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In The Footsteps Of Legends: The Playmakers Before The Playmaker

Michael Irvin will always be known as "The Playmaker," but he is just one in a long list of play-making wideouts for the Cowboys.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We have already looked at the guys who preceded Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman, so today we turn our attention to the receivers who laid the groundwork for the mantle that Michael Irvin assumed when he was selected by the Dallas Cowboys. This group included both players who were legends in their own right, and others who are mostly remembered by only the most committed of fans. No matter where a particular player fits in, each of these players made a mark on America's Team.

"Bullet" Bob Hayes

Bob Hayes is the only man in history to win both an Olympic Gold Medal and a Super Bowl ring. Once the fastest man in the world, Hayes was a two-sport standout (football and track) at Florida A&M. He was unrefined as a football player, but due to his speed the Cowboys were willing to invest a seventh-round draft pick on the speedster in 1964 and hoped that he would develop when he joined the team in 1965. That was a risk that would pay off in spades for the Cowboys in the years to come.

His first two seasons in the National Football League saw "Bullet Bob" become one of those men who revolutionized the game. In each of those seasons he led the league in touchdowns and the success he was having against man-to-man coverage forced professional teams to begin playing zone coverage against Dallas. Nobody in the game could cover Hayes one-on-one. It was during this portion of his career that he set a franchise record with 246 yards receiving (against the Washington Redskins) that would stand for four decades. Bob Hayes was nearly unstoppable in 1965 and 1966.

During a career that spanned 11 years in Dallas, Hayes set the standard for Dallas receivers to be measured against. He hauled in a total of 317 passes for 7,414 yards and found the end zone 71 times. Hayes also returned three punts for touchdowns during his illustrious career. For his efforts he was named to three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. The Cowboys also inducted him into the team's Ring of Honor for his achievements.

Bob Hayes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 as a senior selection. His enshrinement, which came after his death in 2002, was far from certain. In addition to a bias (real or imagined) against Cowboys players, Hayes' life was marred by both legal problems and drug use. Regardless of what happened off the field, "Bullet" Bob Hayes changed the way the game was played and he finally received the recognition that his performance justified.

Drew Pearson

Pearson signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tulsa in 1973. The beginning of his career may have been less than auspicious but the end results were remarkable. Drew had an uncanny ability to come up big for the Cowboys, and he more than earned the moniker "Mr. Clutch. Three plays that helped him earn that nickname, a pair of playoff game clinching touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams and a Thanksgiving Day game winning grab against the Redskins, were ranked as some of the top 75 plays of all time by NFL Films.

Four times during his stellar career, Pearson served as an offensive captain for the Cowboys. A member of the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1970's, he appeared in the Pro Bowl three times and was also named as a first team All-Pro three times, and as a second teamer once. The contributions he made to the Cowboys earned the original #88 a slot on the NFL's All- Decade team for the 1970s. He is also #10 on the NFL Network's list of Top 10 Cowboys of all time.

Pearson caught a total of 489 passes as a Cowboy for a total of 7,822 yards and he scored 48 touchdowns. Drew was inducted into the team's Ring of Honor (along with Larry Allen and Charles Haley) in 2011. Despite being a member of a club that is harder to join than the Hall of Fame, Drew has yet to be inducted into Canton's hallowed halls.

Tony Hill

Nicknamed "The Thrill", Tony Hill played opposite Drew Pearson in the Dallas offense. During his first year as a starter, Hill caught 46 passes for 823 yards and six scores. The effort earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl, the first of three such trips he would make in his ten-year career. Hill was an exciting, explosive receiver who had the ability to take any catch to the house. During the prime of his career, he was one of the top wide receivers in football.

Hill became the top wide out in Dallas once Pearson was forced into an early retirement due to an off-the-field injury. He did not disappoint. In 1985 he delivered a career-best 1,100 yards on 74 receptions. Nine times in his ten-year career, Tony Hill led the Cowboys in both receptions and receiving yards. The only time he failed to do so was during his rookie year, when he was the team's primary kick returner and a back up receiver.

Tony Hill retired from the NFL with a total of 479 receptions, 7,988 yards receiving, and 51 touchdowns. He still ranks fourth in team history with 8,072 all purpose yards. He is also second on the all-time list for receiving yards and fourth in catches. Hill eclipsed the 100-yard mark 26 times as a Dallas Cowboy.

Lance Rentzel

Rentzel started his career with limited success as a running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Traded to the Cowboys for the 1967 season, he was moved to wide receiver by Tom Landry and immediately made an impact. Lance immediately established himself as the starter opposite Bob Hayes, and led the team in catches in each of his three full seasons as a starter, and twice led in yardage as well. Rentzel was on his way to his best season as a professional in 1970 when off-field issues cut short his time as a Cowboy.

Lance Rentzel played less than four full seasons for Dallas, but he still figures into the team's record books. His yards per reception average (19.2) ranks behind only Alvin Harper and Bob Hayes (both 20.0) and he is fourth in team history for total post season receiving yards. He also holds the fourth slot for total reception yardage in a single game with 233 .

Frank Clarke

Frank Clarke joined the Cowboys courtesy of the NFL Expansion Draft of 1960. He had spent the preceeding three seasons walking the sidelines for the Cleveland Browns, and his first season in Dallas proved to be more of the same. Eventually, Coach Landry made the decision to move Clarke, who had issues with blocking, from tight end to wide receiver. The move led to his becoming the first star receiver for the Cowboys.

Before Hayes, Clarke was the deep ball threat in Dallas, and Bullet Bob often credited him with being the one who helped him develop into the deep ball catcher that he would eventually become. During his first year as a starter, Frank Clark had a break-out season. He hauled in 41 balls for 919 yards and nine scores. The following season he set an NFL opening day record by having 241 yards receiving against the Washington Redskins. That Week one performance spurred Clarke to become the Cowboys' first 1,000-yard man. Frank Clarke also held the team's single season touchdown record for 45 years until Terrell Owens broke that mark in 2007.


Down through the decades the Dallas Cowboys have been fortunate to have a series of top notch pass catchers. For the most part, wide receiver has been a position of strength for the team and remains so to this day. It has always been the combination of a strong running game, a talented passer, and a corps of effective receivers led by a stand-out pass catcher that has led to the team's offensive success. The history is rich for the Cowboys, but looking at the roster from today, so is the cupboard. Perhaps history will soon repeat itself.

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