In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Dallas Cowboys, we conclude our CowboysSI.com Top 60 All-Time Greatest Players in Franchise History.
For the last 11 days, we have presented the Top 60 in groups of five, leading up to today’s Top 5 Cowboys of all-time.
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So, now we present Nos. 1-5. Note the criteria for selection at the bottom of the article. And if you missed any of our other pieces, check them out below.
5. DL Randy White
You have to adjust White’s value for his official and unofficial sacks (as his career overlapped with 1983, when sacks became an official NFL statistic). White had 111 career sacks and his value was as a player that could play both inside and outside and be destructive either way.
He came by his nickname, ‘The Manster’ honestly, and was the centerpiece of the Cowboys’ fabled ‘Dirty Dozen Draft’ of 1975.
The co-MVP of Super Bowl XII (with Harvey Martin), White is also third all-time in Cowboys history in tackles (1,104), made seven All-Pro teams, nine Pro Bowls and is a member of both the Cowboys Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is the only Cowboys player on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. He was also on the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team.
4. RB Tony Dorsett
The Cowboys gave up a king’s ransom for the right to draft Dorsett No. 2 overall in 1977 — a first-round pick and three second-round picks to the Seahawks. It was worth it.
He started immediately, solidified a running game that saw its early 1970s stars fading from view and earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors while helping the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII victory. Dorsett ended his Cowboys career as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher (12,036 yards) and scored 72 touchdowns. He also caught 382 passes for the Cowboys and his total yards (15,501) is second in franchise history.
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Dorsett held the record for the longest touchdown run in NFL history (99 yards) until Derrick Henry tied the record.
3. QB Roger Staubach
Staubach might be the best 10th-round pick in NFL history. There’s a debate for you. He dropped in the draft because of his commitment after the Naval Academy, as he served five years in the Navy before joining the Cowboys. In his 11-year career he threw for just 22,700 yards and 153 touchdowns (he did, however, lead the NFL in passer rating four times).
Today Staubach remains No. 13 all-time in Cowboys rushing with 2,264 yards. He epitomized the Cowboys of the 1970s. He played in their first five Super Bowls, winning two rings and earning Super Bowl VI MVP honors.
A member of both the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1970s and the NFL’s 100th anniversary team, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and is a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
The Cowboys missed the playoffs once (1974) with Staubach as the starter.
2. DT Bob Lilly
It’s hard to compare players across eras, especially when a defensive lineman’s most glamorous statistic — sacks — wasn’t an official statistic until 1983. Well, the Cowboys did the math and Lilly had 94 unofficial sacks, eighth all-time in franchise history.
But his impact went beyond that.
He was the franchise’s first collegiate draft selection and one of the most dominant players of the 1960s, earning selection to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s (he was also selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team in the 1970s). He made more Pro Bowls (11) than any player in Cowboys history (except for Jason Witten, who also made 11). He was a seven-time All Pro, a Super Bowl champion in Super Bowl XI and the Cowboys’ first member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He is also a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor. He was also on the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team.
For the first generation of Cowboys fans, he was the franchise’s standard-bearer.
1. RB Emmitt Smith
Smith is the all-time leading rusher in Cowboys (17,162) and NFL history (18,355). He’s the leading scorer in franchise history (986 points) and the franchise leader in combined yardage (20,174). In a five-year stretch from 1991-95, during which the Cowboys won three Super Bowls and reached four straight NFC Championship games, Smith rushed for 8,019 yards and 89 touchdowns (he also caught 277 passes).
He was All-Pro four years in a row (1992-95) and an 8-time Pro Bowl selection. He was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s. He was the 1993 NFL MVP, the Super Bowl XXVIII MVP and is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Cowboys Ring of Honor. He was also on the NFL’s 100th Anniversary Team.
For another generation of Cowboys fans, he’s the franchise’s standard-bearer.
Top 60 criteria:
Player honors — Pro Football Hall of Fame, Cowboys Ring of Honor, All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl selections, MVP awards, etc… That has to be a big part of the process.
Team success — Pro football is a team game, and as such every player on the list played a part in a successful era in Cowboys history (though success is, to some degree, in the eyes of the beholder).
Time with Cowboys — This is important. As part of this process I only took into account a player’s time WITH the Cowboys. There have been some great players that have come through Dallas, but some of them only spent a few years with the team. Depending upon how successful they and the team were during their time, that influenced whether they made the list or not. That also includes their impact and role in that success, whether there are statistics associated with that or not.
Feedback from experts — Throughout the process I consulted with two writers that have been around the Cowboys since the 1990s — Mike Fisher and Richie Whitt. Their feedback, along with the bios that I wrote on each player, played a role in where players were ranked.