As fans, what do we expect from the draft? Maybe I should rephrase that. As fans, what do we realistically expect from the draft? Sure, we all have the fantasy of hitting on every pick and filling the roster with a buttload of rookie talent. We wouldn't be fans if we didn't. But, with certain exceptions, we're smart enough to realize how much of a crapshoot the whole process really is. Some of the most celebrated athletes to ever come out of college football have forced the redefinition of the word bust. On the flip side of the same coin, players have come out of nowhere---been taken in later rounds, or been passed over completely and scooped up as an UDFA---and engineered Hall Of Fame careers. The only certainty in regards to the draft is that nothing is certain. Yeah, I know. I hate cliches, too.
So, with all that in mind, I'll repeat the question. As fans, what do we realistically expect from the draft?
I would never presume to speak for everyone. But I think most people here would be happy with a couple of quality starters and a decent sub or two. If the Cowboys were able to fill that order every April, we would have a consistent flow of young talent and a balanced ratio between them and the veterans. Simple, right? Then why don't the Cowboys do it? Why doesn't every team in the NFL do it? Why don't they have successful, constructive drafts every year? And now we're back back to the cliche.....Sorry.
It's a challenge to sort through the thousands of eligible hopefuls, and narrow the list to those you think may make a contribution to the success of your team. GMs have to trust their coaching staffs and scouts. They have to compile every scrap of information on every player and make a decision that will have the greatest positive impact on the development of their team. Tall order. Which is why, more times than not, that order is not filled.
Disappointment is common among NFL fans after the big day. But, in all fairness, a lot of times the true value of a draft cannot be determined for years. In fact, I would say most of the time. In 1964, not many people woud have predicted the future outcome of the Cowboys' draft. Three HOF players---Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes and Mel Renfro---were chosen that year. The Steelers topped that in 1974 with four that eventually made it to the Hall---Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, Mike Webster and John Stallworth.
Quite a haul for our beloved friends to the north. However, the following year's draft saw Dallas swinging away once again. With incredible results. After suffering through a disappointing 1974 season where the Boys failed to make the playoffs, Dallas rebounded with a remarkable rookie infusion in 1975. Twelve made the team and nine eventually became starters. Nine became starters. Granted, not all became starters their rookie years. It took time for most to work their way onto the field. Still, could you imagine what this place would be like if we struck that kind of gold? BTB would be as much fun as filling a sack with urine balloons and doing a drive-by on Mara while he watered the crabgrass.
For those of us around at the time, all the following names are quite recognizable. More than a couple may even be familiar to the youngsters in the crowd. But I think we can all admit, from whatever era of Cowboys fandom we emerged, that Tom Landry and his array of scouts put together one of the greatest exhibitions of player evaluation the NFL has ever seen.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Dirty Dozen.....
Rd. 1, 2nd pick: Randy White, LB, Maryland ( Fear the Turtle )
Where do I begin? One of the best football players to ever step onto a field. Period. Didn't start out all that well for "the Manster", however. He muddled through his first two seasons as a LB then exploded on the scene when asked to put his hand down and move to DT. No offensive lineman was ever the same again. Made his mark as a power player. He and Mike Webster seemed to compete every year for the honor of NFL's Strongest Man. Yet, people seem to overlook his quickness. For 7 or 8 yards, there were very few faster. In my heart, watching him play week after week ranks a very close second to watching Roger Staubach. And that is saying something. White's accomplishments are legendary: 9 Pro Bowls, 9 All-Pro nominations, Co-MVP of SB XII, 1980s All-Decade Team, Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, and ultimately, the Hall of Fame.
Rd. 1, 18th pick: Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, LB, Langston
This is difficult for me. Henderson was one of the best athletes who has ever worn the royal blue and silver. And a personal favorite of mine as a kid. His potential was limitless. Hollywood's influence was such, that Lawrence Taylor himself chose the position of LB to emulate his favorite player. Even taking Henderson's jersey number as his own. Unfortunately, when handing out attitude and self-destructiveness, Thomas got in those lines more than once. Numbing himself with narcotics and disrespecting his teammates and coaches took precedence over the game itself. Flashes of brilliance on the field kept him in a Cowboys uniform for 5 seasons, garnered him a Pro Bowl seletion in 1978, and made him a household name. But when Landry finally had enough during the 1979 campaign, Henderson was benched and his career in Dallas was over.
Rd. 2, 44th pick: Burton Lawless, G, Florida
Lawless spent five seasons with Dallas. He was a very reliable guard and the only member of The Dirty Dozen to start for the Cowboys in his rookie year. He lost his spot on the line the following season to fellow rookie-class member Herbert Scott. However, Lawless stuck with Dallas until 1979, filling in along the front when needed and always gave 100%. Remembered as a very dependable and versatile player who was well-respected by his coaches and teammates.
Rd. 3, 70th pick: Bob Breunig, LB, Arizona State
Breunig replaced Dave Edwards on the outside in 1976, then took over for Lee Roy Jordan in 1977, becoming only the third person to play middle linebacker for the Cowboys. He was smart, tough and became a fixture in the Doomsday Defense for the next ten years. Only a horrible back injury kept him from continuing his dominance on the field. Bob led Dallas in tackles six different seasons and accumulated four All-Pro selections and three trips to the Pro Bowl. Along the way, he started 117 straight games at one of the most demanding positions on the team. He was the QB on one of the greatest defensive teams in NFL history. The fact that his name is never mentioned when players from that era are discussed is a crime. Breunig deserves the recognition.
