Hit the gas, accelerate to 88 mph, and activate the flux capacitor, Cowboys fans! We’ve asked you to go back in time and change one moment in Dallas Cowboys history and we received answers covering several decades.
Recently, NFL owners approved several new rules for 2018. Included in the changes is a new definition of what a “catch” is. If this rule had been in place in 2014, Dez’s miracle would have been ruled a catch and history as we know it may have been changed forever. This led us to question, “If you could go back in time and change just one moment in Cowboys history, would it be Dez’s catch/drop or would you choose something else?”
Draft Randy Moss Instead of Greg Ellis
If the Cowboys pick Randy Moss with the 8th overall pick in the 1998 draft, instead of Greg Ellis, does that delay or negate the decline of the franchise?
While Ellis was a solid contributor in his time with the Cowboys, starting 155 games, every Cowboys fan remembers well the pain of watching the one who got away (thanks in no small part to Michael Irvin's off-field issues) torch our team on multiple occasions on the way to a Hall of Fame career. Ellis's 77 quarterback sacks, 377 tackles, 20 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, and four interceptions likely do not merit inclusion in the Hall.
Tony Romo Holds On to the Ball in Seattle
It's tough to wrap your head around just how much this moment may have changed the course of the franchise. If Romo lays down a good hold on Martin Gramatica's attempted field goal with 1:19 left and the Cowboys hold on to win the game 23-21, they move on to face a Bears team that Head Coach Bill Parcells felt pretty good about. “Although we didn’t have a great team in Dallas that year, the next week’s opponent would have been the [No. 1 seeded] Bears [in the NFC divisional round], and I felt like we would match up very well with them. They wound up playing the Colts in the Super Bowl, who we had beaten in the regular season when they were undefeated. So I felt this was a real good opportunity for us,” Parcells later said.
If the Cowboys move on and beat the Bears, would they have crushed the Saints in the NFC Championship game, as the Bears did? Would they have found the same success in the Super Bowl against the Colts as they did earlier in the season? But for one slippery ball on a field goal attempt, we will never know. But, I like our chances. Furthermore, if this play goes the Cowboys' way, Romo's reputation (undeserved, in this fan's opinion) as a choker does not gain this early foothold.
“The Catch” Never Happens
Dwight Clark's catch with less than a minute remaining in the 1981 NFC Championship sent a dagger through Cowboys' fans hearts and marked the end of their team's dominance in the NFC and the beginning of the 49ers reign as the Team of the Eighties.
If the ball slips through Clark's hands, the Cowboys make their sixth appearance in the Super Bowl and beat the Cincinnati Bengals (probably) for their third title. This maybe takes the sting out of the next season's end, where our Cowboys lost in the NFC Championship to the hated Redskins. It definitely alters the legacy of Danny White and Cowboys fans are never able to claim that Danny “couldn't win the big one.”
Patrick Crayton Catches the Playoff Game Clincher
In the 2008 Divisional Playoff Game, a wide-open Patrick Crayton catches a pass on 3rd-and-13 to cement the win for the Cowboys. Instead of the Giants going to Green Bay the following week and beating the Packers, the Cowboys show up at Lambeau.
Does Crayton catching a ball in the previous game guarantee victory in Green Bay or, as the Giants ended up with, a Super Bowl win after that? No, but it gives them a chance. Instead, Crayton's drop adds to Romo's growing reputation as “today's Danny White”. This is not fair to Romo, as he put the ball in a very catchable spot, but it's the harsh reality of fan judgment.
Jackie Smith Is a Hero, Not “The Sickest Man in America”
Poor Jackie Smith. A Hall of Fame tight end, who retired with more receiving yards than any other tight end before him. But, few remember much about his career outside of this one play.
With the Cowboys trailing 21-14 in the third quarter of Super Bowl, Staubach threw to Smith in the end zone. Roger has said that he could have made a better throw, and that is true.
But, the ball did ultimately hit Smith's chest, right between his hands, and bounce away. The Cowboys settled for a field goal, trading a sure seven points for three, instead. The four points left on the table equaled the final margin of defeat, so Smith was the most convenient scapegoat for the loss. If Smith catches it and the Cowboys tie the game, it is possible that the momentum shift is enough to carry Dallas to the victory, giving them their third title in four tries and making a strong argument for the title “Team of the '70s”.
Bart Starr Doesn't Score on Sneak in “The Ice Bowl”
The field was described as “a sheet of ice”. Before the final play of the game, Bob Lilly is seen frantically kicking and scraping at the frozen ground, trying in vain to create any kind of mark he could use to gain traction on the upcoming play.
The Packers were able to get enough of a push and the Cowboys were sure Starr was going to pass rather than risk a stop, as there was not time for another play. Starr called for a run, kept the ball himself (the Packers did not have a QB sneak in their playbook and had not run one all year), and won the 1967 NFL Championship, setting up a showdown with the Oakland Raiders in what would retroactively be called Super Bowl I. The Packers won that Super Bowl and the next one, as well, before the Cowboys finally broke through and “Next Year's Champions” won Super Bowl III.
But, what if Starr had been like so many other players that day and had not gained the necessary footing to make the plunge across the pile of players into the end zone? What if he had slipped and come up short? The clock expires and the Cowboys are the league's first Super Bowl champions. Instead of a demoralizing loss, they get a shot of affirmation, of reward, and maybe that changes the outcome the following season, as well. Maybe the Cowboys come of age earlier. A three-peat to start NFL Super Bowl history. It's all possible if Starr slips. Who knows how many “Landry Trophies” are on display today at AT&T Stadium if Starr just slides on the ice a little. It is a game of inches, after all.
