The Dallas Morning News ran a list of the Top 10 Toughest Dallas Cowboys this week. I didn’t really disagree with the list, other than their exclusion of Bob Lilly. Nonetheless, I thought their exclusion of quarterbacks was very odd, so I decided to supplement their list with one of my own for our toughest five quarterbacks.
Oh, and I’ll also supplement it by telling you a little factoid about Bob Lilly. In his fourteen seasons in the NFL, the NFL where they played on mud and yellow grass, the NFL where they were paid like kids out of college covering the Cowboys, the NFL where Deacon Jones could openly profess his hatred for quarterbacks in words and in deed, Bob Lilly only missed — oh, wait. He didn’t miss a game. That’s how tough Bob Lilly was. On to the list!
NOTE: Due to my not having sacrificed enough virgins to the LOL Cats and thus my interwebs not working properly, I won’t be able to provide you pictures. Pretend we live in a society where images are a violation of the tractates of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and only words and text is allowed when you go through the countdown. We apologize for this inconvenience and hope soon u all can haz cheezburgerz.
White’s inclusion on this list is dubious since teams like the ’82 Redskins, ’85 Bears, and ’86 Giants were all responsible for knocking him out of games. However, while Danny White didn’t play through any memorable games or seasons with teeth-clenching injuries like the other men on this list, he only missed less than 15% of the games in seasons wherein he was named the starter.
When you discount the ’84 season because Landry experimented with Gary “Hogebloom” and the ’87 season because, though the strike was resolved, Danny White along with other Cowboys starters had to sit behind the replacements for a couple of games, he only missed twelve out of the 88 games in his six seasons.
By comparison, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Roger Staubach, and Ken Anderson missed more games in their careers than did Danny White. (Okay, maybe including Ken Anderson in there made it too easy.) This is particularly impressive when you consider this was still an age where quarterbacks weren’t as protected game as they are nowadays.
The reality is Troy Aikman was a fragile quarterback. He missed 27 games and only completed a full season four times (I’m counting ’96 because Switzer decided not to start him since the NFC East was wrapped up). With comparable career length and accomplishments, Drew Brees, Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, and Roger Staubach had more complete seasons than did Troy Aikman. But it is in Aikman’s fragility that his strength and toughness is found.
The best example is the 1993 NFC Championship game at Texas Stadium. Yes, the San Fransisco 49ers knocked out Troy Aikman, such to the point that he thought Super Bowl XXVIII would be played, not in the Georgia Dome, but in his hometown of Henryetta, Oklahoma and kept asking the same questions repeatedly that night in the hospital. But it was in his heroics to overcome this concussion and its nausea, dizziness, and even memory gaps to start in Super Bowl XXVIII that puts him at number four on my list.
He played awfully, becoming thus far the only Dallas Cowboys quarterback to not throw for a touchdown in a Super Bowl. Think about this though: what message would it have sent to, not only Dallas, but to the Bills if Aikman sat on the sidelines and Bernie Kosar started the game? It was important for Aikman to be out there, and he was for the team’s victory.
Tony Romo’s inclusion on this list is self-evident, even though he is presently being held out of OTA’s and mini-camps due to the removal of a cyst from his back. While Romo has already missed more games than Danny White missed in his six full seasons as the Cowboys’ starter, Romo has played in one memorable game that cements him as one of the Dallas Cowboys’ toughest quarterbacks.
Rib injuries typically sideline quarterbacks, and they are amongst the grueling of all football injuries. In modern times, we have seen guys like Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick miss games with sore, bruised, or cracked ribs. With broken ribs and a punctured lung, Romo missed only the third quarter of 2011’s Week 2 encounter with the 49ers to overcome a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to lead the Cowboys to a 27-24 dramatic finish.
Other notable accomplishments that include Romo on this list are playing every offensive snap at quarterback in 2009, a franchise first, and playing quarterback despite wearing a cast on his hand. But it’s Romo’s pinkie problem that kept him at number three on our list.
In addition to being one of the NFL’s all-time good guys, Roger Staubach is one of the NFL’s toughest guys too. Playing in an era where quarterbacks were more preyed upon than protected, Staubach suffered vicious hits from Redskins defensive lineman Diron Talbert and had a bounty put on him for the 1974 Thanksgiving game, which the Redskins delivered upon when they knocked Staubach completely out of the game.
The 1976 season is where Staubach earns his toughness. Unlike Romo who sat out three games due to fracturing his pinkie (it was actually his metacarpal; his hand), against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, Staubach broke his hand scrambling for the end zone. Staubach not only completed the game, but the entire season with his fractured hand. Near the end of the year, Staubach’s arm hurt, his throwing motion altered, and his ability to practice negated.
Dallas had no cupcakes past Week 7 either. They had to play the Redskins twice, the 8-3 Cardinals on Thanksgiving, and keep ahead of Washington and St. Louis to win the NFC East. It all came with a price. In the first round of the playoffs, Staubach threw 3 picks and went 15/37 for 150 yards. Still, the Cowboys lost 14-12 and were a good drive away from what would have been four-straight NFC Championship games.
If you combined the Romo’s rib-breaking performance in Staubach’s era of quarterbacks being fair game, you would have what Don Meredith gave the Dallas Cowboys on October 8th, 1967 and what makes him the toughest Dallas Cowboys quarterback of all time.
It was an important game in Washington against the arch rival Redskins. The winner of that game would have a leg up in the NFL Capital Division, but the Cowboys were playing with a hand behind their back thanks to Meredith’s broken ribs he sustained in the game. Down by four points and a little over a minute left, Don Meredith mounted a comeback that began at their own 29 yard line. Throughout the entire drive, the Redskins knocked down Meredith and his own teammates had to help him to his feet. That’s how battered and broken Meredith’s body was, but not his spirit.
With 23 seconds to go and on fourth down, with time and chance standing as two extra Redskin defenders, Meredith hit Dan Reeves for a touchdown to win the game 17-14.
That night, Dandy Don couldn’t catch a wink’s worth of sleep. The same was true for Monday night. On Tuesday, Meredith went to the hospital and the medicos discovered his punctured lung. His sleeping problems were caused by fluid collecting in his lungs, and Pete Gent, Meredith’s friend, was there to see this stalwart man who took fearsome blows each Sunday cry in agony as the doctors pumped his collapsed lung.
Meredith missed the next three games, but that’s only because they hadn’t perfected kevlar vests for quarterbacks.