Debating the greatest living Dallas Cowboy

From the Star

Not everything Dallas Cowboys is a consensus.

For example, the mythical title of “Greatest Living Cowboy” might belong to Roger Staubach or to Bob Lilly, according to Star-Telegram readers who were quite passionate with their e-mailed picks.

And don’t forget Dandy Don Meredith.

Even Moose got juice. Daryl Johnston is fondly remembered for being a selfless blocker for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.

In this 50th year of the Cowboys, we’re reminded that the franchise really is a tale of two eras — one belonging to Tom Landry, the other to Jerry Jones.

Which era was better? Which left a more indelible mark on the NFL landscape? Ask any Cowboys fan age 8 to 80, and you’re likely to get one of two unequivocal answers.

There are very few fence-sitters on this point.

As for the absolutes in Cowboys history?

Best coach: Landry.

Best team: ’92-95 (take your pick).

Best name, club official: Tex Schramm.

Best innovation by Schramm: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

But from there, we quickly move into “debate” mode.

Best group nickname: (tied) Doomsday Defense and The Triplets.

As for the “Greatest Living Cowboy,” S-T readers lead us to believe that the guy definitely played for Landry, although we’re not exactly sure on which side of the ball.

Here are 10 of the most bandied-about “GLC” candidates (in no particular order, of course) from select e-mails:

Bob Lilly

Years: 1961-74

Distinction: “Mr. Cowboy” was the team’s first draft choice and first Hall of Famer. In between, he anchored Landry’s Doomsday Defense.

Comments: “Bob Lilly, the first Cowboys player who could’ve played for any team in the league,” wrote Ricky Mills of Childress. “He really was Mr. Cowboy.”

Mike Bolin of Abilene answered the question with a question: “Who is more Cowboy than this guy? First big name. First dominant player. From Throckmorton and TCU, for goodness sake.”

Wrote J. Paul of Austin: “He was a Horned Frogs star who went on to become one of the best defensive tackles ever to play the game. The ‘America’s Team’ tag came about during Roger Staubach’s time (and obviously, he was terrific, too) but the ‘Doomsday Defense’ title came during Bob Lilly’s time. I still remember how he was so upset after losing to the Colts in Super Bowl V that he threw his helmet about 70 yards downfield. See? He even had quarterback potential, too.”

E-mailed Bill Shoemaker of Katy: “From the windblown prairies of Throckmorton to TCU to becoming a founding member of the Cowboys, Lilly had the face and demeanor of ‘toughness’ … more than any quarterback or coach (even Landry).”

C.A. Boulte of Sugar Land weighed in: “Me? I’ll take the man who put the franchise on his shoulders and carried it out of the ‘can’t-win-the-big-one’ category and into being America’s Team. Who can forget Lilly’s [29-yard] sack of Bob Griese to cement the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl championship? Great player, great person … Greatest Living Cowboy.”

Said David Houk of West Fort Worth: “As the Cowboys’ first Hall of Famer, and a class act, Lilly has never been anything but a wonderful representative of the Cowboys and the great state of Texas. I think T.O. could’ve spent some time with him.”

Roger Staubach

Years: 1969-79

Distinction: Captain Comeback (pretty self-explanatory) led the Cowboys to their first two Super Bowl titles, won six years apart.

Comments: “Watching Roger Staubach, in his No. 12 jersey, run onto the field at the closing ceremony for Texas Stadium was the greatest moment of the night,” wrote Tom Batz of Keller. “He took the Cowboys to national prominence, both on and off the field. The Triplets, Tony Romo and anyone else who follows are just caretakers of what Roger established.”

E-mailed John Gonzalez of Tucson, Ariz.: “Roger Staubach is the Greatest Living Cowboy for these reasons: leadership, toughness and an unwillingness to accept losing.”

More reasons poured in from Bill Sampson of Denison: “Because he’s the first QB to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory, because he’s a Vietnam veteran who served our country with pride, because of his philanthropy, his leadership … and last, but not least, because the ‘Greatest Living Cowboy’ is a great father and husband.”

