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 training camp.
Number 71: Mark Tuinei, OT, 1983-1997
Analysis: His is a story of triumph and tragedy but there is no more deserving player to ever wear this number in Cowboys history though La’el Collins is doing well with it now. Tuinei was undrafted in 1983, he spent his first three seasons as a two-way player on both the offensive and defensive line. In the fifth week of 1986, Tuinei (filling in for Randy White) led the defense in tackles, the very next week, he was the starting offensive left tackle against Washington. He finally found his calling at tackle and became a cornerstone player for the 1990’s Dallas Cowboys dynasty teams. Overall, Tuinei would appear in over 200 games including the postseason, making over 160 starts at left tackle. Though Tuinei’s career was nagged by knee injuries, his toughness to play was unmatched. In 1994, he was elected to his first Pro Bowl as a result of the “Great Wall of Dallas” setting a franchise low in sacks allowed at only 20.
After helping secure Emmitt Smith’s fourth rushing title in 1995 and setting a new low of only 18 sacks allowed, Tuinei made his second Pro Bowl. In 1996, fighting through the pain of a torn MCL, Tuinei remained a stalwart and Dallas led the NFL in fewest sacks allowed at 19. Tuinei retired in 1997 a three-time Super Bowl champion. His 15 seasons as a Cowboy tied Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Bill Bates for the most in franchise history. He tragically passed away in 1999 at the age of 39 but he will always be remembered as one of the greatest offensive linemen in Cowboys history.
Number 72: Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DE, 1974-1978, 1980-1989
Analysis: There’s no doubt who this number belongs to even though Travis Frederick is representing it very well these days. Ed “Too Tall” Jones was just a few inches shy of seven feet and was drafted first overall by the Cowboys in the 1974 NFL Draft. Jones took over as the starting left end in his second season and helped the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XI victory over the Broncos as a part of the famed “Doomsday Defense”. Following the 1978 season, Jones left the NFL to pursue a career in boxing and went 6-0 with five knockouts before returning to the Cowboys in 1980. Though he was good in his first stint, he was a better player in his second term. From 1981-1983, Jones was a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time second-team All-Pro, and first-team All-Pro in 1982. At the time of his retirement in 1989, his 232 games played in a Cowboys uniform was the franchise record, it’s since been tied by Bill Bates then surpassed by Jason Witten. Ed “Too Tall” Jones is unofficially credited with the third-most sacks in franchise history at 106 and fifth-most tackles with 1,032. He also had three interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries.
Number 73: Larry Allen, OL, 1994-2005
Analysis: With all due respect to Ralph Neely who had a fantastic career, he’s not quite the same as the incomparable Larry Allen. Though he dropped in the 1994 Draft due to small school concerns and injury, the Cowboys were elated to pick him up in the second round. In his rookie season, Allen took over the right tackle position after incumbent Erik Williams was injured in an automobile accident. Allen received three game balls that season, his first for holding the Redskins sackless, his second for doing the same against the Saints while also running down linebacker Darion Conner to save a pick-six, and his third for helping the Cowboys put up 450 total yards in a playoff win over the Packers on a sprained ankle.
In ‘95, Allen would make the move to guard and is widely considered the best to ever play the position. He went to seven straight Pro Bowls, earned six straight first-team All-Pro selections, and was a key catalyst to the Cowboys Super Bowl XXX win over the Steelers. In 1998, Allen faced a five-week gauntlet of the NFC’s premier pass rushers against Hugh Douglas (Eagles), Chad Bratzke (Giants), Simeon Rice (Cardinals), Michael Sinclair (NFL sack-leading Seahawks), and John Randle (Vikings). The Cowboys won all five games, Allen gave up zero sacks and the team itself only gave up one sack to the Seahawks on a Troy Aikman fumble. Allen contributed that season to Emmitt Smith breaking the all-time career rushing touchdown record with 126. In 12 years, Allen started 170 of 176 games, earned a total of 11 Pro Bowl selections, and six All-Pro selections. He was a member of the 1990’s All-Decade Team, a Ring of Honor inductee in 2011, and was placed in the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Number 74: Bob Lilly, DL, 1961-1974
Analysis: How impressive is it that the Cowboys first draft pick ever, at 13th overall, would go on to be one of the greatest of all time? Bob Lilly, or Mr. Cowboy as he’s been referred to, was the very definition of what Tom Landry envisioned his team to be with his relentless competitiveness and true grit. He was part of the original “Doomsday Defense” long before the days of Randy White. From 1964-1969, Lilly was selected six straight times to the All-NFL team or Pro Bowl as it’s known today and has 11 Pro Bowls in total. He started every one of his 196 games played and was an All-Pro seven times. After losing two NFL Championship games to the Packers, two conference title games to the Browns, and a Super Bowl V loss to the Colts, Lilly was famously seen tossing his helmet clear across the field in disgust.
