Looking back, some of the largest icons in NFL history are often the ones that can be overlooked. All franchises have had their fair share of historic players, but who were the best of the best? Here, we discuss the four most iconic players to step on the field. We continue our series with the Dallas Cowboys:
Honorable Mentions: Tony Dorsett, Michael Irvin, Randy White
Roger Staubach (1969-79)
Under the Tom Landry era, Staubach catapulted the Dallas Cowboys into initial relevancy after taking over for Don Meredith. Just three years into his NFL career, the Cowboys found themselves in the Super Bowl thanks to the play of Staubach. Four years later, the franchise found themselves back in the Super Bowl again.
His 22,700 passing yards rank third in franchise history, while his 85 regular season wins rank second. As a six-time Pro Bowl talent, Staubach was enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
Troy Aikman (1989-2000)
After Landry/Staubach, the next great coach-player duo for the Cowboys was Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman. The Cowboys found their franchise quarterback and surrounded him with elite talents such as Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.
Despite an 0-11 record during his rookie season, Aikman vastly improved over time. In 1992, Dallas won the Super Bowl with Aikman totaling career-highs in passing yards (3,445) and touchdowns (23). The team won the Super Bowl again the following year, and then again in 1995. As a six-time Pro Bowl talent and 1997 Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, his 94 regular season wins are a franchise record.
Emmitt Smith (1990-2002)
Surrounded by talent, Emmitt Smith benefited from one of the most complete offenses in NFL history. With three Super Bowls in the span of five years, Smith won the rushing title with 1,563 yards in his sophomore season. That marked one of four rushing titles for the Hall of Famer.
In total, Smith reached eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. He was also named as the 1993 NFL MVP. His 18,355 career rushing yards and 164 touchdowns marks the most in NFL history. There was never really any question to Smith being on the Cowboys’ Mount Rushmore.
Bob Lilly (1961-74)
As the first ever player selected by the Dallas Cowboys, Bob Lilly is regarded as ‘Mr. Cowboy’. He was also the first player in franchise history to be inducted into the Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame. In total, Lilly reached 11 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams. In his lone Super Bowl, the Cowboys managed to hold the Miami Dolphins to a mere three points.
Considering the era Lilly was part of, it’s difficult to compare his value to the Cowboys to other star player from other eras. Still, his impact during the early ages was felt by opposing offenses. As a result, his name on the Mount Rushmore feels justified.