To last witness the Cowboys winning the big game, you’d have to go all the way back to the 1995 season when Forrest Gump ran rampant in theatres and baby Ezekiel Elliott was born on a warm summer night. That’s 26 long years. It’s super unsatisfying to see things unfold how they have for the Cowboys over the years, but that doesn’t take away from the excitement generated by the journey. Like this year for example; bad ending, but really fun for large parts of the year.
These moments of happiness from past seasons made us think a bit about just how good those years were. On Friday’s debut episode of The Star Seminar, we played a little game where Rabblerousr, Landon McCool, and I all discussed our top three non-championship seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. And one little caveat to this game is that each of us had to select one non-playoff year for our list.
Here are the seasons that made my top three...
1990 - The great turnaround
This was the season I chose for my “non-playoff” season because it marked the beginning of something special. Sure, the team finished the year with a 7-9 record, but it was a vast improvement from the 1-15 season they had the year prior. It served as the year that bitter fans who stewed over the firing of Tom Landry came to realize that this Jimmy Johnson fella might be the real deal.
In the beginning, the team still had its struggles but won four straight games later in the year. They lost their final two games and missed the playoffs, but that was largely due to the fact that Troy Aikman went down and backup quarterback at the time, Babe Laufenberg, struggled pretty badly. It was the rookie season of Emmitt Smith and it didn’t take us long to see that he was going to be something special. They were good on offense with Aikman, Smith, Michael Irvin, and Jay Novacek. They were starting to rise on defense with young defensive linemen like Jimmy Jones, Tony Tolbert, and Danny Stubbs. They even had two linebackers, Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio, who just so happen to be defensive coordinators now. And let’s not forget how Jimmy Johnson gave attention to special teams with playmakers like Bill Bates, Kenneth Gant, Alexander Wright, Kelvin Martin, and punter Mike Saxon. Those guys were real difference-makers.
2007 - Another ride on the Romocoaster
It was tough seeing Bill Parcells leave after the 2006 season and we weren’t sure what to expect with new coach Wade Phillips. The new season also brought Jason Garrett to the coaching staff in Dallas as he entered his first year as an offensive coordinator in the league. The Cowboys' offense was on fire, scoring the second-most points in the history of their franchise at the time, and they were second in the league next to the New England Patriots record-breaking season.
It was Tony Romo’s first full season as the team’s starting quarterback, They had a running back combo of Julius Jones and Marion Barber (who made the Pro Bowl that year without ever starting a game). Both Romo and Terrell Owens broke single-season passing and receiving touchdown records respectively that year, helping the team jump out to a 12-1 start.
BTB alum Rabblerousr and I discussed these at length in our new show on the Blogging The Boys podcast network - The Star Seminar. Fellow former BTBer Landon McCool was a guest on the first episode. You can listen to us there every Friday. Make sure to subscribe to the Blogging The Boys podcast network so you don’t miss any of our other shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The offense got all the glory, but they actually had a pretty good defensive unit with players like DeMarcus Ware, Roy Williams, Terence Newman, Greg Ellis, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, and free-agent safety Ken Hamlin. In all, the team sent 13 players to the Pro Bowl. Ultimately, the season ended in a disappointing fashion as the top-seeded Cowboys lost in the Divisional Round to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants on the last play of the game. That opened the door for crazy storylines, especially for Romo as he endured a second straight season with a late-game mistake as he was questioned for his decision to go to Cabo San Lucas during the bye week, and brought about the notion of a Jessica Simpson curse. But, if you just remove the ending, it was a pretty fun season. I’ll never forget that Monday Night Buffalo game for as long as I live.
1981 - This is the team I love
This season was my favorite non-championship season because it was the year that solidified my love for the Cowboys. I was really young, but I have so many great memories of this team that year. They had a young future Hall of Famer in Tony Dorsett who rushed for over 1,600 yards. They had the wide receiving trio of Drew Pearson, Tony Hill, and Butch Johnson. And they loved to pull out the razzle-dazzle with trick plays.
And it wasn’t just about the offense. The Cowboys defense led the league with 53 takeaways! That’s insane. If you’re impressed by the league-leading 26 interceptions the Cowboys had this past year, then you’d love the 37 picks they had in 1981. And we know that Everson Walls had 11 of them thanks to Trevon Diggs tying his Cowboys single-season record, but Walls had help from Dennis Thurman (nine picks) and Michael Downs (seven picks). It was so fun watching the defense take the ball away.
This team put together three different four-game winning streaks that year and while it ended in an epic NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers where some guy made some sort of catch or something, it doesn’t take away from the remarkable exciting season this Cowboys team brought us that year.
Those are my top three, what about you?