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Early 80's Cowboys


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#1 lastcat3

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 07:42 PM

Were the early 80's Cowboys a team that was going downhill in all areas or were they for the most part the same quality of team in most areas other than qb (White was a good qb but he did not seem to have the game changing abilities that Staubach did). It's obvious that after '83 they were a team in decline but what about '80-'83. Was the only thing really different about them from the late 70's Cowboys was the qb position. Or were they simply a team in decline in those years also and it just did not start becoming very noticeable until '84?

#2 Shipley

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 08:03 PM

A series of disastrous drafts in the late 70s and early 80s made the Cowboys of '80-'83 a team in decline, and the fact that their division rivals the Eagles, Redskins and Giants were on the rise didn't help things. A look at their first-round draft picks in those years says it all:

1978: Larry Bethea
1979: Robert Shaw
1980: First round pick traded
1981: Howard Richards
1982: Rod Hill

The picks in the later rounds in those years were not any better. The Tom Landry/Gill Brant team that had orchestrated so many amazing drafts in the 60s and 70s had clearly lost its mojo.

#3 26554

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 09:23 PM

From 1979-81, the Cowboys defense had some holes, due to age, injury, implosion (Hollywood Henderson) and a brief retirement (Too Tall Jones deciding to take a shot at a boxing career). They appeared to have righted themselves somewhat during the strike-shortened '82 season, but then fell back into mediocrity in 1983. Then the offense starting having issues (qb controversy between White and Hogeboom, Drew Pearson having to retire after his car accident) in 1984. Still, the bottom didn't really start to fall out until 1986. That was probably when they really starting feeling the effects (in terms of going from a playoff team to a non-playoff team) of all the bad drafts that Shipley mentions.

A series of disastrous drafts in the late 70s and early 80s made the Cowboys of '80-'83 a team in decline, and the fact that their division rivals the Eagles, Redskins and Giants were on the rise didn't help things. A look at their first-round draft picks in those years says it all:

1978: Larry Bethea
1979: Robert Shaw
1980: First round pick traded
1981: Howard Richards
1982: Rod Hill

The picks in the later rounds in those years were not any better. The Tom Landry/Gill Brant team that had orchestrated so many amazing drafts in the 60s and 70s had clearly lost its mojo.


Outside of Everson Walls, I can't think of any good young talent that they added during this period. The Steelers declined during the 80's for similar reasons.

Here's their first and second-round picks from 1979 through 1983 -

1979: Greg Hawthorne and Zack Valentine
1980: Mark Malone, Bob Kohrs and John Goodman (Not that John Goodman, though he probably would've been a better choice)
1981: Keith Gary and Anthony Washington
1982: Walter Abercrombie and John Meyer
1983: Gabe Rivera and Wayne Capers

They did have some solid picks in the later rounds, but not enough to offset all these early round whiffs. The most infamous choice on this list is probably the pick of Rivera over some local guy named Marino in '83. Rivera did get off to a promising start, but had his career ended by a car accident just over a month into his rookie season.

#4 lastcat3

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 09:44 PM

Surprisingly in '86 they were actually 6-2 at one point. Then White was lost for the season and Pelluer (sp) took over and they only won one more game the rest of the year. Were they a legit 6-2 though and if White had stayed healthy could they of made a run in the playoffs?

#5 JWL

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 09:47 PM

Here's their first and second-round picks from 1979 through 1983 -

1979: Greg Hawthorne and Zack Valentine
1980: Mark Malone, Bob Kohrs and John Goodman (Not that John Goodman, though he probably would've been a better choice)
1981: Keith Gary and Anthony Washington
1982: Walter Abercrombie and John Meyer
1983: Gabe Rivera and Wayne Capers

Abercrombie was at least good enough to start for a few years and had some very good games. He also made the cover of Sports Illustrated during the playoffs.

#6 BD Sullivan

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 10:28 PM

A series of disastrous drafts in the late 70s and early 80s made the Cowboys of '80-'83 a team in decline, and the fact that their division rivals the Eagles, Redskins and Giants were on the rise didn't help things. A look at their first-round draft picks in those years says it all:

1978: Larry Bethea
1979: Robert Shaw
1980: First round pick traded
1981: Howard Richards
1982: Rod Hill

The picks in the later rounds in those years were not any better. The Tom Landry/Gill Brant team that had orchestrated so many amazing drafts in the 60s and 70s had clearly lost its mojo.


