Through The Years: The Quarterbacks Of The Dallas Cowboys


The Dallas Cowboys are known around the NFL as “America’s Team”. They have had their ups and downs as a franchise, but overall have been one of the more successful teams in league history. The quarterback position of the Dallas Cowboys has always been a position that has drawn a lot of attention. That was true when the team began in the 1960s and it is true now. Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks of the Dallas Cowboys.

In The Beginning – The 1960s
The expansion 1960 Dallas Cowboys had brought in Eddie LeBaron, a seven year veteran from the Washington Redskins, as a way of adding some experience to their young team. Also on the roster at the birth of the Cowboys was “Dandy” Don Meredith and Don Heinrich who each started just one game during that first year. LeBaron was still the starting quarterback for the 1961, but by 1962 Meredith had taken over as the primary starting quarterback and LeBaron had made the transition to the backup role. When 1964 rolled around, it was Meredith’s team with LeBaron no longer being on the roster. The new backup quarterback was John Roach who had come over following a few years as a backup in Green Bay. In 1965, Meredith remained the starting quarterback, but two other quarterbacks started games that season, Craig Morton and Jerry Rhome. This combination remained until 1968 when Morton became the one and only primary backup to Meredith. By the end of the decade though Meredith had left the team, becoming a broadcaster with Monday Night Football a year later, and Morton had assumed the role of starter. There was a new second string quarterback on the Cowboys roster though and his name was Roger Staubach.

That Seventies Team – The 1970s
The 1970 Dallas Cowboys team would win the NFC Championship, losing to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, with Craig Morton starting 11 games and Roger Staubach starting three. The writing was on the wall though and the next year the roles were reversed with Morton only starting four games while Staubach started ten games and led the team to its first Super Bowl victory. The 1972 Cowboys would see Morton return to his starting position, starting every game of the season, but would also see the Cowboys lose to the Redskins in the NFC Championship game ending their chance at defending their Super Bowl title. Dallas would make it to the conference championship game again in 1973, this time losing to the Minnesota Vikings and having Roger Staubach start every game on the schedule and Morton moved to the backup position again. Clint Longley would join the Cowboys as a rookie and backup in 1974 and by 1975 Craig Morton had moved on to the New York Giants. Longley would remain the backup during 1975 as Staubach again led the team to the Super Bowl, this time they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 1976 would see Longley replaced in the backup role by young Danny White who was also the team’s punter as Staubach continued to be one of the more effective quarterbacks in the league. In 1977, Staubach would lead the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl and this time they would be victorious over the Denver Broncos, coincidentally the Broncos quarterback at this time was former Cowboy Craig Morton. In 1978, the Cowboys went back to the Super Bowl but were again beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers. 1979 was the last season that Danny White was the backup for Staubach as the Cowboy great would retire following that season.

The End Of An Era – The 1980s
With Roger Staubach gone, Danny White would move into the starting quarterback role and the Cowboys remained successful going to the NFC Championship Game on more than one occasion in the early 1980s, White’s backup the first couple of years in this new decade was Glenn Carano who in 1982 would be replaced by Gary Hogeboom. This configuration would remain constant for a couple of years, but by 1984 Hogeboom was seeing more time as the starter than White, having started ten games to White’s six. White reclaimed his starting position for the 1985 season and by 1986, Hogeboom was gone having moved on to become a part time starter with the Indianapolis Colts. 1986 saw Steve Pelleur come to the Cowboys and that year he actually started more games than longtime Cowboy Danny White. This would be reversed in 1987 when White would once again takeover the starting quarterback role as Pelleur went to the bench which now would also include Kevin Sweeney and Loren Snyder as backups. Steve Pelleur would be the starting quarterback when the 1988 season came around while Sweeney and White would serve as his backups. 1989 would see one of the most dramatic changes to the Cowboys when new ownership removed original head coach Tom Landry and replaced him with new head coach Jimmy Johnson. The Cowboys would go 1-15 that year as they bottomed out at the end of the decade, but the future looked bright with rookie quarterback Troy Aikman at the helm and highly touted Steve Walsh as the backup.

