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Dallas Cowboys: "America's Team" or An American Tragedy, Part II

Updated on July 24, 2020

The 1980s were not kind to the Dallas Cowboys at all. Despite being a winning franchise they managed to not reach one single Super Bowl. Furthermore, this was to be the last decade with Tom Landry as head coach and the beginning of Jerry Jones ownership. For what happened in the 1980s the Cowboys made up for this in the 1990s. The Dallas Cowboys managed to win 3 Super Bowls and claim one of the greatest decades for a team in professional sports.

1980s: Super Bowl Drought

Coming off one of the better decades the Dallas Cowboys were not moving forward very well. Roger Staubach retired in 1979 and the Cowboys still had several key veterans in Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett. They both remained Pro-Bowl level players for the Cowboys but at the same time without a full Super Bowl winning team that they had in previous years the Cowboys did not do very well. 1980 brought promise as Staubach’s replacement, Danny White, won 12 games and lost 4. Furthermore, the Cowboys won their division despite being tied with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles had played well down the stretch but when it mattered the division went to the Cowboys who had a better record against the Eagles. The Cowboys engineered a brief playoff run but lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship game. In 1981, they again won the Division Title but lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship on what was later called “The Catch” as Joe Montana threw a game-winning touchdown to Dwight Clark. Dallas became only the third team in 1982 to reach the NFC Championship in three consecutive years, but again they lost. The Cowboys were legitimate Super Bowl contenders until the 1985 season which broke their 20 season consecutive winning season streak. It was clear that the Cowboys were slowing down. Tom Landry was ageing and along with it was the hopes of the Cowboys ever seeing another Lombardi Trophy. 1988 was the last straw as the Cowboys began the season winning 2 and losing 2. After that, it was downhill as the Cowboys lost their next 10 games. Yet, this season was the beginning of a turn around as the bright spot of the 1988 Cowboys was rookie receiver Michael Irvin who would become important to the 1990s Cowboys.

Although the 1980s Cowboys were briefly successful they made a trade that would go down in history as one of the most stupendous and one-sided trades ever. The Minnesota Vikings decided to trade 4 players along with 8 draft picks to be used in the 1990 draft. The Cowboys handed Running Back Herschel Walker to the Vikings for a 3rd Round Pick in 1990. 1989 was to be the beginning of a new era for the Cowboys as they used most of the 1990s draft picks to eventually win multiple Super Bowls. 1989 was a terrible year as well as 1988, the Cowboys went 1-15. But now, they looked forward to the 1990s with a new Quarterback in Troy Aikman. Aikman had proven his talent at UCLA and was ready to take on the big stage. However, as a rookie he won only 1 game. Aikman saw potential in this team though because of new head coach Jimmy Johnson’s style and flair. However, along with the combination of Johnson and Aikman, their was a new man at the top. Jerry Jones was a large corporation tycoon of sorts, raised in Arkansas he grew into his own networking and attempting to bring his business to the state. After many failed adverntures including trying to buy the San Diego Chargers, Jones finally made it into the Oil and Gas Industry in Arkansas and has since never looked back. Jones bought the Cowboys for almost a penny of what they are worth today. He bought the Cowboys for $140 Million Dollars and remains the sole owner. Jones’s style was control. He was a control freak and remains one with the reputation of firing many coaches and cutting players for a variety of reasons. He was later voted one of the least liked personalities in sports. However, early on, his style was unsuccessful and their was no reason to dislike Jones. He couldn’t win anything so why be mad at him. The 1990s proved to be a whole different monster all together.

1990s: Cowboy’s Decade

1989 was a bad year to be a Cowboy but the 1990s were looking to be a little different. With fresh meat under center the Cowboys knew change was needed and changes were going to be made. The Cowboys drafted Running Back Emmitt Smith out of Florida in 1990 using one of the picks that the Vikings had given to them. Smith eventually became the all-time leading rusher in NFL History. It seemed that with a core group like Aikman and Smith could make the Cowboys a force. Furthermore, Michael Irvin would become an NFL great as he became a weapon in the Aikman-led offense. However, as with all Super Bowl dynasties the progress was going to take time and patience. In 1991, the Cowboys made it to the playoffs but were soon eliminated in the opening round. However, they finished 11-5 and were slowly climbing the ladder of success once again.

1992, the Cowboys were the best team in the NFL by far. Winning 13 of 16 and boasting the #1 Defense that year the Cowboys made themselves relevant again in the conversation for Super Bowl supremacy. Super Bowl XXVII was a slaughter to say the least. The Buffalo Bills who would had at that point lost two in a row, and would eventually lose to the Cowboys again in Super Bowl XXVIII lost 52-17. A slaughter that included the Bills having 9 turnovers. Buffalo would have been better not even showing up to play the Cowboys. That year they also got revenge on the 49ers who were slowly declining as well having lost Joe Montana. The NFC Champions began their reign of terror. 1993, would be more of the same. The Cowboys again played San Francisco in the NFC Championship game and the Bills again defeating them 30-13. Dallas had repeated for the first time in their history.

1995, the Cowboys made some changes with a young Larry Allen being their offensive juggernaut in the offensive line and on the other side of the ball signed one of the more controversial figures in sports at the time. Deion Sanders, who played with the 49ers the previous year and won a Super Bowl also played for the Falcons. Sanders came to the Cowboys looking for a title but also more prominence. Deion was known for his performance on the field but the one off the field was just as provocative. He was known for his flashy clothes and attitude which prompted his own teammates to in some cases dislike him. Deion knew he was the best player the Cowboys had and that he was going to be great for Dallas but he could have shown it in a different way. Jerry Jones liked Sanders because he presented what he felt a Cowboy should be, a braggadocios, arrogance winner. The Cowboys had made an adjustment at the coaching position as Jimmy Johnson was relieved of his duties due to inconsistencies with ownership. Johnson’s former rival while he coached at the University of Miami, Barry Switzer, took over. Switzer, had a long-standing beef with Troy Aikman which dated back to Aikman briefly playing under Switzer at Oklahoma. This affected the behind the scenes of the Cowboys but not the on-field performance. The Cowboys had failed the three-peat in 1994 due to San Francisco taking the crown. 1995 would be the last year that the Cowboys would be in the Super Bowl. They faced the Pittsburgh Steelers that year as the Cowboys made it personal as they always had. Previously, Pittsburgh had beaten the Cowboys in two Super Bowls in the 1970s and it was time for payback. Well, this was a better Cowboys roster and it did not disappoint. The Cowboys won handily 27-17. Then came the second dark period in the Cowboys history. Although the 1990s were filled with glory the Cowboys would soon relinquish their spot amongst the kings of the NFL. Having won 5 Super Bowls, the Cowboys have not since played in an NFC Championship game. Switzer was relieved of his duties in 1997 after failing to make the playoffs. The decade was a over and the Cowboys remained the best team of that decade being one of the two teams to win multiple Super Bowls. However, the end would come all too quick.


With the 1980s and 1990s the Cowboys would soon collapse. The remaining years of the Cowboys were filled with anguish from fans about how ownership needed to take a different approach. However, it was also clear that Jerry Jones as an owner was micromanaging. He fired employees as soon as he fired them. Furthermore, the Cowboys success of the 1990s would only set an expectation for the future of the franchise as the Cowboys remain out of the Super Bowl Conversation to this very day. It's been 25 years without a Cowboys Super Bowl and the Dallas fans are hopeful as they always are that this year will be it. In short, the 1980s and 1990s brought the Cowboys only a step away from disaster and the struggles of the next 20 years would be something comical.


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