It may just be a coincidence, but around the time they were designated "America's Team" and they were lauded for the Dorsett deal while continuing to gain the reputation for picking players from off-the-beaten-path schools, they seemed to get cocky with their picks. Plus, they cut '78 second rounder Todd Christensen, who ended up having a monster career with the Raiders, while the first two picks in 1980 were traded to Baltimore for holdout John Dutton, who never made the Pro Bowl in his eight-plus seasons with the Boys. Dutton's deal at the '79 trade deadline was no doubt forced by Too Tall's brief retirement.

#7 apbaball

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 07:57 AM

A series of disastrous drafts in the late 70s and early 80s made the Cowboys of '80-'83 a team in decline, and the fact that their division rivals the Eagles, Redskins and Giants were on the rise didn't help things. A look at their first-round draft picks in those years says it all:

1978: Larry Bethea
1979: Robert Shaw
1980: First round pick traded
1981: Howard Richards
1982: Rod Hill

The picks in the later rounds in those years were not any better. The Tom Landry/Gill Brant team that had orchestrated so many amazing drafts in the 60s and 70s had clearly lost its mojo.


Their defense was not as good. Harris and Waters retired which was a big loss. Walls had some very good years but they never gave him any help leaving him one on one a lot while the linebackers and safeties blitzed. The blitzing was deemed necessary since their pass rush was not as good with Martin in decline and Dutton who had clearly lost something. Dutton remains a mystery to me since he racked up sacks by the dozens in Baltimore but I don't think he had more than 5 in a season with Dallas.

Having said that they still had their chances. They only lost by one in 81 to SF and would have won had not Eric Wright caught the back of Pearson's jersey. (might have been flagged today as a horse collar which would have given them the ball at the 35) In 1982 White was knocked out of the NFC championship game. In both 1982 and 1983 they beat the NFC champion Redskins once in the regular season so they were still at a pretty high level. They were 12-2 in 83 and had one of the better offenses in the league but dropped their last two games to Washington and the Niners and with it their confidence. Their run defense was very good in 1983 but they blitzed too much and their secondary got burned often as a result.

In 1984, I think Landry blamed his playoff losses on White and the controversey and the loss of Pearson hurt their offense. Bruenig's injury and retirement didn't help. They rebounded in 1985, but the Bears crushed them as they did everyone else. I also think Dorsett started to slip after the 1983 season.

#8 Teo

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 10:35 PM

I agree that the bad drafts, plus the retirement of Cliff Harris after 1979 were the biggest factors. Sure, Roger Staubach was one of a kind, but I believe that Danny White was a very good quarterback in the early 80's and a capable replacement. He threw a lot of interceptions in 1980, but he got better in 1981 and in 1982 was selected to the Pro Bowl over Joe Montana and Steve Bartkowski, who were selected in 1981 and were still in their prime. Their offense was in pair with the best in the NFL from that period. In 1984 the offense started to decline with the retirment of tackle Pat Donovan and guard Herbert Scott was in their last season (not surprisingly, both were the Cowboys last Pro Bowl offensive linemen until Nate Newton and Mark Tuinei came to their own in Jerry Johnson's days). But the defensive secondary was not good (not surprisingly that Everson Walls led the league three times in interceptions, they threw a lot to him, Dennis Thurman, Ron Fellows and Michael Downs. Cornerback Aaron Mitchell, a 2nd round pick in 1979 was let go after 1980) and the outside linebacker duo of the aging D.D. Lewis (and Guy Brown afterwards) and Mike Hegman was very inferior to the likes of "Hollywood" Henderson and, previously, Chuck Howley and Dave Edwards. Here are some compelling stats, you can see that from 1970-1979 the Doomsday Defense was always in the NFL's top ten in yards awarded, from 1980-1983 their best place was 11 in yards, plus two 17th and one 20th place finishes:

http://www.pro-footb....com/teams/dal/

#9 BD Sullivan

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 11:02 PM

It's odd that the one thing I remember about Dennis Thurman is how Frank Gifford twice referred to him as "Thurman Munson" during a 1979 MNF game at Cleveland--less than two months after Munson had been killed in a plane crash.