Finally, in 1971, Lilly was able to reach the pinnacle as the Cowboys beat the Dolphin 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. His 29-yard sack of Bob Griese is not only one of the most memorable plays but it’s an NFL record, too. Lilly was so special because even when he was double- or triple-teamed, he found ways to be extremely disruptive and successful. He was named to both the 1960’s and 1970’s All-Decade Teams. He was the first induction into the Cowboys Ring of Honor a year after he retired and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 on his first-ballot. There will never be another Cowboy like Lilly though Jason Witten is certainly in the conversation.
Number 75: Jethro Pugh, DT, 1965-1978
Analysis: Pugh was often overshadowed by the accolades that poured in for teammates Bob Lilly and George Andrie though he was a great contributor to the 1971 Super Bowl winning team. He had already started 90 games before Lilly retired in 1974 but Pugh then caught on with Doomsday II that consisted of Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Harvey Martin. Pugh played 14 years as a Dallas Cowboy, which ranks him fourth all time and he made 156 starts in 183 total games. He ranks sixth all time on the Cowboys sack leader list with an unofficial 95.5 sacks. He also led the Cowboys in sacks from 1968-1972 which was a franchise record until DeMarcus Ware broke it in 2010. Pugh was never selected to a Pro Bowl but was a two-time Second-Team All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Number 76: John Niland, G, 1966-1975
Analysis: Flozell Adams, a five-time Pro Bowler deserves mention here but Niland is the choice. He was the fifth overall pick for the Cowboys in 1966 becoming the franchise’s first offensive lineman taken that high. He was the full-time starter at left guard by his second season, making six consecutive Pro Bowls, and earning two First-Team All-Pro selections in 1971-1972. In nine years with the Cowboys, he started 113 games and only missed two games in his entire career. Following the 1975 season, he was traded to the Eagles in exchange for a pick that landed Tony Hill. Niland was part of the Cowboys very first Super Bowl championship team.
Number 77: Tyron Smith, OT, 2011-Present
Analysis: Jim Jeffcoat was certainly a fantastic player with his 94.5 sacks and contributed 16.5 sacks in the Cowboys back-to-back championships of 1992-1993. However, Tyron Smith is the pick here because he’s the better talent plus Jeffcoat wasn’t a full-time player after 1991 nor was he ever an All-Pro or Pro Bowler. Tyron Smith is the premier left tackle in football over the past several seasons starting 105 of 112 possible games. In the past four seasons, Smith and the Cowboys have had three Top-2 finishes in total rushing yards and were ninth in 2015 with Darren McFadden. In that same period of time, Smith has paved the way for two rushing titles and two other Top-10 performances. Since 2013, Smith has been a perennial Pro Bowler as well as a two time First-Team All-Pro, and two time Second-Team All-Pro.
Number 78: Leon Lett, DT, 1991-2000
Analysis: Though he’s always going to be remembered for two blunders, he deserves credit where it’s due because he was a high-quality player for the Cowboys. Besides, those two blunders in 1993 didn’t stop the Cowboys from winning Super Bowl XXVII. “Big Cat”, as he’s affectionately named, had incredible agility that made him a key asset to the Cowboys defensive line rotation during their glory years. In ten seasons, Lett started 73 of 109 career games, was a two time Pro Bowler, and three time Super Bowl champion. Lett returned to the Cowboys as a defensive line assistant in 2011, where he’s been ever since. John Dutton is the runner-up and had a very good career, but we’re going with Lett because he is certainly the most memorable #78 along with his talent.
Number 79: Harvey Martin, DL, 1973-1983
Analysis: It was a decision between Martin and Erik Williams, the book end tackle for three Super Bowl titles in the 90’s, but ultimately Martin wins out. He never gets his just due in the NFL and folks tend to forget how integral he was to the Doomsday Defense. Martin started 130 of 158 career games, leading the Cowboys in sacks in seven of his nine seasons and was named to four Pro Bowls. Though sacks weren’t official until 1982, Martin was the franchise leader with 114 total sacks until DeMarcus Ware surpassed him in 2013. His 1977 season, in which the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, was widely considered one of the greatest statistical outputs by a single player in NFL history. Martin amassed 85 tackles and 23 sacks, which if officially recognized, would beat out Michael Strahan’s NFL record. He was the Defensive Player of the Year, a consensus All-Pro, and Super Bowl Co-MVP with Randy White. He’s one of the NFL’s first elite pass rushers and he’s getting his justification in this post. Hopefully, one day, he’ll earn a spot in the Ring of Honor.
Number 80: Tony Hill, WR, 1977-1986
Analysis: The Cowboys traded John Niland in 1977 for the 62nd overall pick in the third round which netted Tony Hill to the Cowboys. In his rookie season, Hill was mainly used as a kick returner and he earned a Super Bowl ring that year. He became a full-time starter in 1978, over the next two years, he recorded over 100 receptions for 1,885 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl in both 1978 and 1979. Speaking of 1979, Hill along with Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett became the first team in NFL history to have two 1,000-yard receivers and 1,000-yard rusher. His best statistical outing came in 1985 after Drew Pearson had retired. That year, Hill had 74 receptions, 1,113 yards, and seven touchdowns, which earned him his third Pro Bowl. Hill led the Cowboys in receptions and yards in nine straight seasons. He was also a first-team All-Pro in 1978 as well as two time second-team All-Pro in 1979 and 1985.