If you asked Cowboys fans who makes up the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks in franchise history, the most common answer would probably be Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, and Dak Prescott. But as we approach Sunday’s Divisional Round playoff game against the 49ers, it seems appropriate to give a much-deserved shoutout to former QB Danny White.
This Sunday in San Francisco, the Cowboys have a chance to get back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1995 season. It’s a pivotal point for Prescott for how he’ll be remembered in the pantheon of Dallas quarterbacks. Every year passing means fewer opportunities to change the narrative.
Back in the 1980s, Danny White’s narrative was one of consistent disappointment. He helped lead the Cowboys to three-straight NFC Championship Games from 1980-1982. But coming off the glorious run of “America’s Team” in the 70s, with two Super Bowl victories and three other NFC Championship wins, the bar was set very high for White and the Cowboys of the following decade.
When Dallas got back to Super Bowl glory in the 90s with Troy Aikman, it only threw more mud on White’s run. While still arguably the third-best QB in Cowboys history behind Staubach and Aikman at that time, White was an afterthought due to the lack of relative postseason success. It was a “Big 2” in the pantheon, with guys like White and Don Meredith only getting the table scraps of recognition.
But once the 90s dynasty came to a screeching halt after the 1995 season, a 26-year absence from the NFC Championship Game began. The Cowboys had lived in that round for most of their history, reaching the conference championship an incredible 18 times from 1966-1995. But just as that 29-year run built Dallas’ status and the NFL’s most popular franchise, the last 26 seasons of futility have made it one of the most frustrating franchises.
That’s why we’re here to show some love to Danny White today. Between recency bias and the skewing effect of modern passing statistics compared to past eras, it’s easy to understand why Prescott and Romo would be held in higher esteem by fans. Younger fans only know Staubach, and even Aikman, because of what they learn from documentaries and their Cowboys Nation mentors.
But while Prescott and Romo have put up voluminous numbers in this pass-happy time for football, they never got the Cowboys past the second round. White took over for Staubach in 1980 and did it three times in a row. Whatever perception of failure existed at that time, White and his teams deserve a lot more credit for achieving what few others did in those seasons.
Even more, thanks to the Cowboys of the last two-and-a-half decades, we should have a much greater appreciation for how hard it is to get to the penultimate round of the NFL playoffs. Sandwiched between the Staubach and Aikman eras, it’s understandable that White’s run was taken for granted. But now, compared to the modern period, it’s still one of the more glowing periods of Dallas Cowboys football.
Again, shoutout to Danny White. We can only hope that Dak Prescott finally does something this Sunday that White accomplished multiple times for the franchise. All these years that Prescott and Romo have been fighting against expectations from Cowboys fans, it’s important to remember that White was one of the guys who helped set them.