In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys were as rock bottom as you could get, winning only a single game that season and fans groaned the new ownership of Jerry Jones was a disaster. But then Jimmy Johnson pulled off the coup of trading Herschel Walker for key draft picks that he would use to get his hands on guys like Emmitt Smith. It sparked a fantastic revival as in 1992, the Cowboys went 13-3 and won their first of three Super Bowls in four seasons.
To many Dallas fans, this is the true high point of Cowboys history, a time when they rode high on the rest of the NFL. The excellent book “Boys Will Be Boys” did show the rough stuff behind the scenes of egos abounding, drug use and more that would end up ruining the dynasty in a few years. But for this season, the Cowboys were fantastic from a powerful offense to the “Doomsday Defense” that crushed opponents. They crushed opponents all the way to the Super Bowl, where they humiliated the Buffalo Bills by a score of 52-17.
Jimmy Johnson, of course, can be seen on Fox’s NFL shows but the rest of the team has spread in various ways, yet all remains popular for being part of one of the greatest dynasties the NFL has ever known.
15 Robert Jones
Robert Jones spent four seasons with the Cowboys and his rookie season just happened to coincide with the Cowboys' first Super Bowl of the 90s, back in this epic 1992 season. Jones was selected 24th overall in the 1992 draft and had a terrific rookie season at linebacker. Kenneth Norton was moved to outside linebacker to pave the way for Jones to start up the middle and he didn't disappoint. He was named the NFC Rookie of the Year and named to the NFL's all-rookie team.
After a sophomore slump in 1993, Jones had the best season of his career in 1994, making the Pro Bowl after registering a team record 162 tackles. Jones would win three Super Bowls in his four seasons with the Cowboys. Following his departure from Dallas as a free agent, he signed with the St. Louis Rams, where he enjoyed two moderately successful seasons. He then played for Miami and Washington before calling it quits in 2002 after being released by the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers in the same offseason,
14 Jay Novacek
Probably the best ever signing from the “Plan B” free agency era, Novacek was a good player for the Cardinals at tight end and was able to haul in receptions. In Dallas, he would erupt as a fantastic receiver, nabbing 59 receptions for 697 yards. He and Tory Aikman would work wonderfully together, Novacek doing an amazing job converting third downs into first and playing in five straight Pro Bowls. In 1992, he recorded 62 catches for 630 yards and six touchdowns to spark the fantastic offense.
13 Kelvin Martin
Selected by Dallas in 1987, Kelvin Martin went through the last few rough years of Tom Landry’s run and the horrible 1989 season but still led the team in receptions and receiving yards, mostly running back kick-offs. Moved to punt returner, he would spark well in the position with an 85-yard return in a win over the Eagles in a 1991 game.
For the ’92 season, Martin caught 32 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns, racking up 114 yards in the Super Bowl victory. Due to salary cap issues, he had to go, leaving as the franchise’s all-time leader in punt returns, bouncing around various teams before finishing his career back in Dallas in 1996.
12 Lin Elliott
His contribution to the team was a bit shorter than others but still notable. After a tenure at Texas Tech where he missed only one field goal, Elliott was signed to the Cowboys in 1992 to replace the injured Ken Willis. He soon went on a streak of 13 straight successful field goals and 27 touchbacks, both franchise records and would soon be a key to the team winning their first Super Bowl of the 90s. However, when he missed two field goals in the second game of the 1993 season, he was waived, a move many cite as one of the first bad decisions made by Jerry Jones and Johnson overreacting.
11 Tony Tolbert
Called a “tweener” (not fast enough for a linebacker or tough enough for a defensive end), Tolbert was a low pick, going in the fourth round of the 1989 draft. He and Charles Haley would unite to become a fantastic force attacking the opposing offense, especially stopping the run and making sure no rushers got into the end zone. He remained in Dallas throughout his career and it's ironic that his decline in production coincided with the end of the Cowboys' dynasty.
Battling chronic knee issues in his last years, Tolbert remained strong with 59 sacks over 144 games before finally retiring in 1997. He retired after being cut by the team and elected to hang it up, rather than try to resume his careeer with another team.
10 Charles Haley
Already a respected defensive back, Haley had been part of two Super Bowl winning teams with the 49ers and thus came to Dallas in 1992 with experience in winning. Moved to right defensive end, Haley made 39 tackles and six sacks to lead the famed defense in becoming the best in the NFL. He soon was known for being the only person on the team less happy with a loss than Jimmy Johnson, including the infamous moment of Haley smashing his head into a wall after a loss and clashing with management.
He retired after surgery in 1995 but later signed back with San Francisco to close out his career as the only player with five Super Bowl rings. Much of his behavior was explained by the revelation he struggled with bipolar disorder and helping bring attention to the condition.
9 Kenneth Norton Jr.
Drafted in 1988, Norton sat out a year with a broken thumb and then had to miss another year for a knee injury. In 1992, he bounced back amazingly well, leading the defense with 120 tackles and making his trademark punching of goal posts after a big play, a tribute to his father, champion boxer Kenneth Norton. The arrival of Robert Jones also allowed Norton to move to outside linebacker. He fought hard through a biceps injury and again with a bad knee injury putting him on the shelf early in 1994.
