In this series, we’re rating the greatest, or most memorable, Cowboys of all time at each number available. That’s right, from one to 99, multiple Cowboys have occupied those jersey numbers. We’re not interested in what these players did in their careers, just how they performed while they were a part of “America’s Team”. In doing research for this, you find that it’s fun because of how much of a mixed bag it truly is. In turn, some numbers have a strong lineage of great football careers that make it hard to choose and others make you question whether that number needs a winner. Either way, it’s great for offseason fodder before we gear up for OTA’s and training camps.
Number 21: Deion Sanders, DB/WR, 1995-1999
Analysis: Whether Cowboys fans love him or hate him, Deion Sanders was necessary for the Cowboys to ensure their third Super Bowl victory and domination of the 1990’s. Sanders was a shutdown cornerback that opposing offenses were told to throw away from. In his five seasons with the Cowboys, Sanders had 16 interceptions (two in the playoffs), two pick-sixes, and two forced fumbles. He ensured that whoever was lining up against him wasn’t going to be a factor and was the Cowboys’ “hired gun”. That’s not all Primetime did for the Cowboys though as he also returned four punts for touchdowns and spent time on offense catching 49 passes for 624 yards. Though we have to share Prime with some other teams, he was an eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Famer. He’s really the clear winner at 21 but could be challenged by the young running back, Ezekiel Elliott, before too long.
Number 22: Emmitt Smith, RB, 1990-2002
Analysis: There’s not much you can say about the all-time leading rusher in NFL History that his 18,355 rushing yards haven’t already said. Smith set everything in motion for the Cowboys dynasty of the 90’s with his grit, determination, and drive for greatness. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, three-time Super Bowl champion, league MVP, and the Rookie of the Year in 1990. He led the league in rushing four times but had 11 straight seasons of over 1,000 yards rushing. Bob Hayes was another legendary Cowboy to don the “22” but Emmitt Smith is the unquestioned owner of that jersey.
Number 23: Tashard Choice, RB, 2008-2011
Analysis: The number 23 doesn’t have a storied legacy in the history of the Cowboys, the only other consideration would have been Robert Williams, a backup defensive back from 1987-1993 who won two rings as an inactive participant. Choice appeared in 54 games for the Cowboys as a backup running back. He had 250 rushes for 1,139 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a member of the Cowboys. He also contributed 64 catches for another 497 yards in receiving.
Number 24: Everson Walls, CB, 1981-1989
Analysis: Walls is widely considered the greatest pure cornerback the Dallas Cowboys ever had and his resumé was quite impressive. He spent most of his time with a Cowboys team that couldn’t get past the 49ers. In nine years with the Cowboys, Walls started 127 of 133 games, had an incredible 44 interceptions (second in franchise history), was a four-time Pro Bowler (all-time leader in Pro Bowl interceptions), and first-team All-Pro. Walls is one of only two players in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times along with Ed Reed. He’s not in the the Cowboys Ring of Honor or the NFL Hall of Fame and that’s an utter shame. A couple of other notable 24s for the Cowboys include Marion Barber and Larry Brown.
Number 25: Aaron Kyle, DB, 1976-1979
Analysis: Kyle was Dallas’ first-round pick of 1976 and was the first defensive back the Cowboys had ever spent a first-round pick on. He spent four years with the Cowboys, starting 42 of 60 games he appeared in. In his second year, Kyle replaced the legendary Mel Renfro at right cornerback. After missing the last four games of the 1977 season with a wrist injury, he returned with a vengeance in the playoffs. In Super Bowl XII, Kyle recorded three tackles, an interception, and the fumble recovery that set up the game-clinching touchdown as the Cowboys battered the Broncos 27-10. Kyle had six interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and a safety before injuries piled on and he left in the 1980 season.
Number 26: Preston Pearson, RB, 1975-1980
Analysis: The only other player that could stake a claim for “26” is Michael Downs, who started 116 games at free safety from 1981-1988 and had 35 career interceptions. However, when you think about the legacy of the number, Pearson’s contributions in the 1970’s were pretty important to their success. Pearson was never the big time running back that Tony Dorsett was but he was a great power back that contributed a lot in the passing game. In six seasons, Pearson rushed 325 times for 1,207 yards, and five touchdowns. However, he served as a checkdown master for Roger Staubach, catching 189 passes for 2,274 yards and 11 touchdowns. Pearson did a little bit of everything including special teams and was part of the 1977 Super Bowl champion Cowboys team.
Number 27: Mike Gaechter, DB, 1962-1969
Analysis: The number 27 is another number that doesn’t have a ton of success associated with it but one guy stood above the rest. Gaechter played eight seasons at both cornerback and safety for some pretty bad Cowboys teams. He started 83 of 108 career games, recording 21 interceptions, and five fumbles. Depending on how Jourdan Lewis turns out, he could possibly someday overtake the legacy at number 27.
Number 28: Darren Woodson, DB, 1992-2003
Analysis: There’s no equal at this number and there just might not ever be one for the Cowboys again. Woody was the epitome of what an enforcer on an NFL defense is supposed to be. He could do anything you asked him to, cover a receiver, running back, play linebacker, cover tight ends, you name it. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and three-time Super Bowl champion. He’s the franchise leader in tackles with a whopping 813. Woodson had 162 career starts, 23 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and 11 sacks. The Cowboys have been looking for a safety of his caliber ever since he retired, Woody was one in a million. He was placed in the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2015 and hopefully will make his arrival to Canton where he belongs.
Number 29: DeMarco Murray, RB, 2011-2014
Analysis: Kenneth Gant and Keith Davis both wore 29 but neither of them could say that they have a Cowboys franchise record. Murray spent four seasons with the Cowboys and was part of a special 2014 season that ended in the hands of Gene Steratore in Green Bay. That same year, the Cowboys leaned heavily on their running game as DeMarco Murray carried the ball 392 times for 1,845 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Murray had a total of 2,221 yards from scrimmage and the Cowboys cruised to 12-4 on the season. It’s one of the most memorable seasons in recent times and Murray was a key asset to their success.
Number 30: Dan Reeves, RB, 1965-1972
Analysis: Reeves wasn’t the electric starting running back that everyone was relying on to win game but he was a good player in his own right. Reeves won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys (as a player and coach) and played in 100 games, starting 39 of them. In his eight-year career, Reeves rushed 535 times for 1,990 yards, and 25 touchdowns. In the receiving game, Reeves had 129 catches for 1,693 yards and 17 touchdowns. When Reeves was done playing the game, he stayed on as an assistant coach to Tom Landry until 1981. Reeves went on to be the head coach of the Broncos, Giants, and Falcons but it all started in Dallas.