Thanksgiving Day 2001: A Dallas Cowboys odyssey

Scott Stapp of Creed (Scott Gries/ImageDirect)
Scott Stapp of Creed (Scott Gries/ImageDirect) /
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Ryan Leaf, Dallas Cowboys
Ryan Leaf, Dallas Cowboys (Ronald Martinez/ALLSPORT) /

Thanksgiving Day 2001 was a wild one for the Dallas Cowboys

This past Sunday marked the 19th anniversary of Thanksgiving Day 2001. That day, head coach Dave Campo, quarterback Ryan Leaf, and late 90’s alt-rockers Creed combined forces for one of the most subtly insane, yet somehow forgotten afternoons in Dallas Cowboys‘ history.

While the game became a topic of conversation again online last weekend, it wasn’t out of nostalgia for anything the Cowboys did on the field that day. Instead, social media was full of videos and photos from Creed’s halftime show.

At first, I watched the clips and started to chuckle, basking in an insane display of post-grunge ham knowing full well that if this occurred today it would surely be a popular internet meme. However, watching it also sparked some curiosity in me to go back and look at what actually happened on the field during the game.

The more I dug in, the more I remembered how truly bonkers that afternoon was. It’s a treasure trove of coaching malpractice and incompetence worth revisiting and learning from. So instead of writing the traditional “Top 10 Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving memories” type posts that we always see, I decided to dig into a Thanksgiving Day game that is as equally wild as it is forgotten.

The Cowboys entered Thanksgiving Day 2001 with a 2-7 record, but unlike this 2020 squad, the 2001 team did not have the fortune of playing in a bad division and were never seriously in contention, even if they had yet to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

As a whole, the 2001 season was a pretty rough one for Dallas. It was the second of three consecutive 5-11 campaigns under Dave Campo. To this day, Campo remains the only head coach in the franchise’s 60-year history to not make the playoffs at least once.

Over the offseason, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman was waived by the team and became the second of the “triplets” to retire. He followed Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin who walked off into the sunset following his back injury that occurred during the 1999 season.

Aikman’s void left a revolving door of signal-callers that saw Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Anthony Wright, and second-round rookie Quincy Carter all start at least two games each in 2001. Dallas’ QB woes would continue to varying degrees until Tony Romo took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2006.

The Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Mike Shanahan coached and Brian Griese led Broncos proved to be a truly bizarre affair for Dallas. Everything about Thanksgiving Day 2001 is just downright fascinating. From a roster made up of a who’s who of random early aughts Cowboys, to one of the worst games in a Hall of Fame running back’s career, to the inept coaching decisions from Campo, to the band Creed. This game is just a rich landscape of incompetence.