, depending on a coin flip with the Baltimore Ravens.

Manziel figures to be gone by then, but what if teams are scared off by Manziel and he slips in the same way Bryant slipped? Does Jones make the move? Does he bring in the star of the draft?

There will be tons of work done on Manziel between now and the draft. The Cowboys will do their due diligence and know the player inside and out.

The general manager will have all of the reports and know if it would be a smart football move or not.

Would the owner be able to stay out of the way?

It sure it would set up an interesting dynamic on draft day.

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.”

Double Coverage: Raiders at Cowboys

November, 27, 2013
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Romo-RoachAP PhotoTony Romo's Cowboys host Nick Roach and the Raiders in a Thanksgiving Day duel.
IRVING, Texas -- For the second time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders meet on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys won the 2009 matchup 24-7 with Tony Romo throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns and Miles Austin catching seven passes for 145 yards. Since that game Austin has had more yards in a game just twice.

ESPN.com's Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer bring you this week's holiday version of Double Coverage.

Todd Archer: The Cowboys are bad in most areas defensively, but they have given up 200 yards rushing in three games this season. The Raiders' strength, from afar, seems to be their running game. What makes it so good and how has it differed with Terrelle Pryor out?

Paul Gutierrez: Hey, Todd, it's not just Pryor being out, but also Darren McFadden, who has missed three straight games and four overall with a strained right hamstring. He said Monday night he hopes to play after practicing (limited) for the first time since Nov. 1. The run game, though, has not missed a beat with underrated Rashad Jennings picking up the slack. In the past four games, he has run for 413 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In fact, the running game has been so surprisingly solid without McFadden and Pryor that the play-action pass game has picked up with undrafted rookie Matt McGloin under center.

Speaking of passing games ... no doubt Tony Romo can rack up stats, but has he decided to assume more of a leadership role yet as the QB of America's Team, or is that just not in his makeup?

Archer: He has developed over the years as a leader, but there's no question that this has been "his" team the past three seasons. He is the veteran. He is the guy the Cowboys look to. The guys on this team now don't know of the Romo who burst on the scene in 2006 or had to deal with the Terrell Owens stuff. He's the guy who led the lockout practices and has been the big voice in the room. This year he has been given the added responsibility of being more involved in the game plan. The Cowboys' past two wins have come on last-minute drives led by Romo to beat Minnesota and the New York Giants. I don't think there's anybody questioning his leadership anymore. And if they did, well, the $106 million extension Jerry Jones gave him in the offseason should be more than enough proof to those guys that this is Romo's team.

Let's stick with the quarterback theme. Before the Cowboys lucked into Romo, they ran through a ton of guys after Troy Aikman's departure. Is there any reason to believe McGloin or Pryor can be a solution or do the Raiders need to go after one of these guys in next April's draft?

Gutierrez: Well, the way I put it earlier in the season, before Pryor hit his purported ceiling and sprained his right knee, robbing him of his greatest strength (running) while accentuating his biggest weakness (passing), if Pryor was not the Raiders' Mr. Right, he was their Mr. Right Now. McGloin is a pure quarterback, a pocket passer whom Dennis Allen prefers for what he wants to accomplish offensively. It's hard to give Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie much credit for their evaluation of QBs, though, what with their misses on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson, not caring much for Pryor early on and then, similar to the Cowboys with Romo, stumbling upon McGloin. But it's hard to see them going all in with the undrafted rookie from Penn State, too. At least hard at the moment. Unless McGloin continues to improve and wins a few games, it would behoove the Raiders to draft another QB if they see one as a can't-miss prospect. I know, I know, they really wanted USC's Matt Barkley but Philadelphia traded in front of them so they traded back and selected Wilson. Oops. There is no doubt, though, that this Raiders regime prefers McGloin as a prototypical QB over the more electric Pryor.

No matter who is under center for Oakland, though, the Raiders' QB is going to have to keep an eye on DeMarcus Ware. Is he rounding back into shape as a dominant pass-rusher, or is he more decoy as he rehabs from his quad strain?

Archer: I think he's still feeling his way through it. The fact that he made it through the Giants game healthy was a plus. He has been dinged up in just about every game with stinger and back strains earlier in the season before the quadriceps injury. We'll see how he fares on a short week, but the defense is a lot better with even the threat of Ware on the field. Jason Hatcher had two sacks against the Giants at least in part because of the attention Ware received. Ware has talked about wanting to make up for lost time. He has five sacks so far, his fewest this late in a season since his rookie year in 2005. Thursday would be a good time to look like the DeMarcus Ware of old.

This game is a homecoming of sorts for guys like Mike Jenkins, Andre Gurode, Kevin Burnett and Tony Sparano, but it's a real homecoming for Dennis Allen. How is he perceived in Oakland and will McKenzie be more patient with him than, say, Al Davis would have been?

Gutierrez: The jury, so to speak, is still out on Allen in the streets of Silver and Blackdom. Of course, when the Raiders win a game, he's the man. When he loses, the fans turn on him and start pining for Jon Gruden ... again. But isn't that the nature of the beast? Even Allen himself said this was a results-oriented business. Of course, he was referring to the quarterback position at the time, but it still applies. Make no mistake about it, Allen is McKenzie's "guy" and he's going to roll with him and have patience with him. The plan coming in was to give Allen at least three years to right this ship and really, the only thing that could damage Allen's chances of lasting another year would be if the team quit on him, like it did last November before playing hard again at the end. Then again, it might not be McKenzie's choice. Owner Mark Davis is a more patient owner than his father and wants McKenzie to handle all football-related decisions. But a year after stating he was fine with just about anything but regression, Davis wants progress. Stagnancy won't cut it, either. So, stay tuned.

Sticking with the coaching theme, is Jason Garrett in Jerry World for the long haul, or was Jerry Jones' support merely the dreaded vote of confidence?

Archer: Jerry has publicly backed Garrett, but he's also been a guy who's said, "Just because I say something, doesn't mean it's true." I do know this: He wants Garrett to be the guy. He desperately wants it to work. I really believe that. He believes in Garrett's approach and how he builds a team. Garrett will provide some blow-back to Jerry but not as much as, say, a Bill Parcells. Garrett knows what makes Jerry work and knows how to work around it to a degree or push Jerry in a certain direction. Honestly, Cowboys fans should want the Garrett deal to work out because it might be the best combination to mitigate the bad parts of Jerry and keep the good parts of Jerry.

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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