Rd. 4, 90th pick: Pat Donovan, T, Stanford
Pat Donovan became one of the best tackles in franchise history. After spot duty as a reserve for two seasons, RT Rayfield Wright went down in 1977 and Donovan stepped up when called. The following year he was moved to LT and never missed a start for the next six seasons. Shoulder problems ended his career after 1983, but not before Pat tallied four Pro Bowls. He became, in what amounted to a relatively short career, one of the most reliable lineman that Dallas has ever seen. Rarely had a bad game. Rarely made mistakes. Had Donovan been able to continue playing, he would surely be mentioned with other notable players at his position.
Rd. 4, 96th pick: Randy Hughes, DB, Oklahoma
Hughes played six seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, mostly as a reserve. He started two games in 1976 as a safety and finished his career with nine interceptions. Randy was versatile enough to play nearly every position in the defensive backfield at one time or another in his tenure, but never could make enough of an impact on the coaching staff to earn a permanent starting spot.
Rd. 5, 113th pick: Kyle Davis, C, Oklahoma
Kyle Davis's time with the Cowboys was short. He was released after his rookie season and never made a start with Dallas. He left football for two years then made a short comeback with San Francisco in 1978 where he saw limited action and then retired for good.
Rd. 6, 148th pick: Roland Woolsey, DB, Boise State
Woolsey also spent just one year in Dallas. And also never cracked the starting lineup. He played three more seasons in the NFL with Seattle, Cleveland and the St. Louis Cardinals, collecting five picks in his career.
Rd. 7, 173rd pick: Mike Hegman, LB, Tennessee State
Hegman's is an odd story. Dallas drafted him after his junior year because of a loophole in the eligibilty rules. Since his class had already graduated, he was technically eligible for the draft. Since juniors were not allowed to enter the NFL, Hegman still had to play his senior year at Tennessee State. But the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play college ball because he had been drafted by an NFL team. So, Mike sat out the 1975 season of college and pro ball and joined Dallas in 1976. He spent four years as a reserve LB and ST ace then took over the starting spot "Hollywood" Henderson had vacated upon his release in 1979. Hegman never made a Pro Bowl and was never named an All-Pro but started 119 games for the Cowboys between 1979 and 1987, when he retired. He was a solid, dependable player who did his job well with no fanfare and very little recognition.
Rd. 8, 200th pick: Mitch Hoopes, P, Arizona
Ah, punters. Hoopes was nothing special in the punting department, but did spend one season with the Cowboys and even got to play in Super Bowl X. He stayed in the NFL for two more years, splitting time with the Chargers, Oilers and Lions.
Rd. 13, 330th pick: Herbert Scott, G, Virginia Union
One of the best lineman to ever play in Dallas. Scott became a full-time starter in 1976 and never looked back. He earned three trips to the Pro Bowl and two All-Pro nods in his career. Along with Pat Donovan, became one of the best G/T tandems in the league during their time together. He spent ten years on the line opening holes and protecting QBs with a consistency that very few could match. In today's terms, Scott would be called an RKG. He also holds the distinction of catching Roger Staubach's last pass as a pro. He was an ineligible receiver and the play was called back, but still.....
Rd. 14, 356th pick: Scott Laidlaw, RB, Stanford
Laidlaw never became more than a reliable backup, but did manage to stay in Dallas for five seasons before ending his career with the Giants. He started 14 games for the Cowboys when others were injured, and managed to net nearly 1700 yards in total offense while he was here. He was a decent receiver out of the backfield and acquired almost as many yards catching the ball as he did running it. I always liked his name and was disappointed when the Cowboys eventually released him.
Impressive, no? Can I get a high-five or a knuckle-bump?
Just to give you a better perspective of what these guys accomplished, let's summarize their contributions: 79 combined seasons with the Cowboys, 20 trips to the Pro Bowl, 15 All-Pro selections, 1 Ring of Honor and 1 Hall of Fame induction. All that from one group of rookies that will forever be linked together.
Do you want to hear another interesting thing about that class? We also signed Jim Zorn as an UDFA. He was later cut to make room on the roster for Preston Pearson who the Steelers had just released. Mr. Zorn went on to have a fabulous career with the young Seattle Seahawks, where he made a name for himself pitching the pill to HOF receiver Steve Largent. Who knows? If things had worked out differently, we may have had Zorn replacing the retired Roger Staubach instead of Danny White. Had Zorn stuck, we probably don't draft White the following year. I'm not saying Zorn would have done better than White in Dallas, but it would have been interesting to find out.
Well, there you go. The Dirty Dozen. There will always be a special shelf in the closet of Cowboys lore for the 1975 rookie class. They formed the nucleus of success for the organization's next ten years. We could use another like it.
Hell, it doesn't have to be The Dirty Dozen. I'd settle for The Filthy Four. Or even The Tarnished Two. I'm not picky.
Oh, and P.S.: You have no idea how hard it was to do this without mentioning Lee Marvin. Damn! Almost made it.