We’re continuing our countdown to the opening game of the Dallas Cowboys 2023 regular season. Each day we’ll present a new player whose jersey number represents the countdown to opening day. Today is number 59 and a historical player.
LB Dat Nguyen
Born: 25th September 1975 (47) - Fort Chaffee, Arkansas
College: Texas A&M Aggies
Draft: 1999, Round 3, Pick 85, Dallas Cowboys.
Tackle for Loss: 38
Forced Fumbles: 4
Fumble Recoveries: 6
Chuck Bednarik Award winner
Lombardi Award winner
Jack Lambert Trophy winner
BIG 12 DPOY
Dat Nguyen was born in Arkansas after his family fled Vietnam near the end of the war. He would go on to play middle linebacker and punter in high school and receive many scholarship offers from colleges like Michigan and Florida. But wanting to stay close to family he stayed in state and enrolled for the Aggies. When he arrived there was talk about him being too small to play the linebacker position; he was just about 5’11” and weighed around 230 pound. This would later be dismissed when he broke, and still maintains, many Texas A&M records today.
He would be most remembered in college for his leadership of the famous “Wrecking Crew” defense, and also for the long list of awards he received while playing. Most will acknowledge that Nguyen is one of the best Texas A&M defensive player in school history. The last conference title the Aggies won, the BIG 12 Championship, was won in 1998 with Nguyen helping lead the defensive charge.
While playing for the Aggies he played 51 consecutive games and had a career total of 517 tackles, both a record that stand today for the school. He also won the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player in college), Lombardi Award and Jack Lambert Trophy (best linebacker in college). He was named BIG 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 1998, earned honors twice as first-team All-BIG 12 and was named All-American in his final season. Along with names like Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher, Nguyen entered into the College Football Hall of Fame in the class of 2017.
Nguyen entered the draft and the Cowboys scooped up the much decorated linebacker in the third round. In typical Nguyen style it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. He led the team during his rookie season in special team tackles and in his third game playing he caught his first NFL interception. By his second year playing Nguyen had won the starting job as Mike linebacker but missed a portion of the season with a knee injury. He played ten games but still registered 48 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. In 2001, Nguyen played a full season at middle linebacker and was first on the team with 112 tackles. The next season he missed half the season adding to his injury list. This time he was kept out with a bad wrist break he got during a game against Houston, but he would go on during the game to play and lead the team with 11 tackles.
2003 saw the arrival of Bill Parcells and he made public comments about his dislike for the size of the Cowboys linebacker corps, but would later recant that statement when talking about Nguyen saying: “He’s a football playing dude, that guy. You bet he could have played for any of my teams”. The Cowboys defense that year would rank second in the NFL and to no one’s surprise it was again Dat Nguyen that led the team in tackles with 119. He also managed to get two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two sacks. He put his name among the linebacking greats for Dallas and was mentioned as one of the best tacklers in the NFL during his time. His leadership and command of the defense was something fellow teammates felt strongly about when referencing Nguyen.
In 2005, he suffered a nasty neck injury which kept out for four games. He came back only to re-aggravate the injury and the team placed him on injured reserve. During the offseason with his injures mounting up and slowing his performance, Nguyen officially retired. Having only played seven seasons at Dallas, missing half a season twice and missing a handful of games in other seasons, Nguyen made 515 tackles and 38 tackles for loss. His career tackle total still ranks ninth in Cowboys history today.