Four men have roamed the defensive backfield with such ferocity and prowess that they have permanently etched their faces onto our Mount Rushmore of defensive backs.
All four have won championships to go along with the respect of every opponent they faced on the gridiron. One player was decades ahead of his time.
The Original Prime
Mel Renfro came out of college as a two-way player, renowned as one of the best running backs in the history of the University of Oregon.
In 1966, his third season in Dallas, he got to play on the offensive side of the ball.
But his star shined brightest on defense.
During the first six of his 14 seasons in Dallas, Renfro played at free safety before moving to cornerback. Over 174 games he would pick off 52 passes — he's still the team's all-time leader in this category — with three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
He recorded 10 interceptions in 1969 alone and added 13 fumble recoveries.
Seeing as how he had to cover Bob Hayes in practice for many years, his opponents on Sunday must have seemed to be moving in slow-motion.
Renfro was also a threat on special teams, with 109 punt returns and 85 kickoff returns. He had a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in his rookie year in 1964. His two kickoff returns for touchdowns went for 100 yards (1965) and 87 yards (1966).
In the one year he was allowed to play both ways, he added eight carries for 52 yards and four receptions for 65 yards. He failed to score while on offense, however.
Still, he could be called the Deion Sanders of the 1960s.
Renfro won two Super Bowls with Dallas (VI and XII). He became the fifth player added to the Ring of Honor in 1981 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
An Undersized Linebacker
Darren Woodson walked onto Arizona State as a linebacker. When then Cowboys Defensive Backs Coach Dave Campo saw him he knew he had his strong safety of the future.
He would play 178 games over 12 seasons at the position, picking off 23 passes and recovering 11 fumbles.
He would return two of those picks for scores.
But his prowess was in how hard he hit a ball carrier or a receiver during or after a catch. He is credited with 967 tackles. Unfortunately, no stats were kept on how many bone-jarring hits he unloaded.
He was drafted in the second round by the Cowboys in 1992. That draft pick had been acquired by Dallas in the Herschel Walker trade.
Oddly enough, he grew up a Steelers fan and hated the Cowboys.
When he was drafted, a friend called to tell him, giving him the “bad news” that he'd been drafted by Dallas.
Woodson said he was just happy to be picked, even if it was by the Cowboys.
Woodson was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2015. He has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2008 but has yet to be inducted.
Cliff Harris was not drafted by any team in the 1970 draft. The only college that offered him a scholarship was Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
He was invited to the Cowboys' training camp and signed as a free agent. He would play free safety for the next 10 seasons in Dallas.
His teammates would call him “Captain Crash,” while Redskins Head Coach George Allen called him “a rolling ball of butcher knives.”
He played free safety but, like Woodson, hit like a linebacker.
He would win two Super Bowls in Dallas and be inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2004. The Hall of Fame would induct him in 2020.
Hold That Tiger
Charlie Waters started out as an offensive standout for the Clemson Tigers in college, as both a quarterback and a receiver.
But the Cowboys took him in the third round of the 1970 draft and moved him to the defensive backfield.
At first, the experiment seemed doomed. He nearly got cut his first year and only started at cornerback in just over half of his 70 games during his first five seasons.
Still, he was proving to be a ballhawk with 20 interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
When Cornell Green retired after the 1974 season, Waters moved into the strong safety slot and became a force in the backfield.
He played in five Super Bowls, earning two rings.
To this day he remains the NFL record holder for postseason interceptions all-time (9) and in a single game (3). He also had a knack for blocking punts, especially in playoff games.
Waters is not in the Ring of Honor, nor is he in the Hall of Fame.
Green, Terence Newman, and Roy Williams all nearly made the top four. It was very close. But Waters' success in the playoffs pushed him over the line just ahead of all three.