Signing with the 49ers in 1994, Norton became the only man to win three straight Super Bowls and finished his career with them as one of the best defenders in the NFL.
8 Leon Lett
It’s a bit ironic that Lett is best remembered less for all his good play and rather for a pair of infamous botches. After sitting out most of his rookie year of 1991 with a back injury, Lett was activated in 1992 and quickly named “Big Cat” for his great agility and terrific work recovering fumbles and hitting hard tackles. In Super Bowl XXVII, Lett almost set the record for the longest fumble return in Super Bowl history only to celebrate too early and saw the ball get knocked out of his hand for a touchback. Lett was more than relieved the Cowboys’ victory was big enough that it didn’t make a difference.
On Thanksgiving Day 1993, the Cowboys faced the Dolphins in a sleet storm with Miami missing a kick but Lett trying to grab it gave the Dolphins the chance to win the game. Lett missed 28 games over his career for drug use and some rough times but his amazing work on the field did counter that.
7 Daryl Johnston
Nicknamed “Moose” thanks to his huge size, Johnston soon had fans backing him with chants of his name as he would do some major rushes. Joining the team in 1989, he would play 147 consecutive games and get 294 receptions over his career and his amazing efforts forced the NFL to add the fullback position to the Pro Bowl. Emmitt Smith would openly say that he would never have been such a great rusher without Johnston’s help and credited him with a lot of success. The fullback position is practically nonexistent in today's NFL, but Johnston's presence behind the QB was what allowed the Smith to establish countless records.
6 Erik Williams
Acquired after the Cowboys traded Steve Walsh, Williams showed some skill before being elevated to tackle. In 1992, he proved himself by holding Reggie White without a sack in divisional battle against Philly and soon establishing himself as a fantastic offensive player with his aggressive style sparking up the line and aiding the Cowboys in several dominant victories. He was part of the o-line that was dubbed "The Great Wall of Dallas". He missed the 1994 season by injury with several Dallas folks saying that was a key reason the Cowboys missed the Super Bowl but came back the next year to help them win another.
5 Darren Woodson
Darren Woodson’s actual contribution to the ’92 team was a bit low as he was on special teams and mostly the nickel offense without much playing time. But that really shifted the next year as he was moved to the starting lineup as a safety and was soon setting the team record for most tackles by a defensive back. Powerful and well-built, Woodson could smash through defensive lines with ease to bring down rushers and a key component to the defense remaining strong as hell for so long.
4 Alvin Harper
A key pick made from the Walker trade, Harper was taken in the first round of the 1991 draft and proved his worth right off, catching 20 passes for 326 yards. He was even better in ’92 with 562 yards and four touchdowns and his fantastic catch in the NFC Championship game over the 49ers finally helped Cowboys fans forget “The Catch.” He followed that with the most famous image of Super Bowl XXVII, “dunking” the ball over the goalposts after another touchdown.
He was fantastic in ’93 as well to drive the team to another world championship but his great ’94 was tempered by Dallas missing the Super Bowl. Afterward, Harper moved to various teams such as the Bucs, Redskins and Saints before finishing his career back with Dallas.
3 Emmitt Smith
One of the key players grabbed from the Walker trade via draft picks, Smith got some shots coming in for his press conference in a wildly loud outfit. But he managed to win folks over with his great play on the field, setting the team’s single-season rushing record in 1992 with 1,713 yards and a powerhouse for the first Super Bowl title. However, Smith’s ego soon took over, leading him to hold out for the first two games of the next season until he was made the highest paid running back in the NFL.
He did prove himself by being named regular season and Super Bowl MVP and over the course of his career, would become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher before finishing his career with the Cardinals.
2 Michael Irvin
Joining the Cowboys in 1988, Irvin did his best with terrible teams but the coming of Aikman allowed him to really break through. Over eight seasons, Irving would rush for a thousand yards in all but one, great on the field and his flashy style helping drive the team on. He had a career high in running in 1995 as the Cowboys took their third Super Bowl and riding high. However, Irvin’s ego and temper would get the best of him with the infamous moment of stabbing a player with scissors in the locker room seen by many as the beginning of the end of the dynasty. Irvin had to retire after a brutal tackle caused a severe neck injury in 1999.
1 Troy Aikman
After suffering injuries the previous two seasons, Aikman soared in 1992, with career highs in completions, yards and touchdowns to spark Dallas’ fantastic year. In the Super Bowl, he threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns as the Cowboys stomped the Bills and Aikman was named MVP. He remained the key to the team, not taking part in as much partying but still great on the field as he kept the team going to two more Super Bowl titles.
Retiring in 2000 due to concussions and a back injury, Aikman can be heard in Dallas every week in the fall hosting a sports radio show and appearing in other radio shows as well as a correspondent for Fox NFL. He helped establish the Troy Aikman Foundation to help at-risk kids and speaking at many charity functions and still regarded as one of the most respected members of the Cowboys and beloved in Dallas.
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