They say history repeats itself, and we could be looking at a rerun in Dallas.
The Cowboys of the nineties were lead by three future Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin on offense. An accurate passer, elite level runner and a clutch receiver. Now the modern-day version is lead by three top-shelf players in their own right. Dak Prescott has won more games than any quarterback since 2016 not named Tom Brady. Ezekiel Elliott has two rushing crowns in his first three years. And Amari Cooper is a multiple time pro bowler and one of the best receivers in the game. The similarities, however, don’t end there.
First, let’s look at the quarterbacks, Aikman and Prescott.
In 1989, the Cowboys were looking to solidify the quarterback position and snatching up the former Oklahoma Sooner and UCLA Bruin was a no brainer. Aikman went number one in the NFL Draft because of his prototypical size and accurate arm. However, his career didn’t get off to a Canton, Ohio type start. He threw just nine touchdowns while simultaneously doubling that number in interceptions. The team would lose all eleven of Aikman’s starts and finished with the leagues worst record at 1-15.
When 1991 rolled around things started to change when Aikman lead the Cowboys to a 6-4 record but unfortunately got hurt against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Backup Quarterback Steve Beuerlein would lead the Cowboys to a 5-0 record to finish the season and a road playoff win in Chicago. The next week in Detroit the Cowboys were down 17-6 at halftime and Aikman was brought in to maybe provide a spark but it was unsuccessful. After the 38-6 beatdown and uncertainty, if he had the trust of coach Jimmy Johnson, Aikman thought about demanding a trade. But soon after he would get his vote of confidence and the keys to the franchise.
In 1992 Aikman was entering year four and took full advantage of this new belief in him. He had career highs in completions (302), yards (3,445), and touchdowns (23). The Cowboys finished a 13-3 and were the number two seed in the NFC Playoffs. The former first-round pick would have his finest hour in Super Bowl XXVII. Going 22-30 for 273 yards and four touchdowns. A performance that landed him a well deserved Super Bowl MVP.
Dak Prescott, however, wasn’t as celebrated as Aikman coming out of college in 2016. He would be drafted in the fourth round as the potential heir the Tony Romo‘s throne. The third string rookie got a few breaks heading into his inaugural season. When Kellen Moore and Tony Romo both suffered injuries, Prescott was thrust into the starting lineup. After losing his first start against the Giants, he would run off 11 straight wins on his way to leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC.
He would struggle in 2017, especially with Ezekiel Elliott missing six games. The Cowboys went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Some wondered if Prescott was really as good as his rookie season indicated or did he have to have the ideal situation in order to perform. But in 2018 however, not only did Prescott improve, but he would get his first playoff win against the Seahawks. Now, similar to Aikman nearly three decades earlier, Prescott is entering year four in 2019 and currently in negotiations for a major contract extension. Will his fourth campaign end in Super Bowl glory as well?
Next, we look at the running backs, Smith and Elliott.
In 1990 Emmitt Smith and his now infamous polka-dot vest came to Dallas to solidify the running game. He would have a solid rookie season with 937 yards and the Cowboys improved their win total by six games. In 1991 Smith ran for 1,563 yards and won his first of four rushing titles, and the Cowboys went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
When his third season rolled around in 1992 the former Florida Gator would firmly establish himself as the NFL’s top ball carrier. Winning his second consecutive rushing crown with a then-franchise record 1,713 yards. He would cap off the season with 108 yards in Super Bowl XXVII as the Cowboys won the franchises third title.
Ezekiel Elliott was a lock as a top 5 pick heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Names like Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey would be linked heavily to the Cowboys. However, they decided to go in another direction, and with the fourth pick, they got their bell cow in the backfield taking Elliott out of Ohio State. He wasted no time setting his mark on the NFL by leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards in only 15 games.
2017 would have plenty of headaches for Elliott as he dealt with the possibility of a six-game suspension for domestic violence allegations. After a long battle with the league, he would ultimately accept his punishment but still managed to rack up 983 yards in ten games. With no off the field distractions weighing him down, he bounced back with another All-Pro season in 2018 and added his second rushing title to his resume with 1,434 yards. Now, Elliott enters year four in 2019, just a year further along than Emmitt in 1992. Is there another rushing title and a Super Bowl victory on the horizon?
Lastly, let’s look at the wide receivers, Irvin and Cooper.
Michael Irvin was a part of Tom Landry’s final draft class in 1988. In 1989, the future Hall of Famer torn his ACL which would cause him to miss the remainder of the season and the first four games of 1990. After extensive rehab, he would finally put it all together in 1991. He had his second-best season in both receptions (93) and yards (1,523) and started a string of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections and his only first-team All-Pro honor.
Irvin would follow that brilliant season with another in 1992. With 78 receptions for 1,396 yards, he had firmly established himself as one of the leagues best at his position in his fifth season. But on the biggest stage, he would have his most legendary performance. He scored consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter that essentially blew the game wide open, and the Cowboys won 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
Amari Cooper came into the NFL with big expectations coming out of Alabama in 2015, and he wasted no time living up to them. In his first two seasons, he would rack up over 1,000 yards in each and be selected to the Pro Bowl. After a slightly down year in 2017, Cooper’s days in Oakland were numbered when the team brought in Jon Gruden to be the head coach in 2018. He cleaned house with Raiders which included trading Cooper to the Cowboys for a first round pick, and life changed dramatically in Dallas.
His immediate chemistry with Dak Prescott couldn’t be denied as the offense would open up immensely now that it had a true number one receiver. Cooper would reach 1,000 yards for the third time and receive a third Pro Bowl selection, as the Cowboys would make the playoffs after a year absence. Now like Irvin in 1992, year five is approaching for Amari Cooper. Can his impact be enough to help the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 2019? Time will tell.
Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are at the same points in their careers as Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were in 1992 when they started their run of three Super Bowls in four years and their paths to Canton. Is this the start of another Cowboys dynasty? Are we witnessing the new Triplets? Now, of course, the jury is still out if this present day version can carry that title, but I’m not saying that they can’t, or that they won’t.