It WAS a Catch
Every fan reading this today knows exactly what that means. Everyone reading this not only saw it as it happened, but has relived it hundreds of times, in their heads and on TV.
We all know what happened and what NFL officials said, at the time, didn't happen. But, this is about changing history. So, the correct ruling in this case is not three years too late. Dez makes the catch, the Cowboys have 1st-and-goal at the 1 and DeMarco Murray plunges into the end zone on the next play to give the Cowboys a slim lead of one, two, or three points, depending on the result of the point after try.
The real question is, if we get to change this moment in history and Dallas takes the lead, can they hold it? Almost lost in the “Dez Caught It” controversy is the fact that the Cowboys had plenty of time to get the ball back and attempt once again to take the lead. Instead, the Packers killed over four minutes and ended the game. The Cowboys defense had no answers for a hobbled Aaron Rodgers, especially as the game wore on. Is there any reason to think that the defense could stop Rodgers from reclaiming the lead with over four minutes to do so? Like many of our entries thus far, the crime here is we will never know. This is a moment in history we shouldn't have to change. We should have seen if Romo's daring 31-yard pass on 4th-and-2 and Dez's miraculous catch would have been enough to change the momentum of the game and, perhaps, the rest of the playoffs.
Of course, if we change another moment in Cowboys history in the same game, the Dez catch/incompletion could fade into history like a snapshot of Marty McFly's siblings. The Cowboys may not have found themselves in this precarious position with minutes left in the game if…
DeMarco Murray Hangs on to the Ball
With eleven minutes left in the third quarter, the Cowboys lead 14-10. They have a 1st-and-5 from their own 41 when an enormous hole opens on the right side for the 2014 NFL Rushing Leader, DeMarco Murray. There is nothing but green grass between him and a 59-yard touchdown run, assuming he can run past, through, or around the safety who is miles away at this point.
Murray shrugs off Julius Peppers' attempt to punch the ball out and rambles downfield. Whether he scores on this play or not, the momentum from the play is huge. The Packers had done a nice job of containing him to this point, but this run marks the turning point for the Cowboys rushing attack. They go up by 11 and hold off the Packers to advance to the NFC Championship Game the following week. The 10-point swing (the Packers managed a field goal after the fumble) means a lead that is not dependent on the officials ruling a catch a catch later in the game.
And now an honorable mention before we get to the one moment in Cowboys history that the most fans who responded to our question would like to change. The question was which “moment” you'd like to change, but one fan responded with what would technically be three moments in the same game. It was good enough to include, though, and certainly would have affected the history of the franchise and the league, as we'd very likely be the only team in NFL history with back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl championships if…
The Cowboys Have Zero Turnovers in First Seven Minutes of the 1994 NFC Championship Game
This one really hurts. On their quest for their third Lombardi Trophy in three years, the Cowboys marched into the 1994 NFC Championship after trouncing Brett Favre and the Packers 35-9 the previous week. The rival 49ers had similarly dismantled the Bears, 44-15, but after dispatching the Niners in the previous two NFC Championship Games, the Cowboys had recent history on their side and seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
However, the cylinders barely had a chance to fire on this Sunday before the wheels came off. A Troy Aikman pick-six, a Michael Irvin fumble on the next series, and a fumble by returner Kevin Williams all resulted in San Francisco touchdowns and the Cowboys found themselves in a 21-0 hole with only 7:27 gone in the first quarter. Dallas outgained San Francisco 451-294 and cut the final margin of loss to ten points, but the early deficit was too much to overcome. The Niners advanced to Super Bowl XXIX, where they destroyed the San Diego Chargers, 49-26. It is not a stretch of reality to assume, with the lopsided advantage in offensive yards and the fact that the 49ers scored 17 points that were not the result of Dallas turnovers, that the Cowboys win this game if they don't spot San Francisco 21 points. It is also well within the realm of possibility they lay a similar drubbing on the Chargers in the Super Bowl. Barry Switzer wins back-to-back Super Bowls – how does that grab you? Does it make you miss Jimmy Johnson less if we end up with a “Fourpeat”? Or do you still wish that….
Jimmy Johnson Doesn't Leave/Jerry Jones Hires a “Real” GM
The #1 response to our question was a variety of responses, all referring to Jerry Jones's handling of Jimmy Johnson and/or his abilities as a General Manager. How many rings would the Boys have if Jimmy had stayed?
Here is an interesting scenario. Jimmy stays, Jerry leaves. This seems the least-likely of all of our history-changing moments, but something interesting to think about, nonetheless.
Another vote for hiring a real general manager and keeping Jimmy onboard, but if Jimmy built the team and had just won two Super Bowls, why do we need to hire a GM?
Maybe the “real” GM Jerry hires is not a hire, but a promotion? That'll work.
At the end of the day, a lot of Cowboys fans see this moment as pivotal in our history. Dallas had gone from 1-15 in 1989 to world champs in 1992 and 1993. They won the '92 Super Bowl with the youngest team in the league. They were back in the saddle and they should have stayed there for awhile, to borrow a phrase. Sure, the advent of free agency may have had the same result with Jimmy's team as it had on Barry's. After all, he didn't have the same success in Miami that he had in Dallas. But, he also had a much better roster at the start of free agency with the Cowboys than the the one he inherited with the Dolphins. One thing most Cowboys fans agree on, it seems, is that they'd rather have seen Jimmy running the team than Jerry.
What moment in Dallas Cowboys history would you change? Is it included in the list? If not, let us know how you would rewrite the history books!