There are officially 88 days until the toe meets the ball at AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys will host the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
I started this countdown here at Inside The Star 11 days ago with our Greatest 99 in Dallas Cowboys History. I knew then that there were going to be some numbers that were fun to do, some that weren’t as interesting, and some that were going to be my absolute favorite. It was obvious in my considerations that determining 88 would be the most fun of all.
While there are plenty of numbers in Dallas Cowboys History that have legendary players tied to them, 88 has two. AND it has an active player who has the potential when it’s all said and done, to be the best. Let’s take a look at all of them.
The following players have all worn 88 for the Dallas Cowboys:
- Antonio Bryant, WR
- Dez Bryant*, WR
- Sonny Davis, LB
- Jackie Harris, TE
- Michael Irvin^, WR
- Drew Pearson, WR
- Brett Pierce, TE
- Sonny Randle, WR
- Colin Ridgway, P
- Reggie Rucker, WR
- Ron Sellers, WR
^Pro Football Hall of Famer
*Active player on the Dallas Cowboys roster
88 is the Greatest Number in Dallas Cowboys History. Yes, really. We are in the middle of recounting every number and while there are 87 left, none will have the combined greatness of the double eight. And while 11 total gentlemen have put it on their backs, we’re all here to talk about three of them. Let’s rank them.
3. Dez Bryant, WR: 381 catches, 5,424 yards, 56 touchdowns.
Drafted with the 24th overall pick in 2010 out of Oklahoma State, Dez Bryant has been a Cowboy since the age of 18. While his receiving numbers are already ridiculously impressive it is important to note that Dez is just now beginning to reach his prime. He has already made a significant dent in the Cowboys record books (he is already fourth on the Cowboys all-time list in receiving touchdowns), getting better with each and every season.
Part of what makes Dez great is his ability to raise the talents of those around him. He pushes fellow wide receiver Terrance Williams to new heights (as exemplified by Terrance’s many big catches in 2014) and his impact on the team as a whole is so strong, almost tangible. Dez Bryant has become a leader on the Cowboys and is the heart of the team. He is counted on when things matter most, a characteristic most exemplified by Tony Romo’s trust in him with the season on the line last year in Green Bay. All that said, he is still only the third Greatest 88 in Dallas Cowboys History.
2. Drew Pearson, WR: 489 catches, 7,822 yards, 48 touchdowns.
The Original 88. Before Drew Pearson wore it, 88 was just a regular ‘ol number. After? It was an honor. A privilege. It came with an expectation: Be great, you’re wearing 88. Pearson started off as most guys do, playing football in high school. South River High School in New Jersey to be exact. What most people don’t know is that it initially was as quarterback…succeeding future Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Theismann. Pearson then found himself at Tulsa and playing wide receiver in 1971 (coincidentally the first year that the Cowboys won the Super Bowl).
When Pearson arrived in Dallas in 1973 most of his impact came as a kick returner. In 1974, Pearson really took off recording 1,087 yards (his career best). 1975 brought Pearson’s first Super Bowl experience as a Cowboy (a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers), but not before an exhilarating divisional win in Minnesota against Bud Grant’s Vikings. Trailing 10-14 in the final seconds, Roger Staubach threw deep for Pearson and connected for the game-winning score. This moment was etched in Cowboys history as the “Hail Mary” and the legend of Drew Pearson as “Mr. Clutch” was born.
The Original 88 played in, and won, Super Bowl XII against the Denver Broncos. He was also on the field for what I have said many a time is the greatest game of all time…Super Bowl XIII in the Orange Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers (unfortunately a Cowboys loss). Drew paved the way for 88 and set the standard for what it would become in the future. He is a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor and his absence in the Hall of Fame is something that many have advocated needs correction.
1. Michael Irvin, WR: 750 catches, 11,904 yards, 65 touchdowns.
The Playmaker. Hailing from the University of Miami, the Hurricane known as Michael Irvin was the last first round draft choice of legendary head coach Tom Landry (11th overall in 1988). Irvin had a decent rookie (he was actually the first rookie to start at receiver for the Cowboys in 20 years) year, tore his ACL his sophomore season, and he rebounded nicely following the injury in his third year … fostering his relationship with quarterback Troy Aikman. In 1991, Irvin exploded and led the league with 1,523 yards.
His performance was a large factor in the Cowboys’ on-field success, as they went 11-5 and won a playoff game in Chicago. Over the next four years (1992-1995) Irvin would combine for 5,570 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Cowboys to four consecutive NFC Championship games, and three Super Bowl victories (1992, 1993, and 1995).
The Playmaker’s finest hour was undoubtedly the 1995 season. He posted career highs in catches (111), yards (1,603), and TDs (10) while serving as the emotional lightning rod of his Cowboys team. Many Cowboys (such as Troy Aikman and Daryl Johnston) from the 1995 team have said that Irvin continuously motivated his teammates, cultivated a winning attitude, and drove them to success and their eventual Super Bowl XXX victory over the rivaled Pittsburgh Steelers. He outworked everybody and ran practice routes as if they were Super Bowl game-winning plays.
Michael Irvin is a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame (Class of 2007). He is in my opinion the second greatest wide receiver in the history of professional football, behind only Jerry Rice. Drew Pearson paved the way for the expectations of 88, but Michael Irvin lived, breathed, and channeled 88. The number 88 became synonymous with intensity and an undying willingness to do whatever it took to win under his watch. He is, without question, the Greatest 88 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Entering 2015 the primary members of Club 88 (Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and Dez Bryant) have a combined: 1,620 receptions, 25,150 receiving yards, 169 touchdowns, 10 Pro Bowl Selections, 5 First-Team All- Pro Selections, 4 Super Bowl Rings, 2 places in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, and 1 Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket.
That type of production from one number is unfathomable not just within Dallas Cowboys History, but also across all of NFL History. Wearing the number is a great honor and a passing-of-the-torch among generations. Drew Pearson passed it to Michael Irvin, who responded by outperforming Drew. In 2010, Michael graciously passed it to Dez, who is well on his way to carving out his own historic 88 Cowboy career.
88 is such a great number for fans because with every juke, jive, or touchdown run that happens in it…fans from all generations can remember the good times and legendary plays. If there’s one thing that we have learned in Cowboys History, it’s that 88 cannot and will not be stopped. It’s a lifestyle that only the greatest can live.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 87 in Dallas Cowboys History is!