Turn Back the Clock: The 1988 Dallas Cowboys

1988 indeed was the end of an era for the Cowboys franchise. Photo Courtesy: www.masterofnothing.com
1988 indeed was the end of an era for the Cowboys franchise. Photo Courtesy: www.masterofnothing.com

By Will Martin

*Note-In 1960 the Dallas Cowboys proceeded to play their first game in the Cotton Bowl. A game won by Pittsburgh 35-28. There were no wins that first year. In keeping with the spirit of the Cowboys of years past we now dial in on 1988. The end of an era in Texas Sports history*

When the start of training camp commenced in July of 1988 there was a lot of hope that perhaps the Silver and Blue would be able to circumvent what was a forgetful strike year in 1987.

Coming off a 7-8 season many in North Texas pondered what kind of season the 29th campaign would be for Tom Landry.

We wouldn’t learn until a few months after season’s end that the fedora one was finishing out an amazing career with one club. The only leader Dallas had ever known.

Training camp was pretty ho-hum with two road visits to San Diego and Oakland losing 24-21 and winning 27-17 before finishing out August at home with a 17-9 win over the Bears and a 54-10 loss to the Oilers in a game of second stringers.

All looked to be okay when Opening Day commenced September 4th in Pennsylvania.

There would only be one Pro Bowler representing the Cowboys in 1988. That would be running back Herschel Walker.

A look at your starters and you’d see faces like Tom Rafferty at Center, Nate Newton at Left Guard, Dave Widell, Daryle Smith, and Mark Tuinei manning the Left Tackle spot with Ray Alexander at the Left Wideout.

At Right Tackle there was Kevin Gogan, Crawford Kerr at Right Guard, Thorton Chandler and Doug Cosbie handled things at the Right End with Michael Irving and Kelvin Martin on the right side of receiving.

Steve Pelluer handled the lions share of the snaps under center throwing for 3,139 yards for 17 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. In the backfield with Walker you had Timmy Newsome and Todd Flower. Roger Ruzek and Mike Saxon handled the kicking and punting, respectively.

Defensively you had ‘Too Tall’ Jones at Left End, Kelvin Brooks at Left Tackle, Danny Noonan at Right Tackle, Jim Jeffcoat at Right End, ‘Hitting Machine’ Eugene Lockhart at middle linebacker, aided by Garry Cobb and Ron Burton. Everson Walls and Robert Williams handled the corners while Bill Bates and Michael Downs handled the safeties.

1988 began with a vengeance with a road loss at Pittsburgh 24-21 followed by a 17-14 victory in the desert. Week 3 fell on September 18th and Dallas would endure a tough 12-10 home loss before bouncing back nicely with a 26-20 win in Irving over the Atlanta Falcons.

Note how close all of theses games were. Keep track if you can.

October began with a visit to Cajun Country and a heartbreaking 20-17 loss to Morten Anderson and the Saints on Monday Night as the Boys in the Booth began to question if Dallas had the horses to endure a successful season. Six days later the first loss by more than a field goal put the Cowboys at 2-4 when the Redskins came to Irving to deliver a crushing 35-17 defeat.

The irony of all this is how recently-since 2000- all you ever hear about is how the Cowboys do the fold in December. 25 years ago Team Landry would be at .500 for September yet not win again until December 11th at Washington. October and November proved to be long and frustrating months to the Texas faithful. Toughest of all were three straight home defeats to close out November.

Veterans Day Weekend there was an embarrassing 43-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. This one year after the tough 44-38 Turkey Day overtime loss. The 40 point defeat witnessed on ESPN Sunday Night and the second worst defeat suffered in Dallas next to the 44-0 shutout by the Bears two years earlier.

The Cincinnati Bengals were next to come to Irving and knock off Steve Pelluer and company to the tune of 38-24. The Bengals a few weeks away from a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers. That takes us to Thanksgiving Day November 24th.

With exception to 1975 and 1977 the Dallas Cowboys have been the Turkey Game feature in the late game since 1966. An AFC team made the trek every other year. The Houston Oilers would make a visit in 1988. With Warren Moon leading the way Dallas would fall short of victory to the tune of 25-17.

Pun notwithstanding the Dallas Cowboys entered December a 2-11 in progress. 4 of the 11 losses were by a field goal or less. Six were by a touchdown or less. Cleveland, Ohio is where December would begin for the Cowpokes. Before 77,683 Dawg Pounding crazies Bernie Kosar provided the magic touch late in the game for a 24-21 home win.

Week 15 would provide the Cowboys their third win of the season on the road in DC 24-17 before finishing out the regular season losing 23-7 to the Eagles on December 18th. Not since 1964 and 1965 had the Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs in back to back years.

My guess is that after 20 years of consecutive winning seasons the brass that at the head of America’s Team had no choice but to ponder the fate of Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Mr. Clint Murchison. Was it time for a change? 2/25/89 it would happen and not in the most proper of ways. Google the term ‘Saturday Night Massacre’…

Despite the horrific record, Herschel Walker rushed for over 1,500 yards for five scores, Ray Alexander was your top receiver with 54 catches and 788 yards-one a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown-while averaging 14.6 yards a carry.

On the other side of the ball Michael Downs, Everson Walls, and Robert Williams each had two interceptions apiece. Danny Noonan had one pick returned 17-yards for a touchdown against the Falcons.

Historians will look back 25 years ago and decree that the 1988 Cowboys could very easily have been an 8-8 team…only to come up a bit short in the end. We were one year away from saying goodbye to Ed Jones and would see Bill Walsh and Tom Landry leave the coaching ranks after Super Bowl XXIII in Tampa Florida.

*Lots of Cowboys memories from years past. Hard to believe Tom Landry last coached 25 years ago while Jerry Jones is now in his 25th year as owner.