In the previous edition of this two-part series, we looked at the greatest names to ever be a part of the Dallas Cowboys offense. Today we move to the other side of the ball and look at some of the most dominant defenders to ever wear the star. As an added bonus we also take a few moments to recognize some special teams guys for their efforts as well.
Bob Lilly - Lilly was the first ever draft pick for the Dallas Cowboys, and what a player to start with, and what a start it was. That first ever selection led to 14 seasons of outstanding play as the Olney, Texas native laid the cornerstone for Tom Landry's Doomsday Defense. During the time span that he played football Lilly earned Pro Bowl honors eleven times and seven times he was named as a first team All Pro. He added a pair of second team awards to that as well. Known as Mr. Cowboy, Bob Lilly is the charter member of the Ring of Honor and he is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Among his other honors, he was selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team and the All Decade Teams for the 1960's and the 1970's.
Randy While - The Manster joined the Cowboys as the back up to middle linebacker Lee Roy Jordan but soon was moved to defensive tackle, slipping into the slot that was vacated a couple of years previously by Lilly. The position switch worked wonders for White; in his first year at the new position he experienced his breakout season. Randy became a dominant force for the Cowboys and he recorded 1,104 tackles in his 14-season career. Those efforts led to him being named to the Pro Bowl and All Pro on nine occasions and to induction into the Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame. He also earned Co-MVP of the Super Bowl honors along with teammate Harvey Martin.
La'Roi Glover - Glover's stay in Dallas was brief but his impact was not. Over his four-year stint with the Cowboys, La'Roi never missed a game and he added 21.5 sacks. He was chosen to the Pro Bowl after each season and was twice honored as an All Pro selection. Glover turned out to be one of the best free agent signings in team history.
Jethro Pugh - Throughout his career Jethro Pugh was overshadowed by his teammates. He was an outstanding player but he spent his entire career playing alongside the likes of George Andrie, Bob Lilly, Randy While, and Harvey Martin and often went overlooked when it came time for honors to be handed out. He never made the Pro Bowl, but opposing offenses always knew how talented and effective Pugh was.
Jay Ratliff - There are still hard feelings in Dallas that are directed at Rat, but that should not overshadow the fact that he was a helluva player for the Cowboys. Undersized he may have been, but that never deterred Ratliff. He was constantly double teamed, but still managed to have a major impact on opponents. Before his relationship with the team went south, Jay Ratliff would earn four trips to the Pro Bowl and he was selected as an All Pro in 2009.
DeMarcus Ware - More properly used as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, DeMarcus Ware is as good an edge rusher as any that has ever worn the star. Recently he became the Cowboys all-time sack leader when he surpassed Harvey Martin's "unofficial" total. During his time in Dallas, Ware earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and he was named as a first team All Pro four times. He added second team honors on three other occasions.
Harvey Martin - The nickname "Too Mean" sums up the way the north Texas native played the game. According to the team's unofficial records, Harvey recorded 114 career sacks and held the franchise record until surpassed by DeMarcus Ware. In 1977 he earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors for what was arguably the greatest season ever played by a defensive player. He was named to four Pro Bowls over his career and was a first team All Pro after the '77 season. Three other times he was a second teamer.
Ed "Too Tall" Jones - The Cowboys took Too Tall with the first overall selection in the 1974 NFL Draft, and he lived up to what is expected from someone to hold that distinction. In fact, Ed was the type of player who left a lasting impact on the game. His unique ability to bat down passes forced the league to create a statistical category to track how many balls a defensive lineman knocked down. Jones dominated in the more traditional stats as well. He currently ranks third on the franchise's all time sack list and his 1,052 tackles rank him fifth in team history. Jones was both a Pro Bowl and an All Pro selection in three consecutive seasons from 1981-83.
Charles Haley - His off the field behavior may have been subject to questions, but on the gridiron Haley was ideal. He is the only man in the history of the game to have five Super Bowl rings (two with San Francisco and three in Dallas). Haley earned inclusion in the Cowboys Ring of Honor even though he only spent six seasons with the team; it was his acquisition that provided the final piece that made the Cowboys defense of that era the beast that it was.
Chuck Howley - Howley came out of a injury-forced retirement to join the Dallas Cowboys; he played for a total of 13 seasons after returning to the game and helped lead the original version of the Doomsday defense to a pair of Super Bowl appearances. During the team's first trip to the big game he became the first defensive player and only player from a losing squad to earn MVP honors. Six times his play was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl and in five of those seasons he was also an All Pro. For his contributions to the game, Chuck Howley is a member of the Dallas Ring of Honor.
Lee Roy Jordan - He was the man in the middle of one of the best linebacking trios to ever play the game and Lee Roy Jordan could not have been more perfectly suited for the job of running Landry's Flex Defense. It has been said that outside of the coach himself, no man understood the scheme better than Jordan, who was a student of the game in addition to being a very talented player. Five times he represented the Cowboys at the Pro Bowl and twice he was named an All Pro. Like many of his teammates on this roster, Lee Roy is a member of the Ring of Honor.
Dave Edwards - The unsung hero of the group, Dave Edwards job was to keep tight ends off of Jordan and Howley so that they could make plays. Edwards did not generate the numbers that his teammates were able to put up, but without his effort neither of his cohorts would have achieved the success that they saw. Honors never came Edwards way, but he was a blue collar guy who brought it every time he stepped on the field. He was a player in the same mode as Jason Witten; he played on game day, injury or not; over 12 years he only missed one game.
