The Best Running Backs In Cowboy History; Can History Be Repeated?
By Levi Glenn
The Dallas Cowboys have had some big names in their back field. When we look back, you’ll hear names like Herschel Walker, Don Perkins, and Calvin Hill. The ones I like to consider the “Best” are based on three categories: Length of career, production, and Super Bowl success. Since the Dallas Cowboys have three eras of Super Bowl success, I can only choose three to be considered the “Best Backs In Cowboy’s History”.
I’m going to start, ofcourse, at the beginning. All the way back to the year we started calling championship games “Super Bowls” and the Dallas Cowboys had a workhorse of a running back in Walt Garrison.
Garrison was the Larry Csonka of the Dallas Cowboys. He hit hard with and without a football in his hands. In his 9 years as a Cowboy, he only rushed for 3,800 yards. But he got them with a 4.3 yards per carry average. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in Super Bowl VI and helped the Cowboys earn their first championship victory that day. Garrison was part of the best triple back attack of all time with teammates Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill. Garrison was tough on the field and off. His impressive nine year stint in the league was cut short after wrestling steers in his off time gave him a knee injury that resulted in his retirement. Garrison did make it to the Pro Bowl in 1972, the same year that Larry Csonka and the Miami Dolphins their undefeated season. Does Garrison meet the criteria to be considered one of the Cowboys best backs? After playing nine years in the league, having a 4.3 yards per carry average, and a Super Bowl ring, I think the answer is most certainly.
Next would be none other than Tony Dorsett.
Dorsett would help the Cowboys win their second title in Super Bowl XII. Dorsett took the league by storm in his rookie year. He set a Cowboy’s rookie record by rushing for 206 yards in a single game, won rookie of the year, and complimented it with the title of world champion. In his 10 years as a Dallas Cowboy, Dorsett set the tone for what it takes to be an elite back. He rushed for over 12,000 yards in his career, team record by averaging almost 9 yards per carry with 20+ attempts per game, and ran an unforgettable 99 yard touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings in January of 1983. In Super Bowl XII, Dorsett averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored a touchdown. After only a brief view of Dorsett’s career, I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that he is one of the Cowboy’s best backs of all-time.
And last but definitely not least on my list is the one and only Emmitt Smith.
There isn’t much to say about Smith that the whole world doesn’t already know. He owns the title of most career rushing yards in the NFL with 18,355. Emmitt also has set NFL records by scoring 164 rushing touchdowns, having 11 consecutive seasons with 1,000 + yards rushing and 78 games with at least 100 yards rushing. He set a Cowboy;s record of 237 rushing yard in a single game. To add icing to the cake, Smith is the proud owner of three Super Bowl rings and both a league and Super Bowl MVP trophy. This is a man that literally ran close to 10.5 miles with a football in his hands while 11 people tried to stop him. Emmitt Smith not only stands as the best back the Cowboys have ever had, but as the best back the world has ever seen. His greatness will probably never be matched.
As we can see, the Cowboy’s back field is no stranger to great talent. But it has been awhile since we have seen it. Although, there have been flashes of hope every now and again. The biggest hope I had after Emmitt Smith was a barbaric runner named Marion Barber. His determination on third and short was one of the best I’ve ever seen. His two yard carry against the Patriots in 2007 was definitely the best two yard run in NFL history. To avoid getting a safety, Barber broke eight tackles and ran about 60 yards all behind the line of scrimmage. But the young runner’s body couldn’t keep going after all the big hits he willfully took and Marion “The Barbarian” never fully emerged as an NFL star.
Last season, I think we all got a glimmer of hope. We witnessed a player break both Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith’s record of most yards in a single game. This rookie runner had 253 rushing yards on 25 carries against the St. Louis Rams this season. He also broke Dorsett’s 8.96 per carry record in 20+ carry games by averaging a whopping 10.1 yards per carry. I can’t help but tip my proverbial hat to DeMarco Murray. The former Sooner played in just 12 games this year, only starting in six. Despite the lack of playing time, Murray finished the year with 872 rushing yards. If not for a ankle injury, Murray would have finished his rookie year with over 1000 rushing yards.
The NFL has certain patterns throughout it’s history. For example, as Peyton Manning leaves the Colts, his successor appears via Andrew Luck. Archie Manning (Peyton’s daddy) was backed up by Oliver Luck (Andrew’s daddy) in Houston. Do the gods of football truly have a set pattern in the NFL? Would it be possible to figure it out? I may have found another pattern involving these Dallas Cowboy running backs.
But first, I want people to understand my opinions about ball carriers. I do believe they are the most important position on the field. Look back to 1993, when Emmitt Smith missed the first two games of the season due to contract issues. What did the Cowboys do? They lost those games. In week three, Smith returned and turned the 0-2 start into a second straight Super Bowl victory.
Now as far as my pattern assumption is concerned, its pretty simple and it goes like this: Walt Garrison wore #32 in the first Cowboy’s Super Bowl era . Tony Dorsett #33 in the second era. And Emmitt Smith wore #22 in the third championship era. This group of great backs average a Super Bowl victory within the first three years of their careers and they averaged 10 years on the team. Since I’m basing my theory on averages, my guess is the next great back for the Cowboys will have at least a 10 year career, win a Super Bowl within his first three years, and his number will be: 32+33+22 is 87, 87 divided by 3 = #29.
Could it be that DeMarco Murray is the key piece to Tony Romo’s Super Bowl puzzle? Can the #29 jersey help the Dallas Cowboys repeat their Super Bowl history? If my theory pans out and DeMarco Murray has a ring on his finger within the next two seasons, I may be taking my strategies to Vegas.