And from Gary Golden of Agoura Hills, Calif.: “Fearless clutch leader. Year after year, time after time, the Cowboys were never out of the game. He carried the ’75 Cowboys to the Super Bowl.”

Wrote Dale Hillyer of Southeast Texas: “Picking Staubach over Lilly was hard for me to do. But having lived on this planet now for 73 years, and having begun watching the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl (as they arm-wrestled Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans in a winner-take-all), I still opt for Roger Staubach as the winner of your poll. He never lost a game … the clock just expired on him. If I coached a team and had to win one game for all the marbles, Staubach would be my quarterback.”

Don Meredith

Years: 1960-68

Distinction: Dandy Don never left any doubt about leadership at the quarterback position.

Comments: He willed his team to overachieve. He nearly propelled the early Landry Cowboys (and not the Packers) into Super Bowls I and II. But it’s not what he did, rather it’s what he represented to the fans.

“He probably isn’t the greatest player, but he sure helped coach Landry get things started in the old Cotton Bowl,” wrote Hoot Jones of Frisco. “[Meredith] kept an upbeat attitude in the huddle, despite getting clobbered by the opposition.”

Said Bob Duke of Arlington: “Dandy Don performed miracles when his supporting cast was questionable. He promoted Cowboys football with his wit, humor, toughness, arm strength and community awareness. Everyone liked this guy, and still do today.”

E-mailed Jim Walker of Pflugerville: “Just when you thought he was unable to play because of injury, he always found a way, just like the Cowboys of the old days. Meredith deserves more credit. He’s the QB nobody remembers.”

Troy Aikman

Years: 1989-2000

Distinction: Directed the ’90s Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.

Comments: Aikman was the first of The Triplets to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fans remember his stoicism and accuracy.

A typical e-mail involving Aikman came from Jeffrey Dixon of Granbury: “I’m 62 years old. I’ve been attentive to the Cowboys every year of their existence. Reading your question, I relied on first impression without researching statistics to ‘muddy the waters.’ Here you go: 1. Staubach, 2. Lilly, 3. Aikman.”

Drew Pearson

Years: 1973-83

Distinction: Staubach’s go-to receiver and a big-play icon in NFL annals (see “Hail Mary”).

Comments: “This is a no-brainer,” wrote Millie Williams of Fort Worth. “Drew Pearson, a class act … has always put his best foot and face forward. The Cowboys have long neglected to give him the thanks he so richly deserves (i.e., the Ring of Honor).”

Randy White

Years: 1975-88

Distinction: Half-man, half-monster … equals Manster.

Comments: White is one of only three Cowboys defensive players enshrined in Canton, Ohio. The others are Lilly and Mel Renfro. Fans are still wowed by his mystique as well as his ability to regenerate Landry’s defensive line after Lilly retired.

Daryl Johnston

Years: 1989-99

Distinction: “Moose” became an apt nickname for the lead blocker of the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

Comments: “How about Moose?” asked Dub Brown of Granbury. “The way I see it, without Daryl Johnston, Emmitt Smith wouldn’t have been as good as he was.”

Emmitt Smith

Years: 1990-2002

Distinction: Owns NFL career records for rushing (18,355 yards) and rushing TDs (164).

Comments: Maybe his accomplishments are too recent, but Emmitt’s name appeared only as an also-ran in a few “GLC” e-mails. He’s a shoo-in to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2010.

Tony Dorsett

Years: 1977-87

Distinction: Owns a Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl ring.

Comments: The team’s running-back lineage is overshadowed by that of Cowboys quarterbacks, but there are fans who still remember that the ’70s teams couldn’t win their second Super Bowl until Dorsett’s rookie season (1977).

Everson Walls

Years: 1981-89

Distinction: NFL’s only three-time interceptions leader had a league-leading 11 INTs as a rookie in 1981.

Comments: “Everson Walls for donating a body part to Ron Springs,” wrote David Glick of Las Colinas, referring to Walls’ donation of a kidney to his former Cowboys teammate in March 2007.


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