#10 Teo

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Posted 17 July 2010 - 11:28 PM

Surprisingly in '86 they were actually 6-2 at one point. Then White was lost for the season and Pelluer (sp) took over and they only won one more game the rest of the year. Were they a legit 6-2 though and if White had stayed healthy could they of made a run in the playoffs?


I remember very well that season, because was Herschel Walker's first in the NFL after his three great seasons in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals. In six of Dallas's first eight games, the Cowboys scored at least 30 points (they won 5 of those games), after that they only scored 20 or more points in two more games (24 in the only other win, against San Diego). It was obvious that Steve Pelluer could'nt carry the team, I remember a 17-13 home loss to the Raiders where the Cowboys had two touchdowns called back (one in a Pelluer run, the other a Everson Walls interception) and Pelluer threw five picks. As for the Raiders, they brought the aging Jim Plunkett in the second half, after Marc Wilson had thrown three picks, and he led the Raiders to victory with two TD-passes to Dokie Williams. Plus Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill were in the downside, and Mike Renfro the other wide receiver who had a good season in 1985 also missed some games.

#11 26554

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 11:33 AM

Abercrombie was at least good enough to start for a few years and had some very good games. He also made the cover of Sports Illustrated during the playoffs.


Right, that was after the upset win over the Broncos in the 1984 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Abercrombie was okay, but he was the #12 overall pick in the '82 draft and expected to be the heir apparent to Franco Harris. He never really lived up to those expectations.

#12 JWL

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Posted 18 July 2010 - 11:51 AM

Right, that was after the upset win over the Broncos in the 1984 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Abercrombie was okay, but he was the #12 overall pick in the '82 draft and expected to be the heir apparent to Franco Harris. He never really lived up to those expectations.



Yes, he was a little too accomplished to be labeled a bust, so I think your description of "okay" is an apt one.

My first documented prediction came prior to that game. My father rented a camcorder that day and did some taping of a party (sister's birthday/New Year's celebration). While the Bears were playing the Redskins my father asked me who would win the AFC game. I replied, "Broncos."

#13 26554

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 12:00 AM

Their defense was not as good. Harris and Waters retired which was a big loss. Walls had some very good years but they never gave him any help leaving him one on one a lot while the linebackers and safeties blitzed. The blitzing was deemed necessary since their pass rush was not as good with Martin in decline and Dutton who had clearly lost something. Dutton remains a mystery to me since he racked up sacks by the dozens in Baltimore but I don't think he had more than 5 in a season with Dallas.

Having said that they still had their chances. They only lost by one in 81 to SF and would have won had not Eric Wright caught the back of Pearson's jersey. (might have been flagged today as a horse collar which would have given them the ball at the 35) In 1982 White was knocked out of the NFC championship game. In both 1982 and 1983 they beat the NFC champion Redskins once in the regular season so they were still at a pretty high level. They were 12-2 in 83 and had one of the better offenses in the league but dropped their last two games to Washington and the Niners and with it their confidence. Their run defense was very good in 1983 but they blitzed too much and their secondary got burned often as a result.

In 1984, I think Landry blamed his playoff losses on White and the controversey and the loss of Pearson hurt their offense. Bruenig's injury and retirement didn't help. They rebounded in 1985, but the Bears crushed them as they did everyone else. I also think Dorsett started to slip after the 1983 season.


Bruenig's retirement following the '84 season left the Cowboys with only Eugenge Lockhart, a poor fit for the Flex, at MLB. With the talk in the other thread about Coryell and the Chargers passing on Mike Singletary, it should be noted that the Cowboys also passed on him in the '81 draft. According to Dextor Clinkscale, Gil Brandt thought Singletary was too short.

#14 97Den98

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 12:18 AM

Yes, he was a little too accomplished to be labeled a bust, so I think your description of "okay" is an apt one.

My first documented prediction came prior to that game. My father rented a camcorder that day and did some taping of a party (sister's birthday/New Year's celebration). While the Bears were playing the Redskins my father asked me who would win the AFC game. I replied, "Broncos."


