The period of time following the retirement of Troy Aikman was one of the "dark eras" for the Dallas Cowboys. The franchise managed to drop the ball in replacing their aging and injured passer. Until an undrafted free agent named Tony Romo fought his was onto and up the roster to assume the helm in the Cowboys huddle, there was a serious dearth at what is widely assumed to be the most important position on the squad. Over the years, such gaps have been the exception rather than the rule in Dallas.
The football gods have generally been kind to the Cowboys over the years, at least when it comes to quarterbacks. From the inception of the team, Dallas has been fortunate to have a series of signal callers that have proven themselves to be among the best of their era. Today we continue the look at the pre-Triplets Cowboys by getting to know the long line of quarterbacks that have worn the blue star.
My look at legendary Cowboys quarterbacks will naturally start with the best to ever take the field in Dallas, Captain America himself, Roger Staubach. Staubach had won the 1963 Heisman Trophy while playing for the Naval Academy, where he led the Midshipmen to a national runner-up season. Before he could take his athletic talents to the National Football League, there was a commitment that Staubach would have to fulfill. Roger Staubach, with the single gold bar of a USN Ensign pinned to his collar, embarked on his career as a naval officer. His service included a tour of duty in Viet Nam. It was an assignment the young Staubach volunteered for.
The Dallas Cowboys, knowing that they would have several years to wait before the young quarterback could join the team, used a tenth-round futures pick to secure Staubach's rights in the 1964 NFL draft. He would be 27 years old when he eventually resigned his commission and signed an NFL contract. During his first few seasons as a professional, Staubach would serve as the back-up to Craig Morton in Tom Landry's offense.
Things changed for Roger Staubach in 1971 when he replaced Morton early in the season. Landry experimented briefly with alternating his passer, but by week 8, Staubach became the full-time starter. He led the Dallas Cowboys to 10 straight wins including the team's first Super Bowl championship. Roger Staubach was named the MVP of that game. His numbers for that game were 12 for 19 passing for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Roger the Dodger led Landry's teams to the Super Bowl four times over his career. In addition to the win in Super Bowl VI, his squad also prevailed against the Denver Broncos (and former teammate Craig Morton) in Super Bowl XII. His two losses came by a combined total of eight points against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowls X and XIII.
Staubach played eleven professional seasons and earned his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His efforts earned Roger six trips to the Pro Bowl, an NFL MVP award and a spot on the league's All Decade Team for the 1970's. His name will be forever engraved into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
The first "original" Dallas quarterback, Don Meredith, holds a somewhat unique position in Texas football history. Dandy Don never played a home football game outside of north Texas. As a high school player he starred for Mount Vernon High School, and from there he took the hour and a half journey westward to Dallas to become first a Southern Methodist Mustang and later a Dallas Cowboy. When Meredith turned professional, his other option was to join the AFL and Lamar Hunt's Dallas Texans. Dandy Don was a north Texas original until the day he died.
Meredith, along with Don Perkins, joined the team even before there was a franchise granted to Dallas. He signed with one of Clint Murchison's holding companies prior to the 1960 NFL draft, and like Perkins, Don was selected by another team but the league honored the personal services agreement that he had signed. His first two seasons were spent as the back up to veteran Eddie LeBaron, who had been poached away from the Washington Redskins.
Meredith and LeBaron split Cowboys starting job for the 1962 season; beginning in '63, the job was his full time and the local boy took full advantage. He helped lead the Cowboys down the path that led to their first playoff appearance in 1966. Twice his teams fell one game short of the Super Bowl thanks to Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers. One of those heartbreaking losses was in the infamous "Ice Bowl" of 1967.
Don Meredith was selected to the Pro Bowl three times in his brief professional career, and in 1966 and 68 he was also named as a second team All-Pro. The '66 season also saw him named as NFL MVP. Don Meredith and teammate Don Perkins became the second and third members of the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1976. Only Bob Lilly entered before them. Football fans around the country may remember Dandy Don as the light hearted "good ol' boy" who worked alongside Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, but to north Texans Meredith will always be the gritty, hard nosed football player who started the Dallas Cowboys on the road to success.
White was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft, primarily to be the teams punter and also to back up Roger Staubach. White wanted to see more playing time than what Dallas could offer so he chose to sign instead with the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League. His two seasons as a member of that team proved to be a success, but the league itself did not. Danny soon found himself as the number two passer in Dallas. With Staubach's abrupt retirement at the end of 1979, Danny White assumed the thankless task of replacing one of the most beloved icons in Cowboys history.
White responded by taking the team to three consecutive NFC title games (1980-1982), but he was never able to reach the Super Bowl as the starter. Soon fans and teammates alike began to call for a change and White was replaced at quarterback by Gary Hogeboom, who fared no better and failed to get the team to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Danny returned as the starter in 1985 and led Dallas back to the post season. That was essentially his swan song as the Dallas quarterback; an injury at the hands of Giants linebacker Carl Banks during the next season ended the productive part of his career.
White's numbers are phenomenal for a quarterback of his era; 1,761 completions in 2,950 attempts for 21,959 yards and 155 touchdowns. Danny won both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors during his years as a starter and he won a Super Bowl ring as the team's punter in Super Bowl XII. His passer rating at the time of his retirement was 81.7, the highest in NFL history to that date. His head coach summed it up best:
"I don't think anybody could have followed Roger and done as well as Danny. Danny was a solid winner." - Tom Landry
The only thing Danny did wrong is to win his ring playing the wrong damned position.
Eddie LeBaron's time in Dallas was brief, but it did help fan the flames for one of professional football's biggest rivalries. LeBaron had been an All- Pro quarterback for the Washington Redskins, and when the NFL expansion draft rolled around Washington owner George Preston Marshall considered his former passer to be retired and he failed to add LeBaron to the "protected" list of players that were off limits for the Cowboys. Dallas owner Clint Murchison promptly selected the native Texan to build his first team around. It was rubbing salt into an existing wound between the two owners.
LeBaron was known for his ability to scramble, and he was tough to get a hold of when he ran the ball. Eddie only threw for just over 5,300 yards during his time in Dallas, but he managed to secure his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl while wearing the star (and became the first Cowboy to be so honored). His contributions and veteran leadership during the early years have gone unrecognized for too long, and should never be forgotten by the fans.
Craig Morton was the quarterback that Tom Landry had expected to do what Staubach eventually did. He was selected in the first round of the 1965 NFL Draft and served as the primary back up to Don Meredith during the first four seasons of his NFL career. Morton assumed the starting job after Meredith retired and he soon led the Cowboys to where his predecessor could not; the Super Bowl. During that first run Morton suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder, and off season surgery impacted his accuracy. Those injuries opened the door for Roger Staubach. The two men would share the starting job for a period of time before Staubach would secure the role on a permanent basis.
During the 1972 season Morton would return to action due to an injury to Staubach, but once Roger returned during the playoffs, the die was cast. Dallas would soon trade Morton to the New York Giants for a first round draft pick that would eventually be used to draft Randy White. A few years down the road, the Cowboys would see Craig Morton once again, this time as the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII. The game would result in the second of Mr. Landry's Super Bowl victories.
The Dallas Cowboys have been fortunate that there has only been one real drought at the quarterback position. Several of the team's passers have ranked highly against their peers, and a couple have played their way into Canton's hallowed halls. Not all have been among football's immortals, but as a rule the QB play that we have been treated to has been among the best.