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What is the biggest "what if" scenario in Cowboys history?

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If you could change one moment in Cowboys history, what would it be?

NFC Wild Card Game: Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

There have been some great moments in Cowboys history. With five Super Bowl Championships in hand, the path to those achievements have opened the door for some pretty special moments. What if Roger Staubach wouldn’t have hit Drew Pearson in the original Hail Mary in the 1975 Divisional Playoff game? It would mean no Super Bowl appearance for them. What if Jerry Jones didn’t fire Tom Landry or if they didn’t trade away Herschel Walker? Would the ‘90s dynasty cease to exist?

Those are some defining moments in Cowboys history, but the team has also had their fair share of close calls. I recently came across a great question on a Facebook page, TrueBlueNation, and I wanted to relay it to the BTB community.

What if you could undo one thing that has transpired over the course of the Cowboys existence? What do you think the results would be from that change. What single game-altering moment would have the biggest positive outcome for the Cowboys? Or maybe it’s not a play, but a personnel decision. Here are some of the responses from the fans:

What if “the Catch” never happened?

Many people identify “the Catch” as the passing of the torch of two franchises. After beating Dallas in the 1981 NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers would go on to win the first of four Super Bowls in the ‘80s. As for the Cowboys, they would lose again in the NFC Championship the following season to the Washington Redskins, but would fail to win a playoff game over the subsequent eight season.

If Dallas wins that game, there’s a great chance they beat Cincinnati in the Super Bowl instead of San Francisco. Of course, there is no guarantee. There is also no guarantee that if the ball slipped through Dwight Clark’s fingers that the Cowboys would still win the game. It was 3rd down and 3 from the six-yard line. The 49ers still would have another chance to win the game.

An equally big play came on the very next play from scrimmage when the Cowboys had the ball. Danny White hit Pearson over the middle on a deep slant route and it looked like Drew as off to the races, but a horse-collar tackle saved the day.

If this tackle isn’t made, maybe Pearson scores there? Or maybe he runs far enough to put Rafael Septien in chip-shot field goal range? If that tackle isn’t made, there is a great chance “the Catch” never exists.

What if Jackie Smith hauls in that touchdown pass?

There were a handful of things that went wrong in Super Bowl XIII that attributed to the Cowboys 35-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Benny Barnes got flagged for a phantom pass interference call. Randy White tried to pick up a squib kick with a cast on his arm and fumbled it. These plays happened within two minutes of each other and both of them led to Steelers touchdowns.

But no play was as memorable as the Jackie Smith drop. Staubach hit him square in the numbers.

The Cowboys lost by four, which is the exact difference of exchanging a touchdown for a field goal. If the Cowboys win that game, they would have been the team of the ‘70s, not the Steelers. Both teams would then have three Super Bowl wins, but the Cowboys had more wins in the decade. Dallas would also be the team with an NFL record six Super Bowls, not Pittsburgh. That sounds delightful.

What if Jimmy Johnson stuck around?

Not all “what if’s” are plays that happened on the football field. The Cowboys missed out on a big opportunity thanks to a surprise coaching change. After winning back-to-back Super Bowls in 1991 and 1992, the coach that turned this 1-15 Cowboys team into a championship was suddenly no longer the coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Just how big of a run would the Cowboys had if Jimmy Johnson stayed in Dallas? How many Super Bowls do you think the Cowboys win in the ‘90s? Our own Michael Strawn shares what he thinks would have happened:

Michael: I believe the team, rather than winning 3 Super Bowls in 4 seasons wins at least four in five years and possibly five or more.

Specifically, I don't believe the rash of off-field issues that plagued the team under Barry Switzer would have occurred. The players were simply too afraid of Jimmy's wrath. Thus the infamous "white house" doesn't exist. Michael Irvin is never arrested or suspended. Erik Williams career continues on its Hall of Fame trajectory.