Birth Of A Dynasty – The 1990s
With a new head coach and a new starting quarterback, the Cowboys would rebuild themselves into one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. Emmitt Smith was added to the backfield and Michael Irvin and others were added so that Aikman would have quality players to throw the ball to. The Cowboys would focus on strengthening their offensive line and defense as well. That 1990 season would see the Cowboys go 7-9 with Aikman still at the helm and Walsh in a backup role along with Babe Laufenberg. 1991 would see the Cowboys go 11-5 and return to the playoffs, Walsh and Laufenberg were now gone and Steve Beuerlein would be Aikman’s primary backup and also get to start four games too. Though Beuerlein was still the backup the next year, 1992 would see Aikman start all 16 games and eventually lead the Cowboys to a 52-17 Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys would repeat as Super Bowl champions in 1993, again defeating the Bills for the championship with Aikman leading the way. Backing up Aikman that season was longtime Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and newcomer Jason Garrett. 1994 saw the Cowboys come one game away from making it to the Super Bowl again, falling to the 49ers in the conference championship game, and while Jason Garrett remained on the team as one of Aikman’s backups, Kosar was gone and Rodney Peete was there. A third Super Bowl victory in the 1990s was added to the Cowboys mantle in 1995 when they defeated the Neil O’Donnell led Steelers in the big game. Garrett again remained there as Aikman’s backup, but this year longtime veteran Wade Wilson was added to the roster. This setup would remain the same as far as Cowboys quarterbacks go through 1996 and 1997, but by 1998 Wilson had been replaced with newcomer Mike Quinn while Jason Garrett would not only remain the primary backup but find himself in the starting role for five games that season. Quinn would be gone the next season as Aikman and Garrett would be the only two quarterbacks on the roster that year.

The New Millennium – The 2000s
the year 2000 saw Aikman remain on as the starting quarterback while his backups were now former Eagles star Randall Cunningham, Anthony Wright, and Clint Stoerner. The Cowboys would go 5-11 that season. Another end of an era, as far as Cowboys fans were concerned, came following the 2000 season when Troy Aikman announced his retirement. When the 2001 season came about there was a lot of confusion when it came to who the starting quarterback for the Cowboys would be. Quincy Carter started half the games that year, but also seeing time at the starting quarterback position were Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, and Clint Stoerner. It was no surprise when the Cowboys followed one 5-11 season with another one that year. The 2002 season would start with a bad omen when the Cowboys would lose the first game of the year to the expansion Houston Texans. The Cowboys would finish the year with their third consecutive 5-11 season behind the quarterbacking of Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter. Bill Parcells would come to the Cowboys in 2003 and he would immediately have an impact by making Carter his starter for all 16 games and leading the Cowboys back to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde would start 15 games for the Cowboys in 2004, Drew Henson started the other one, but the Cowboys would invert their previous season record by going 6-10. The Cowboys would replace one veteran starting quarterback with another in 2005 when Drew Bledsoe would come to town and start all 16 games and go 9-7. After Bledsoe started Parcells’ fourth season with the Cowboys putting up a 3-3 record, the move was made to go with young Tony Romo. In 2006, Romo would go 6-4 as a starter and the Cowboys would again establish a 9-7 record. The 2007 season saw the franchise starting over at head coach with the addition of Wade Phillips, but Tony Romo had moved to the full time starter and went 13-3 and returned the Cowboys to the playoffs with Brad Johnson as his backup.  Romo held this position for the next several years, though due to an injury it would be Jon Kitna who would be the leading passer for Dallas in 2010.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most popular teams in the NFL, and with good reason. They have had some of the most successful teams and some of the game’s best and most popular players. The quarterbacks of the Dallas Cowboys have always drawn some of the most attention of any players in the league and in the cases of Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and now Tony Romo, it looks like it is well deserved. The popularity of the Cowboys shows no sign of going away anytime soon and fans of the team have a great deal to be proud of. The quarterbacks of “America’s Team” have a unique place in professional football history as they have come to be known as the face and leadership of one of the best teams in the NFL.

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