When thinking about dynasties in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys of the mid 1990s cannot be far from the conversation. The dynamic skills of a well drilled offence coupled with a hard hitting defence led the franchise to a staggering 3 Lombardi trophies in a 4 year period, picking up the title in 1992, 1993 and 1995.
This in itself is impressive but as a Minnesota Vikings fan it is doubly hard to take, given that the foundations for this success can, in part, be traced to the mammoth trade that took Herschel Walker from the Cowboys to the Vikings. In exchange for Walker and a handful of low round draft picks the Cowboys received 4 players and 8 picks, including first round picks in 1990, 1991 and 1993 and second round picks in 1990, 1991 and 1993. A bumper haul that coach Jimmy Johnson used to help shape his franchise, directly or indirectly using these picks to draft WR Alvin Harper, DT Russell Maryland, safety Darren Woodson and the NFL’s all time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. Not a bad haul, especially when compared to the bust that Walker became in Minnesota!
With the Cowboys recently being named as a road team for the 2014 International Series in the UK, now seems a good time to look at that team in more detail.
Marshalled by Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, himself a number 1 draft pick on 1989, the Cowboys transformed themselves from a struggling outfit at the end of the 1980s into a consistent challenger in just a few years. Offensively Aikman was ably supported by running back Smith, wide receivers Michael Irvin (another Hall of Famer) and Harper, TE Jay Novacek, FB Daryl Johnston and a strong offensive line, led by Nate Newton. Aikman had a bumper year in 1992 (en route to the Championship), passing for 3445 yards and 23 TDs. Smith averaged over 1500 yards on the ground in this period, passing 20 rushing TDs in both 94 and 95, whilst Irvin, Harper and Novacek proved reliable targets for Aikman and a constant aerial threat.
Defensively there were also star names to call on, such as star defensive ends Charles Haley and Leon Lett, the aforementioned Woodson and Maryland and for periods of the Cowboys dominance, linebacker Ken Norton Jr and defensive back Deion Sanders.
Superbowl successes came via a blowout 52-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1992, a 30-13 victory in 1993’s rematch with the Bills and 27-17 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995.
The first victory over the Bills came following a 13-3 regular season record and playoff victories over the Eagles and the 49ers. In the Superbowl itself, the Cowboys could thank MVP Aikman who threw for 4 TDs and a QB rating of 140.6, Smith’s 108 yards and 2 TDs on the ground and Irvin’s 6 catches for 2 TDs.
In condemning the Bills to a 4th Superbowl defeat in 1993, the Cowboys followed a 12-4 regular season record with playoff wins over the Packers and 49ers (again). Victory in the Superbowl came courtesy of MVP Emmitt Smith’s 132 yards a 2 TDs rushing (to add to his league MVP award) and a strong defensive performance.
After a year’s gap in 1994 (which ended in an NFC Championship game defeat to the 49ers) the Cowboys returned to winning ways in 1995 when a 12-4 record and playoff victories over the Eagles and Packers took them to a showdown with the Steelers. On this occasion the Cowboys could thank 2 interceptions from MVP Larry Brown and yet more TDs from Smith.
1995 saw the last of the Cowboys’ Superbowl wins – but a franchise that was able to show such dominance over a sustained period in the NFL is sensational. The Cowboys of the early 90s deserve their place among the greatest teams to ever play the game and should be remembered as such.
If only the Vikings had kept those picks and got in the same players, we could be talking about a whole different story! Not that I’m bitter……..