For the most part, offensive linemen ply their trade in relative anonymity. Quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs get the glory while five big sweaty dudes do the grunt work that allows the so-called skill position players to rack up the success. They might not be household names, but without these blue-collared grunts in the trenches, even guys the caliber of Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett become footnotes in the team's history rather than Ring of Honor members. The time has come to pay tribute to the men who were known as the Four Irishmen and a Scott.
Most people from the Boston area associate the name John Fitzgerald with the maternal grandfather of John F. Kennedy, but it was also the moniker of a three hundred pound running back who played his high school football for Southbridge High School in Massachusetts. Following his prep career, Fitzgerald stayed at home to play his college ball for Boston College. It was there that the Eagles coaching staff saw the obvious wisdom in putting the young athlete's skills to work as a two-way tackle. It was his talents as a defensive lineman that caught the eye of the Dallas Cowboys and during the fourth round of the 1970 draft, John Fitzgerald became a member of Tom Landry's team.
His stay in the Cowboys 4-3 defense did not last long. Soon he was moved to the other side of the line of scrimmage to serve as the back up to Dave Manders, eventually replacing the Dallas center in 1973. It was his ability to accurately snap the ball to Staubach in the shotgun that helped revive the formation as a regular part of a professional offense. Fitzgerald was the strong anchor in the center of the Cowboys offensive line from the time he took over in 1973 until he was placed on injured reserve at the beginning of the 1981 season.
In his career John won two Super Bowl rings and played in the big game five times. His skills were overlooked when the time for post-season honors rolled around, but those who played along side Fitzgerald never questioned his worth to the Dallas offense.
It was Raff who eventually moved into the role vacated by John Fitzgerald when he was forced to leave the game. Before moving over to center the former Penn State defensive lineman also found himself being shuffled to the other side of the trenches when Coach Landry decided to make him the team's right guard. He too had been a fourth-round selection by the Cowboys after earning Football Writers All-American honors in 1976.
During his first year as an offensive lineman Rafferty was the understudy to Blaine Nye before becoming the starter in 1977. He also served as the team's long snapper. Tom was known around the game for his tremendous work effort and for his durability. At the time he retired, Tom Rafferty owned the team record for most consecutive games played at 167. He was a part of the Cowboys teams for Super Bowls XXII and XXIII.
The biggest highlight of Tom's career came when he and Herb Scott helped to spring Tony Dorsett for his record setting 99-yard touchdown run.
Donovan became a Cowboy as a part of the 1975 "Dirty Dozen" draft which ranks as the greatest single draft success in Dallas history. He too came to the team as an All-American defensive lineman, this time out of Stanford, and he too was taken in the fourth round of the 1975 draft. Three days into his professional career, Pat Donovan became an offensive tackle, playing both on the left and right sides. He got his starting opportunity when an injury sidelined the legendary Rayfield Wright, and once the Ring of Honor member and Hall of Fame lineman returned Donovan took over at left tackle for the Cowboys.
Donovan became a mainstay on the Dallas line and he was the driving force for the group throughout his career. His durability stands unquestioned; Pat never missed a game during a nine-year career that included 20 playoff appearances and three Super Bowls. He joins Wright, Eric Williams, and Flozell Adams as the only Cowboys offensive tackles to have made the Pro Bowl at least four times.
Cooper broke the mold being set by the other members of the quintet. He was an offensive lineman when he initially became a member of the team, and he was selected in the sixth round of the 1977 draft out of Temple. He also got released coming out of rookie training camp before rejoining the team later as a utility lineman. The role forced him to learn each slot along the line in case opportunity came knocking. Eventually it did.
Rayfield Wright retired after the 1978 season and Cooper was able to assert himself into the right tackle slot. Jim did not have the durability of his colleagues and the injury bug found him in the most unusual of circumstances. He lost half of the 1984 season due to a Monday Night Football injury. He was watching the game at a night club and when he attempted to get up from the table, Cooper slipped and dislocated his ankle. The injury resulted in bone and leg damage that ended his season. Further injuries of the next two seasons limited his usefulness to the club and forced his retirement after spending the bulk of the 1986 season on injured reserve.
Herb Scott was a two time All-American selection at the Division II level. He had been a four-year starter for Virginia Union when he was taken in the 13th round of the "Dirty Dozen" draft. Herb had played guard in college and his rapid development allowed the team to trade a six-time Pro Bowl lineman, John Niland, for the draft pick that brought Tony Hill to Dallas. By his second season in the league, Scott had established himself as the full-time starter. He was a steady performer and was rarely called for penalties. He and Donovan gave the team the strongest left side in the game.
Herb was a mainstay on the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams during the late 1970's and early 80's. Dorsett gave a large share of the credit for his Hall of Fame career to his left guard, saying "When Herb went after a guy the next thing you saw was his feet in the air." Playing the game with the level of intensity that Scott gave took its toll on the lineman, and he was forced to walk away from the game after ten solid seasons with the Cowboys.
Herb Scott holds a unique place in the lore of the Dallas Cowboys. It was he who caught the final pass ever thrown by Roger Staubach. Unfortunately, he was an ineligible receiver on the play and the team's 1979 playoff run, and with it Staubach's career, came to a close.
Players come and players go, that is the nature of things in the National Football League. What they leave behind are memories, and for some of us those memories burn strong. I can see in my mind the 99-yard Dorsett run with Scott and Raff leading the way. If you have never seen it or want to relive the moment follow this link. While you are waiting for the video to load, take a moment to remember the guys who helped make it possible for #33 to go the distance with only ten men on the field.