On Tuesday, we looked at three of the best teams on three of the greatest dynasties in football history: the ’53 Browns, the ’87 49ers, and the ’07 Patriots. Wednesday, the focus shifted to Lombardi’s ’64 Packers, while yesterday we looked at the ’76 Steelers. Today, we complete the series with some notes on the ’94 Cowboys, and how Dallas not only nearly became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a row, but the first team to win four.
Dallas won the Super Bowl after the ’92, ’93, and ’95 seasons, and lost in the NFC Championship Game against the ’49ers after the ’94 season. Given that the Super Bowl would have been against the Chargers, there’s little doubt that the Cowboys would have been Super Bowl champs had they defeated San Francisco. Back then, the NFC Championship Game — which was between the 49ers and Cowboys three straight years — was the Super Bowl. So was the ’94 version of the Cowboys worse than the other three teams? Let’s look at the rosters.
Well, first, a brief aside. Jimmy Johnson came to Dallas in 1989, and turned the Cowboys from 3-13 in 1988 to 13-3 Super Bowl champions in 1992. He did a remarkable job, but the state of Texas wasn’t big enough for the egos of Johnson and owner Jerry Jones. So after the ’93 season, the two parties ways. Jones replaced him with Barry Switzer, who coached the team from ’94 to ’97. It’s probably not fair to criticize Switzer for only winning one Super Bowl in ’94 and ’95, but Cowboys fans will always wonder whether or not Dallas would have won four straight Super Bowls if Johnson and Jones had simply been able to coexist.
QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith, FB Daryl Johnston, WR Michael Irvin and TE Jay Novacek all started at least 60 games for the Cowboys from ’92 to ’95. Alvin Harper was there from ’92 to ’94 as the other starting wide receiver, replaced by Kevin Williams in the starting lineup in ’95.
On the offensive line, LT Mark Tuinei and LG Nate Newton were there each year, too, with C Mark Stepnoski being a Pro Bowler in ’92, ’93, and ’94, before joining the Oilers in ’95 (and making another Pro Bowl). The Cowboys had four different RGs during this stretch, while RT was manned by Erik Williams in ’92, ’93, and ’95, and rookie Larry Allen in ’94 (who played RG in ’95) when Williams was lost for the season after seven games following a car crash.
On defense, DE Tony Tolbert, DE Charles Haley, and DT Russell Maryland were there all four years, although Haley’s biggest year came in ’94. And while veteran Tony Casillas was the NT on the line in ’92 and ’93, Leon Lett (who as you know, was a backup but played a memorable role in the Super Bowl following the ’92 season) was the fourth starter in ’94 (when he made the Pro Bowl) and ’95. Jim Jeffcoat was a key pass rusher from ’92 to ’94, recording 10.5, 6.0, and 8.0 sacks those three years, but he moved to Buffalo in ’95.
At linebacker, the most notable name was Ken Norton, who started in ’92 and ’93 before moving on to the 49ers in ’94. Norton remains the only player to play in and win Super Bowls in three straight years. Dixon Edwards, Robert Jones, and Darrin Smith each started about 40 games for the Cowboys over those four seasons.
At cornerback, Larry Brown was a four-year starter, and the safeties were pretty consistent, too. It was Thomas Everett and James Washington in ’92, Everett and Darren Woodson in ’93, and then Washington and Woodson in ’94. In ’95, Woodson teamed with Brock Marion. The big change, of course, was the other cornerback position. For 9 games in 1995, it was Deion Sanders1; the rest of the Cowboys dynasty, it was Kevin Smith (in ’93 and ’94) and Issiac Holt (in ’92).
So which was the best Cowboys team of this era? Let’s look at the SRS.
There are arguments for all four:
- The ’95 team was up two Hall of Famers in Sanders and Allen at LG (of course, Allen did play at RT on the ’94 team). A whopping 8 offensive starters made the Pro Bowl, and Woodson was a first-team All-Pro at safety.
- The ’94 offense still had Harper and Stepnoski, which the ’95 team did not. Harper was perhaps the best deep threat in football in ’94, averaging 24.9 yards per catch and scoring 8 touchdowns on 33 receptions. The pass rush was dominant, with Haley (12.5 sacks), Jeffcoat (8.0), and Chad Hennings. Lett and Woodson became stars in ’94, and the Cowboys had their best pass defense in ’94 (finishing 1st in ANY/A and passer rating). The Dallas pass defense ranked around tenth in ANY/A and passer rating in ’92, ’93, and ’95, which gives ’94 a big leg up on the Super Bowl champion teams.
- The ’92 and ’93 teams had Jimmy Johnson and Norton, along with a healthy Williams at right tackle. And the ’93 squad had 11 Pro Bowlers.
It’s not hard to argue that the ’94 squad had as much talent as the other Cowboys teams, if not more. But 8 minutes of bad football is enough to make this the least memorable Dallas team of that era. In the NFC Championship Game, the Cowboys had five drives start in the first quarter, and four were disastrous.
The first ended in a pick six to Eric Davis on the fourth play of the game. San Francisco responded with a touchdown.
The Cowboys second drive ended in three plays when Irvin fumbled after making a 3rd-and-17 catch. San Francisco responded with a touchdown.
Dallas fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the 49ers recovered. San Francisco responded with a touchdown.
With 7:30 left in the 1st quarter, the Cowboys were down 21-0. Dallas responded with a touchdown on the next drive, and forced a 49ers punt, before driving down the field again. But the fifth drive ended in disappointment: after a a 3rd-and-10 run call from the 12-yard line, the Cowboys missed a 27-yard field goal attempt.
Dallas did come back, and nearly got all the way there. Trailing 38-21, Dallas went on a 91-yard drive into the 4th quarter to cut the lead to 10 points. The Cowboys forced a three-and-out, and got the ball back with just over seven minutes remaining.
With just over six minutes remaining,Dallas had 2nd-and-10 at the 49ers 43-yard line. Aikman went deep to Irvin, who had slipped by Sanders and was in position to catch a touchdown that would cut the lead to 38-35. But then the pivotal no-call of the game happened: Sanders put his arm in between Irvin’s hands, and what probably should have been a pass interference was not called. A furious Switzer was flagged 15 yards for bumping an official, and a near touchdown was turned into 3rd-and-25. Two plays later, Aikman was sacked and the drive ended, and the Cowboys threat was over.
If Johnson never left Dallas, do the Cowboys win the Super Bowl for a third year in a row? If the Sanders PI is called, does Dallas come back and beat the 49ers? From a talent perspective, there’s no doubt that the ’94 Cowboys were as good as the other Cowboys Super Bowl teams. But the year ended with the sole missing link in a four year chain of success.