Bob Breunig - Breunig joined the Cowboys as a part of the "Dirty Dozen" draft of 1975. When Lee Roy Jordan retired in 1977, Bob became only the third regular middle linebacker in the club's history. It was a role he kept for 117 straight games until injuries forced him out of football. During that span he led the Cowboys in tackles six times and represented Dallas at four Pro Bowls. He was also selected as an All Pro three times.
Dexter Coakley - Coakley was another of those guys that the scouts considered to be too small and so he dropped on draft day. Dexter turned his size to his advantage, superior speed and athletic ability allowed him to immediately have an impact on the Dallas defense. His string of seven straight 100-tackle seasons is still a team record. All told, Dexter recorded 1,064 tackles in Dallas, good enough for the fourth slot on the team's all time list. Dexter Coakley was named to three Pro Bowl teams during his career.
Mel Renfro - Mel Renfro was perhaps the greatest athlete on any of Tom Landry's teams, and that includes Olympic gold medalist Bob Hayes. He way versatile and could play multiple positions on both sides of the ball but he excelled as a cornerback. Mel was sure-handed, and was always among the league leaders in interceptions. His career total of 52 picks remains a franchise record. Among his career honors, Mel has 10 Pro Bowls and five All Pro selections to add to his membership in the Ring of Honor. He also has a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
Deion Sanders - "Prime Time" was simply a gun for hire. He was also one of the most gifted athletes of his generation and during his time in Dallas he often forced opposing quarterbacks to avoid throwing to his side of the field. Sanders was the ultimate shutdown corner. He earned pro Bowl berths each season in Dallas.
Everson Walls - Walls was slow for a cornerback, but he did not let that stand in the way of excellence. He hit the ground running, leading the NFL in interceptions as a rookie (11). Everson ultimately would lead the league in picks three times during his career, a feat that has only been matched by Ed Reed. His 44 interceptions as a Cowboy ranks second only to Mel Renfro. During his career, Walls made four Pro Bowl appearances and also was named to three All Pro teams.
Dennis Thurman - Dennis Thurman was an extremely durable player for the Cowboys (as well as the St. Louis Cardinals). He came into the league as a safety, moved to corner to start his career, shifted back to safety, and then was pressed back into service as a corner where he finished his career. Dennis was the leader of a group of Dallas DB's who became known as "Thurman's Thieves". His best season was in 1981 when he earned the only Pro Bowl of his career.
Darren Woodson - Former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo once remarked that Woodson, then an undersized college linebacker, looked like a safety in waiting. What an understatement that was. Woody was a complete player, capable of being a top notch cover safety or an exceptional run stopping one. Darren was a tackling machine; his 1,350 career stops are the franchise record. For his play Woody was a five time Pro Bowler and a three time All Pro.
Cliff Harris - Cliff earned the nickname "Captain Crash" for his vicious hits and reckless style of play. He joined the team as an undrafted free agent and beat out the team's third-round draft choice for a starting role. In addition to punishing opposing players, Harris also had a pair of solid hands. He recorded 29 INT's during his ten seasons with the team. During his prime, Cliff was selected to six straight Pro Bowls and he was named to four All Pro teams. Harris is a member of the NFL's All Decade team for the 1970's and the team's Ring of Honor.
Charlie Waters - The third-round draft pick who was beat out for a starting role by Cliff Harris was a player named Charlie Waters. The two men soon became the best of friends, and before long they also formed the best pair of safeties in the league. With one safety role being filled by Harris and Cornell Green being firmly entrenched at the other slot, Waters endured a multi-season experiment as a cornerback, a role that did not suit him. When Green retired, Waters finally moved to safety and his career took off. Over his career Charlie picked off 41 passes, which ranks him third all time among Cowboys. He went to three consecutive Pro Bowls and was All Pro in 1977 and 1978.
Cornell Green - Cornell Green never played college football but that did not stop Tom Landry from turning him into a defensive back. Cornell's experience as a basketball player translated well to what his coach wanted; the only thing missing was a set of hands. Landry remarked that if he had any hands at all there would be no telling how many interceptions he could have made. Cornell was a physical presence on the field, often intimidating opponents. In 13 seasons he never missed a game and earned honors as a Pro Bowl (5) and All Pro (3) player.
Danny White - From 1976 to 1984 Danny White served as the Cowboys punter in addition to his duties as a quarterback. When he was in punt formation, the threat of a fake punt was always a real possibility. When he did kick the ball away, Danny had the ability to boom it long and deep to pin the opposition back. White punted a total of 610 times with a career 40+ yard average.
Rafael Septien - Rafael spent nine seasons as the placekicker for the Cowboys, leading the squad in scoring each time. At the time of his retirement in disgrace he was the all time top scorer in Dallas history and he ranked tenth in league history. He was a member of the 1981 NFC Pro Bowl team.
Dale Hellestrae - Dale spent eleven seasons as the long snapper for the dynasty era Cowboys and many fans had no idea who he was.
Special Teams Ace
Bill Bates - For fifteen years Bill Bates was a mainstay of the Cowboys special teams. Nobody worked harder than he did, on the field and in the filmroom. He was also a defensive back for the team, but it was his play as a special teamer that really had an impact on the game. Bates special teams play forced the league to create a Pro Bowl slot for a special teamer. He was named to that slot in 1984, when he was also selected as All Pro.
As with the first piece, this is purely the opinion of one writer, but here at BTB we value the opinions of everyone. Take a moment and let us know where you agree and where you don't. There are no wrong answers so let's get some debate going.