Last week we asked who the best quarterback and running back in Cowboys history were, and while both polls are still open, the consensus is that it’s Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith, respectively. Neither of those choices come as a big surprise.
But perhaps there’s more debate to be had around the best fullback in franchise history. Sure, Daryl Johnston is widely known and has three Super Bowl rings to his name, but there’s more than just the Moose in the annals of Cowboys fullback history.
For those who are old enough to remember, the fullback used to be a really important position in all of football, especially to Tom Landry’s offense. Fullbacks were given their name because initially they lined up the furthest back from the line of scrimmage, with the quarterback flanked by two half backs. As such, fullbacks saw more usage as runners and catchers. As the game evolved, teams began placing the fullback in front of one halfback to use them as a blocker, but Landry’s Cowboys still used the fullback in the running game.
Don Perkins was the first fullback for Dallas, and while he sat out the 1960 inaugural season with a broken foot, he made his impact known in his first year. He led the team in carries with 200 and racked up 815 yards and four touchdowns. Perkins also made an impact in the receiving game, with the third most catches and 298 yards. At one point that season, he became the first Cowboy ever to rush for 100 yards in a game. He won Rookie of the Year for his efforts.
Perkins, a strong and physically dominant presence, enjoyed a successful eight-year career with America’s Team in which he finished top ten in rushing yards every season. Perkins was named an All Pro three times and was named to the Pro Bowl six times. He finished his career with 6,217 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns and helped lead the team to its first winning season, first playoff appearance, and first playoff victory towards the end of his career. Perkins’ 6,217 rushing yards is still good for third most in franchise history behind Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
Perkins was replaced by Walt Garrison, who had been sharing snaps with Perkins since being drafted in 1966. While his usage had gradually increased the previous three seasons, Garrison had yet to log over 50 carries in a single season. But with Perkins retired, Garrison broke out in the 1969 season with 176 carries and 818 yards, but just two touchdowns. The emergence of speedster Calvin Hill at halfback ate up some of Garrison’s usage as a runner, but he was still effective.
Garrison wasn’t able to find the recognition that Perkins had, only making one Pro Bowl appearance in six seasons as the top fullback. He still finished his career with 3,886 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. And unlike Perkins, Garrison was able to retire with a Super Bowl ring, helping to put the finishing touch on what Perkins had helped start. During his time as a Cowboy, Garrison made a reputation for his dependability, leading to this legendary quote from Garrison’s quarterback, Don Meredith:
“If it was third down, and you needed four yards, if you’d get the ball to Walt Garrison, he’d get ya five. And if it was third down and ya needed twenty yards, if you’d get the ball to Walt Garrison, by God, he’d get you five.”
After Garrison, the fullback reigns were handed over to Robert Newhouse, arguably the last traditional fullback in Cowboys history. With Hill leaving for the World Football League and Garrison’s retirement, Newhouse became the Cowboys’ primary runner, which Garrison never was with Hill there. Just as Garrison had done, Newhouse had been gradually given more carries the last three seasons before taking over. In 1975, Newhouse carried the ball 209 times for 930 yards and two touchdowns.
Newhouse would enjoy a six year career as the primary fullback, but he saw a decrease in carries when Tony Dorsett arrived in 1977. Still, Newhouse finished with two All Pro selections and is the fifth leading rusher in franchise history. Pus, he got to throw a touchdown in Super Bowl XII:
Newhouse was succeeded by Ron Springs, who was used more as a blocker for Dorsett, by then a bona fide star at running back. While Springs did have two seasons with 150+ carries, he marked the turning point in the way Landry’s offense used the fullback. Nevertheless, Springs was a great blocker, opening up plenty of holes for Dorsett throughout his career. Released after the 1984 season, Springs finished his Cowboys tenure with 604 carries for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also saw significantly more use as a receiver with 222 catches for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A few years later saw the rise of the Moose, Daryl Johnston. By that time, the fullback had become a blocker first and foremost, and new head coach Jimmy Johnson subscribed to that view. Johnston earned a fierce reputation as a blocker, clearing the way for Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith throughout his career, as well as contributing sparingly as a runner and as a decent pass catcher.
Johnston was so good at his often thankless job that he forced the NFL to create a spot for the fullback position in the Pro Bowl, to which Johnston was named twice. A neck injury forced Johnston to retire after the 1999 season, but he finished with 232 carries, 753 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, 294 catches, 2,227 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns over his 11 years in Dallas.
Since then, few fullbacks have managed to make a name for themselves in Dallas, and the league-wide attitude towards the position has shifted dramatically. There is one post-Moose fullback who deserves some praise, though, and it’s Tony Fiammetta. While he only played one year for the Cowboys in 2011, his blocking can largely be attributed to the success of DeMarco Murray, who had a career breakout that year.
Heading into Week 6, the Cowboys were 2-3 and had an ineffective running game. Fiammetta, who barely saw any time, was used almost exclusively as a blocker. With Murray taking a heavy load of snaps due to Felix Jones’ injury, Fiammetta came in frequently to block for him. It resulted in Murray’s record-breaking 253 yard game. Running behind Fiammetta, Murray ran for 601 yards over four weeks with a whopping eight yards per carry. When Fiammetta missed time with an illness, Murray’s production dropped off and he failed to run for 100 yards in a game the rest of the season.
Fiammetta wasn’t re-signed by the Cowboys and he retired three years later, but he was easily the most effective fullback the Cowboys have had since Johnston. With Moose on the mind, though, let’s ask the question:
Who is the best fullback in Cowboys franchise history?
This poll is closed