They're the most loved and hated team in football. Fans around
the country positively gloat at their losses--and then buy their
trinkets in record numbers. Ever since the 1993 season, when the
Dallas Cowboys were coming back from their first Super Bowl
title of the Jerry Jones era, people have said, O.K., this is
the year they fold.
They said it in September '93, when Emmitt Smith held out for
the first two games and the Cowboys lost both and Charles Haley
knocked a hole in the locker room wall. They're finished.
Coming apart. They ended up Super Bowl champs again. And in '94
the skeptics scoffed when Jones brought in his buddy Barry
Switzer. What arrogance. Curtains for the Cowboys. They made it
to the NFC Championship Game.
Last year was the season of distractions: Jones bucking the
league with his Pepsi versus Coke war, with his Nike deal;
quarterback Troy Aikman's well-publicized dislike of Switzer,
which led him to say, "Football just isn't as much fun anymore."
And then, late in the season, a nasty racial rumor was started
by then defensive line coach John Blake that Aikman favored the
white players and gave more heat to the black guys. It was the
black players, not the head coach, who rushed to Aikman's
support. Could any team play its way through all this? The
Cowboys could. They took their third Super Bowl title in four
This year's off-season crisis involved All-Pro wideout Michael
Irvin and his indictment on drug-possession charges, which
prompted those doomsayers--a little hammered by the results of
the last three years but still trying--to say that this is the
year the Cowboys will finally take a dive.
They've lost a lot to free agency; their losses always outnumber
their gains in that market, but it seems more pronounced now.
Gone are cornerback and Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown; defensive
tackle Russell Maryland; linebackers Dixon Edwards and Robert
Jones (both of whom were emerging stars last season); Ron Stone,
the Cowboys' utility offensive lineman; and cornerback Robert
Bailey from their nickel package. The only free-agent addition
is ex-Packer middle linebacker Fred Strickland. Combine that
with the Irvin mess and it wasn't a pretty off-season for the
And the postseason showed that the gap between them and the rest
of the league is closing fast. The Packers took a good run at
Dallas in the NFC title game last season. They scored on both of
their second-half possessions and were poised to take the lead
early in the fourth quarter when Brown intercepted a Brett
Favre duck--just as he would a bad Neil O'Donnell pass near the
end of the Super Bowl, when the Steelers had the Cowboys on
Dallas was also wobbly in December last year. Smith and Aikman
were playing hurt. The Redskins and the Eagles beat them; the
Giants should have but didn't. On the last Sunday of the season
they were on a plane to Phoenix for the Monday-nighter against
the Cardinals, a meaningless game because all the 49ers had to
do to clinch home field advantage for the NFC championship was
beat the Falcons.
"The guy announced over the speaker," Aikman says, " 'Falcons
28, 49ers 27,' and all of a sudden the plane came alive. We'd
been given another chance. We played our best game since the
opener." Cowboys 37, Cards 13, and the rest is history.
There are still lingering doubts--and doubters, of course--but
Dallas always seems to find ways to respond. Such as this: Now
playing wideout for the Dallas Cowboys, number 21, Deion Sanders.
"He'll go into the season as an offensive player," Switzer says
of his all-world cornerback, "and he'll be limited on defense.
It could remain that way. We need to find out if he's gonna be a
great receiver, and if he is, then he'll just play defense in
nickel schemes and stuff like that."
Just what the Cowboys need--another weapon. Are you listening
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO COVER [NATIONAL] Riding High Can anybody knock off Troy Aikman and the Cowboys?
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN With Sanders now a target on offense, Dallas has reloaded its arsenal once again. [Deion Sanders]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 137.6 (2) 226.4 (13) 364.0 (5)
DEFENSE 110.8 (16) 204.5 (8) 315.3 (9)
The NFL champs were unmatched under pressure last season,
successfully converting nearly a third of the time when facing
third down and 10 or more yards to go (the league average was
21.1%), including five such plays in the crucial Dec. 17 win
over the Giants, which snapped a two-game skid and started
Dallas's Super Bowl run.
Best Conversion Percentage on Third Down and 10 or More
Att. Made Pct.
Cowboys 49 16 32.7
Redskins 71 21 29.6
Packers 60 17 28.3
Broncos 63 17 27.0
49ers 45 12 26.7
PLAYER TO WATCH
If Deion Sanders pans out at wide receiver, his cornerback spot
will fall to Alundis Brice, a second-year player out of Ole
Miss. Brice nearly saw his career finished after his senior
season, when he was shot in the chest while trying to act as
peacemaker in a campus fight. The Cowboys took a chance on him,
drafting him in the fourth round in 1995. After one start last
season, Brice is ready to make a move. Says defensive backs
coach Mike Zimmer, "He'll play a lot for us."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Barry Switzer
QB Troy Aikman 432 att. 280 comp. 64.8%
3,304 yds. 16 TDs 7 int. 93.6 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 377 att. 1,773 yds. 25 TDs
FB Daryl Johnston 25 att. 111 yds. 2 TDs
TE Jay Novacek 62 rec. 705 yds. 5 TDs
WR Michael Irvin 111 rec. 1,603 yds. 10 TDs
WR Kevin Williams 38 rec. 613 yds. 2 TDs
WR Deion Sanders 2 rec. 25 yds. 0 TDs
LT Mark Tuinei 6'5" 314 lbs.
LG Nate Newton 6'3" 320 lbs.
C Ray Donaldson 6'3" 311 lbs.
RG Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs.
RT Erik Williams 6'6" 324 lbs.
PK Chris Boniol 46/48 XPs 27/28 FGs
LE Tony Tolbert 5 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
LT Leon Lett 3 sacks 2 fum. rec.
RT Chad Hennings 5 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RE Charles Haley 10 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
OLB Darrin Smith 3 sacks 0 int.
ILB Fred Strickland[*] 0 sacks 0 int.
OLB Broderick Thomas[*] 6 sacks 0 int.
CB Deion Sanders 2 int. 0 sacks
SS Darren Woodson 2 int. 0 sacks
FS Brock Marion 6 int. 0 sacks
CB Kevin Smith 0 int. 0 sacks
P John Jett 53 punts 40.9 avg.
PR Kevin Williams 18 ret. 9.2 avg.
KR Kevin Williams 49 ret. 22.6 avg.
[*]New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)