They were the best, youngest team in the league when Jimmy left. Most of the core players were still in their prime. I have no doubt whatsoever he would have gotten more from those teams in 1994-1996 than Switzer. Those three teams, under Switzer, lost the NFCC game, won the Super Bowl and lost in the divisional round. With Jimmy as HC they certainly would have done better. They probably would have had more home playoff games and thus more likely to win those game. Five consecutive Super Bowl wins is not a far stretch.

He also would have helped in bringing in better young talent (which was a disaster under the Larry Lacewell-led scouting group).

Even though Jimmy was gone, the Cowboys were still a strong team in 1994. They dug themselves a 21-0 hole in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, but made a great run to close the gap. A huge play late in the fourth quarter proved costly for Dallas.

Was it pass interference? Absolutely. Deion Sanders grabbed Michael Irvin’s left arm and took away any chance he had to make the catch. See for yourself.

That would have been a game-changer for sure. The Cowboys might have won four straight Super Bowls if the ref makes the right call there.

What if Romo had scored on the fumbled snap in Seattle?

Most people would choose to change this one thing...

If Romo doesn’t fumble the snap, the Cowboys go up 23-21 with just over a minute left. The Seahawks would still have time to move the ball and kick the game winning field goal. But what if Romo still fumbles the snap, but makes it into the end zone before he is tackled? Just like that Romo would be the hero.

I’ll defer to my colleague, Tom Ryle to weigh in on this one...

Tom: If the Cowboys had won that game, it would have changed Romo's legacy, and certainly would have gone a long way towards him not developing the undeserved "choker" reputation. Even if the Cowboys had fallen in the next round, the horribly bad taste from the way they lost would have been avoided. And they might have managed to win out, avoiding the long Super Bowl drought. It might also have kept Bill Parcells around for another year, which would probably have meant Wade Phillips would never have been head coach. The ripple effect from there is hard to calculate, but the impact would have been huge - for good or bad.

There were a lot of responses geared towards a potential Super Bowl championship for Mr. Romo if something would have went down a little different. Many fans wanted to see #9 get a ring to squash the false narrative that he’s not a great quarterback and increase his chances to get into the Hall of Fame. So, here’s a bonus question - which event do you think would have given Romo the biggest chance to win a Super Bowl?

  • What if...he doesn’t fumble the snap in Seattle?
  • What if...Patrick Crayton doesn’t quit on that route and catches the TD pass?
  • What if...Dez didn’t drop it?

Those are just some that come to mind. Maybe you have a better one. To vote, put BONUS QUESTION in the subject line and your choice in the body of the comment section and we’ll see which Romo moment gets the most votes.

What if last year’s heartbreaking playoff loss didn’t happen?

If Jared Cook doesn’t come down with both feet in bounds or if Mason Crosby misses that long field goal, who knows how the game would have turned out. But I’d like to take it one step further and focus on a play that happened right before that.

For the life of me I don’t understand how Aaron Rodgers hung on to the ball. If the ball comes loose and the Cowboys recover, that’s the ballgame. Dallas is in easy field goal range for Dan Bailey and he would kick them into the NFC Championship game.

What if Tom Landry had gotten fired after his first four seasons?

Tom Landry didn’t have a winning season until his seventh year as coach of the Cowboys. During his first four seasons, the Cowboys only won 13 of 54 games and never won more than five games in any of them. Things were looking rather bleak for the man with the Fedora.

By 1966, Landry had the Cowboys on the winning track. Dallas would go on to make the playoffs in 17 of the next 18 seasons. 12 of those times they would reach the NFC Championship. Can you imagine that? For almost a span of two decades, the Cowboys were making it to the Conference Championship game 66% of the time. What an amazing time to be a Cowboys fan. No wonder they got labeled “America’s Team.”


What do you think is the Cowboys biggest “what if” moment? Let us hear it in the comment section and rec the ones you like the most. Let’s see which one ends up taking home the honor.