The Dallas Cowboys have history with quite a few franchises around the NFL. Of course there is the long history with their NFC East brethren. You can also count their historic battles with the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Cowboys also have an odd little history with the Minnesota Vikings, some of it is on the field, but some of it is from off-the-field transactions, or non-transactions.
Whether it’s the euphoria of the Herschel Walker trade in 1989, regrets about not drafting Randy Moss in 1998 or getting slapped with a six-figure fine for prodding along Minnesota’s stadium situation in 2009, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has had a passionate, career-long connection to the Vikings.
It started, of course, on Oct. 12, 1989, when the rookie owner and his first-year NFL coach, Jimmy Johnson, pulled, as Johnson told reporters that day, “The Great Train Robbery” — aka the Herschel Walker trade. The Cowboys used the bounty of picks to win three Super Bowls in four years as the NFL’s Team of the ’90s. Meanwhile, the Vikings went 21-23 and lost in their only playoff appearance before releasing Walker in 1992.
“You’re absolutely right,” Jones said this week by phone from the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch headquarters. “After that, whenever I saw the Vikings or thought of them, I thought of Herschel Walker and what that trade did for our success. There’s no question that was the foundation and basis for us winning three Super Bowls.”
The Great Train Robbery
That deal is now legendary. Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones flipped those picks and players into the foundation of the 90s dynasty. The Vikings? Well, not much happened for them after the deal.
Players/Draft Picks Received by the Minnesota Vikings
Dallas's 3rd round pick – 1990 (54) (Mike Jones)
Dallas's 5th round pick – 1990 (116) (Reggie Thornton)
Dallas's 10th round pick – 1990 (249) (Pat Newman)
Dallas's 3rd round pick – 1991 (68) (Jake Reed)
Players/Draft Picks Received by the Dallas Cowboys
LB David Howard
CB Issiac Holt
DE Alex Stewart
Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1990 (47) (Alexander Wright)
Minnesota's 1st round pick in 1991 (conditional on cutting Solomon) – (12) (Alvin Harper)
Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1991 (conditional on cutting Howard) – (38) (Dixon Edwards)
Minnesota's 2nd round pick in 1992 (conditional on cutting Holt) – (37) (Darren Woodson)
Minnesota's 3rd round pick in 1992 (conditional on cutting Nelson) – (71) (traded to New England, who drafted Kevin Turner)
The Cowboys weren’t done. Some of those trades led directly to other players who helped those 90s teams become the team of the decade. Players like Russell Maryland. If you want to relive some of the craziness about that trade, how it came about and the inside thinking of the Cowboys during that time, go either here or here.
Passing On Randy Moss
The Cowboys famously passed on Randy Moss in the 1998 draft. To be fair, nineteen teams passed on Moss based on his legal troubles that kept him from playing at a big-time university. But the Cowboys were the place everyone thought he would go, even Moss, who after talking to Jerry Jones and Deion Sanders felt like he was a lock to go to Dallas. The Cowboys were facing some image issues at the time, much of that was from Michael Irvin, so they were cautious about adding the supposedly wild and immature Moss. Inside the Cowboys war room, opinions were split.
“[Current Cowboys coach] Jason Garrett’s daddy, Jim Garrett, stood up in our draft room,” Jones said. “He had been with us going on 20 years as a scout. He stood up and said, ‘We got to take this Moss kid.’ He said, ‘Guys, this is pro football.’
“Chan Gailey was our coach and, of course, we had had some sensitive times with off-the-field issues. And we were a little more skittish than we should have been. And it was a real mistake, and he made us pay. And I just have to think he got extra motivation when he walked into the stadium.”
Moss never forgave the Cowboys and torched them throughout his career. He would eventually be drafted by the Vikings and was one of the best receivers of his era. The Cowboys instead drafted defensive end Greg Ellis who had a solid career, but nothing on the level of Moss. It’s a great “what-if” game to play, what-if the Cowboys had drafted Moss? Would that have saved them from the late 90s/2000s wilderness they eventually found themselves in?
The Hail Mary
The Cowboys and the Viking splayed one of the most famous playoff games in NFL history. Famous because of one play that sealed the win for Dallas. The Hail Mary.
The term became widespread after a December 28, 1975 NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings, when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (a Roman Catholic) said about his game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."
The play has long been tinged in controversy. At the time, the Vikings defender was called for pass interference. But an unbiased look at the film could lead one to conclude it was actually Drew Pearson who pushed off and committed pass interference. But that’s not the way it played out, and the Cowboys won the day.
A video of the final drive and the fateful play..
The current Vikings are led by some former Cowboys coaches. Head coach Mike Zimmer was on the Cowboys staff as a defensive backs coach in the 90s and as defensive coordinator for parts of the 2000s.
Current Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards was a linebackers coach for a few years (1998-2001) under Zimmer in Dallas.
Tony Sparano is the offensive line coach for the Vikings and famously served on Bill Parcells’ staff during his time in Dallas.
And until about a month ago, Norv Turner was the Vikings offensive coordinator. Turner was the architect of the offense during the Cowboys early 90s run before moving on to be a head coach.
The all-time series is tied at 11-11. The Cowboys won the last game played on November 3rd, 2013 in Dallas - 27-23. Tony Romo hit Dwayne Harris with the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left. The last game played in Minnesota was in 2010, a Vikings win, 24-21.
The last time the teams met in the playoffs was for the 2009 divisional playoff game in Minnesota. That was not a good day for the Cowboys. Dallas lost 34-3 and their offensive line, which was suffering from injury, got demolished by the Vikings pass rush. The Vikings pass rush had six sacks and forced three fumbles, two of which Minnesota recovered, and the defense also got an interception. Brett Favre had four touchdown passes during the game.