Bob Lilly holds several positions of distinction in Dallas Cowboys lore; he was the Cowboys’ first ever draft pick, he is one of a handful of Dallas players who played 14 seasons with the franchise, and he was the first man selected to be a member of the Ring of Honor.
Lilly will always be known as ‘Mr. Cowboy’.
As a professional, Bob spent his first two seasons as a defensive end before Tom Landry made the decision to move him inside to defensive tackle. He earned his first Pro Bowl appearance at defensive end in 1962, but it was after the position change that Lilly really became the catalyst of the defense. He was the driving force in what became Landry’s legendary Doomsday Defense and he was named as a first team All-Pro selection after each season from 1964 through 1969. He earned the honor again in 1971.
In the 1970 & 72 seasons he only earned second team status.
Bob Lilly is one of a select handful of players to be named to the NFL’s All Decade teams in two separate decades, the 1960’s and 70’s. He is also a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All Time Team, and when the 100th anniversary rolls around, chances are he will be listed among that group of all time greats as well.
Bob Lilly was the man who made the Dallas defense go during the early years. His presence transformed the unit and allowed it to become one of the most dominant defenses of any era. Because of that success the entire organization was transformed from a ragtag collection of castoffs from around the NFL to one of the greatest franchises in the game.
Bob Lilly was all but unblockable during his career. That is not to say that the opposition did not try; Lilly was generally double and often triple teamed. He was not slowed down. For his career Lilly recorded 94.5 sacks according to the team’s ‘unofficial’ records. He was the team leader in that category for his first three seasons in the game.
Bob Lilly played in 196 games for the Dallas Cowboys, missing only one contest due to a leg injury. Once his playing days were finished after the 1974 season, the Cowboys decided to say “Thank you” by honoring the man who made such a mark on the franchise by hosting Bob Lilly Day at Texas Stadium.
It was during these festivities that Lilly became the charter member of the Ring of Honor.
Seven times an All-Pro and a eleven-time Pro Bowler, Lilly became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980. He was the first inductee in franchise history. The only head coach that Bob ever played for as a professional summed Lilly’s value to the Cowboys in an interview with Street & Smith prior to the 1972 season.
"As I've said before, another Lilly won't come along in my time. We're observing a man who will become a legend.
"Nobody is better than Lilly". - Tom Landry
The franchise has named its annual award for the player who best demonstrates the sportsmanship, leadership, dedication and achievement in Lilly’s honor. That speaks volumes about the man even more than it does the football player. Away from the gridiron Lilly was and continues to be a man of class and character. He has always been a fitting ambassador for the team.
He is Mr. Cowboy, and there will never be another like him.