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!
Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time
The Cowboys took their fair share of heat for selecting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. But through just over half a season, Dallas is looking vindicated in their decision.
Vander Esch was arguably the best defensive player on the field during Dallas' 27-20 win in Philadelphia Sunday night, and made the two biggest defensive plays of the game as well. Finishing with a game-high 13 tackles, Vander Esch was all over the field in both run and pass defense.
The first of his two massive plays came in the first quarter. After the Cowboys offense stalled deep in their own territory, the Eagles looked to be in prime position to strike first with a short field. On Carson Wentz' first pass attempt of the drive, however, Leighton Vander Esch was there to intercept him and return the ball back 28 yards.
Those return yards proved key as well, giving the Cowboys the short field and an easy path to their first three points of the night. And with the way their offense looked early in this game, Dallas could use all the help they could get.
The biggest play of the game, though, came late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles facing a third and long and down seven points, they absolutely needed a conversion to keep pace with the surprisingly hot Cowboys offense. Philadelphia tried to beat Dallas with a running back screen to the backside, inviting the pass rush and getting blockers out in front.
There seemed to be nothing but blockers and green grass ahead for the Eagles on this play, with "Next Gen Stats" expecting a 22 yard gain after the catch. Then, Leighton Vander Esch eluded two blockers and tracked down the running back for a gain of just 3.
Leighton Vander Esch made a game-saving tackle late in the 4th quarter to preserve the Cowboys 27-20 win. Corey Clement was expected to gain 22 yards after the catch (gained 3), -19 YAC Below Expectation, the most yards saved on a pass play this season. #DALvsPHI #DallasCowboys https://t.co/0DF7jhPQzH
If not for this tackle, who knows how both that Eagles' drive and the game would have ended. Vander Esch saved the day for Dallas, and forced the Eagles into a tough fourth and long situation with the game on the line.
I know it is still early in Vander Esch's career, and even relatively early in this season as well, but it's become clear the Cowboys hit a home run with their 2018 first round selection. Vander Esch is fitting in beside Jaylon Smith with ease, and with those two athletic freaks together, the Cowboys look to have one of the brightest defensive futures in all of football.
Of course, there are now legitimate questions about what the Cowboys should do with their captain Sean Lee. But as of right now, it should be Leighton Vander Esch's job to lose.
Can Cowboys LB Vander Esch Do Enough to Win DROY?
At 3-5, there are very few positive things to point out when discussing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. One of those few things has been first-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch, whose play at linebacker has taken the league by surprise. Seen as a raw talent who could develop into an elite player with time as a prospect, Vander Esch's impact on the field has been immediate.
Through nine weeks in the NFL season, the Boise State product should definitely be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. As much as Sean Lee's injury will hurt the Cowboys' defense, it will get the rookie more playing time and a big opportunity to put his name in the minds of NFL Honors voters.
Sean Lee will miss some time after re-injuring his hamstring for the second time this season. Earlier in the year, Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch were able to keep the defense from crumbling without their veteran captain. Even with all the offensive struggles, that should continue to be the case for the linebackers.
Vander Esch has only played in 65% of the Cowboys' defensive snaps, yet he's tied for ninth place in solo tackles in the entire league with 49. He's at 64 total tackles and two pass deflections and has been a magnet to opposing ball carriers every time he's been on the field.
He's the third highest graded rookie LB for Pro Football Focus. Most times, rookies find success like this by being rotational players or simply splitting snaps with other players. But as previously mentioned, Lee has already been out for a handful of games in 2018 and Vander Esch has lived up to the hype.
Simply put, Leighton's play as a rookie has already put Sean Lee's future on the Cowboys in question. With such an injury history and a two young studs ready to take over the reigns, Dallas could very well release Lee prior to the 2019 season.
Now granted, the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year will not be an easy one to win for Vander Esch. Fourth overall pick Denzel Ward has been an impressive cornerback for the Browns and fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb has been one of the best pass rushers on Sundays. Not to mention the NFL leader in solo tackles, Colts' LB Darius Leonard.
Despite a great start to his season, the Cowboys young LB will have to play way better for his name to be called when the Defensive Rookie of the Year is revealed at the NFL Honors event in February. There are some pretty big names he has to catch up with in order to make this happen.
Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There’s Only One Side To Blame
It feels like an eternity has passed since 2016, yet somehow, it was only 2 seasons ago.
The Dallas Cowboys were riding high, en route to a 13-3 season and an NFC East crown. They had drafted the league's leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the previous draft, and believed to have found their franchise quarterback over 100 picks later.
Up in Philadelphia things weren't going as smoothly, but they were certainly on the upswing. After trading up to select Carson Wentz in that same 2016 draft, the Eagles also believed they had their quarterback of the future.
Cowboys/Eagles. Dak/Wentz. A debate between two hated rivals which began in 2016 and seemed like it would go on for the next decade. It was almost too perfect.
Countless articles and blog posts were written about the birth of a quarterback rivalry which would span for the foreseeable future. Which team had the better draft haul in 2016? Which team was better set up for the future behind their young quarterback?
The two met for the first time on Sunday Night football back in 2016, and for much of the night neither was very good. They both looked like rookies, but at the end of the game Dak Prescott was the one who came through in the clutch, throwing the game winner in overtime to Jason Witten. The rivalry was born, and the Cowboys had the upper hand.
Fast forward to today and things are much, much different. Prescott and Wentz have only really played each other one other time since that first match-up, a game which the Eagles dominated and Dak Prescott threw 3 interceptions.
The other two games have been meaningless and ugly, two adjectives which could describe every Cowboys game the past calendar year.
Simply put, there is no rivalry. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have not held up their end of the bargain since that first match-up in 2016. Prescott's play has fallen off considerably, as he has fallen victim to just about every piece of lazy analysis Eagles fans gave during his miraculous 2016 season.
Doug Pederson has become the anti-Jason Garrett, quite literally making his name off being aggressive on critical downs and refusing to punt on fourth and short in plus territory. The Eagles front office has become the anti-Cowboys, going after pricey trade targets and free agents to ensure they are making the most of their young quarterback's rookie contract window.
The Cowboys have failed just about everywhere that the Eagles have succeeded. And, Dak Prescott has failed just about everywhere Carson Wentz has excelled.
Maybe things will turn around this Sunday for Dallas, and if they are able to win, they'd still be very much alive in the division race. But all of that seems highly unlikely. There is no longer a Dak/Wentz rivalry. There's barely even a reason for Eagles fans to have Dak Prescott on their radar.
Let's hope Prescott and the Cowboys can begin to change things this Sunday.
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