Don't even remind me of that game. I was very disappointed after that one.

As for Abercrombie, my friend, who is a Steeler fan, said that Walter didn't really have a whole lot of courage, and that he would go down on purpose sometimes. If that is true, he was the Tony Smith of the 80's(Smith was the RB that the Falcons drafted in 1992 with the #1 pick they obtained from Green Bay in the Favre deal). According to Mike Kenn, Smith didn't have too much courage, and he wasn't that talented.

#15 JohnH19

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 12:53 PM

With the talk in the other thread about Coryell and the Chargers passing on Mike Singletary, it should be noted that the Cowboys also passed on him in the '81 draft. According to Dextor Clinkscale, Gil Brandt thought Singletary was too short.


Apparently a lot of teams felt that Singletary came up "short" in one area or another as he lasted until the 38th pick. The Vikings and Oilers were the only teams not to pass on him as Minnesota's first pick in the draft was No. 39 and Houston's was in the third round.

#16 26554

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 01:21 PM

Apparently a lot of teams felt that Singletary came up "short" in one area or another as he lasted until the 38th pick. The Vikings and Oilers were the only teams not to pass on him as Minnesota's first pick in the draft was No. 39 and Houston's was in the third round.


Yeah, I think "too short" was the common knock on Singletary going into that draft. As far as all those other teams passing on him goes, we'd have to look at how many of those teams had/would soon have holes at MLB. Really, thinking about it more, I'm not sure if it's fair to criticize Brandt and co. too much for passing on Singletary. Breuning would only be 28 at the start of the 1981 season and was still a Pro Bowl-level player. It just seems like the kind of move that the Cowboys would've had the foresight to make a few years earlier.

#17 BD Sullivan

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Posted 20 July 2010 - 02:14 PM

Yeah, I think "too short" was the common knock on Singletary going into that draft. As far as all those other teams passing on him goes, we'd have to look at how many of those teams had/would soon have holes at MLB. Really, thinking about it more, I'm not sure if it's fair to criticize Brandt and co. too much for passing on Singletary. Breuning would only be 28 at the start of the 1981 season and was still a Pro Bowl-level player. It just seems like the kind of move that the Cowboys would've had the foresight to make a few years earlier.


Cleveland made first round blunders with linebackers in the draft in both 1987 and '88.

*1987: After trading Chip Banks to move up to the #5 pick in '87, the Browns had a chance to take Shane Conlan, who had a solid nine-year career with the Bills, and later, the Rams. Instead, they took Mike Junkin (aka "The Mad Dog in a Meat Market") who played 20 games in three years. Marty Schottenheimer takes the blame for this pick; it's telling that when he left to coach in KC, he traded a fifth-round pick for Junkin, then got rid of him after that year. The Browns drafted the immortal Vernon Joines, who actually played two seasons with the Browns.

*1988: Drafting later in the first round (#21), they had an opportunity to select Chris Spielman, but instead thought Clifford Charlton was the better choice. Spielman lasted 10 years as a 6-foot linebacker, playing the first eight years with the Lions and the last two with the Bills. He actually was part of the expansion Browns in 1999, but had to retire during training camp because of a neck injury. Clifford, on the other hand, played 31 games in two years for the Browns (starting only one), then was cut by the Browns in 1990--the year they finished 3-13.

#18 burroughsmvp

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Posted 21 July 2010 - 03:51 PM

Their defense was not as good. Harris and Waters retired which was a big loss. Walls had some very good years but they never gave him any help leaving him one on one a lot while the linebackers and safeties blitzed. The blitzing was deemed necessary since their pass rush was not as good with Martin in decline and Dutton who had clearly lost something. Dutton remains a mystery to me since he racked up sacks by the dozens in Baltimore but I don't think he had more than 5 in a season with Dallas.


They made the trade for Dutton to replace the "retired" Ed "Too Tall" Jones in 1979. Dutton had always played DE and continued in '79, replacing Jones. But when Jones returned from boxing in 1980, they moved Dutton to DT. That can be a tough enough move, especially for a tall lineman, but it's especially difficult with Landry's flex defense.