In the weeks leading up to the Cowboys’ start of training camp, we’re trying to determine the best player in franchise history at each position, which is no easy task given all the history on this franchise. Today, the position of interest is wide receivers.
The Cowboys are, of course, known for having three very high-profile wide receivers to wear the same number: 88. It would be a travesty to not start out this conversation without mentioning the three 88’s, so let’s begin with the original: Drew Pearson.
Believe it or not, Mr. Clutch went undrafted out of Tulsa in 1973. Keep in mind that back then, the draft was 17 rounds long, so Pearson going undrafted is a bigger deal than it would be now. Still, Pearson signed in Dallas and saw action in his rookie year due to injuries. He had a modest 22 catches for 388 yards, but it was enough for Tom Landry to rely on him as one of their top receivers going into the 1974 season. It turned out to be his most productive season, with 62 catches and 1,082 yards, which was a lot at that time.
Pearson went on to have an 11-year career that was at times dominant, and littered with insanely clutch catches from the original Number 88, including the famous Hail Mary. He led the league in receiving yards in 1977 and was named to the Pro Bowl three times and the All-Pro team four times, as well as winning a Super Bowl ring. All in all, Pearson finished his career with 489 catches for 7,822 yards (fourth most in franchise history) and 48 touchdowns.
The next man to wear the 88 was Michael Irvin. Taken 11th overall in 1988, Irvin was the last first-round pick of the Landry-era Cowboys before his college coach, Jimmy Johnson, took over the next year. While he didn’t see much playing time as a rookie, Irvin made an impression with his 20.4 yards per reception, earning him the nickname “The Playmaker.” Over the next two years, Irvin battled small injuries that forced him to miss a few games, but in 1991 he put it all together.
Irvin caught 93 passes for a league-leading 1,523 yards and eight touchdowns. It was a spark for Irvin’s career, as he would post 1,000+ receiving yards over seven of the next eight seasons. He was a three-time All Pro honoree and five time Pro Bowler, and his three Super Bowl wins punctuated a terrific career. However, Irvin played at the same time, and often against, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, who consistently gained more recognition than the Playmaker. Still, Irvin is the only Cowboys receiver to have over 8,000 career receiving yards, finishing with 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns.
The most recent bearer of the 88 jersey is Dez Bryant, who many compared to Irvin in both play style and personality coming out of the draft. Taken 24th overall in 2010, Bryant was gifted the number as a challenge for him to live up to the two legends who came before him. Despite limited playing time as a rookie, Bryant showed promise in an otherwise bleak 2010 season both as a receiver and punt returner.
Elevated into a more prominent role in 2011, Bryant delivered with 63 catches for 928 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games. The next year, Bryant took a big step forward as his chemistry with Tony Romo reached a fever pitch. Bryant crossed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time, which he would do the next two seasons as well. From 2012 to 2014, Bryant was one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL, and it seemed like a championship run might come of it before an officiating call that would turn out differently under new league rules.
While Bryant’s career took a downward turn as injuries slowed him down and, later, clashes with coaches forced him out, he still had a very accomplished career. His 73 career touchdown receptions are most in franchise history and he caught 531 passes for 7,459 yards.
There are more than just the three 88’s, though. Frank Clarke was the Cowboys’ first 1,000-yard receiver in 1962 and holds the third-most yards per reception among qualifying receivers. As the team’s first real deep threat, Clarke was credited by “Bullet” Bob Hayes for teaching him how to perfect the deep catch.
Hayes himself was no slouch, either. He led the league in touchdown receptions both of his first two years in the league while crossing 1,000 yards both seasons. He never replicated that success, and his numbers gradually declined from there, but Hayes set many of the records that both Pearson and Irvin later broke. There’s a reason the Bullet is in the Hall of Fame.
More recent names include Terrell Owens and Miles Austin. While Owens only played three years in Dallas and caused problems in the locker room, he was a great weapon, hauling in 3,587 yards and 38 touchdowns. Still, his career was more notable in his days as a 49er.
Austin, on the other hand, went from undrafted receiver to star pass-catcher over eight seasons in Dallas. He stepped into the role that Owens vacated with his departure and became an integral part of the passing game until injuries led to his release after the 2013 season.
And just for the record, Amari Cooper is not included since he hasn’t even played a full season with the star. Hopefully he’ll put himself in the conversation, but he’s way too new to this team.
Without further ado, let’s get to the poll:
Who is the best wide receiver in Cowboys franchise history?
This poll is closed