Counting down the Top 25 Plays in Cowboys franchise history certainly wasn't the easiest of tasks, and as with any list, there's going to be debate and second-guessing. More or less the whole point of doing lists in the first place, no?
When the idea was originally hatched, my first task was to scribble down the plays that immediately came to mind, the no-brainers. No ranking or anything, just trying to put 25 or so plays on paper and start the process. And sitting here more than a year later, looking at that piece of paper, the second line reads: Larry Allen tackle.
Even remember watching the YouTube clip two or three times that very day and taking the time to see how many yards he ran before tackling Saints linebacker Darion Connor in that December 19, 1994 contest. Figured the play was a lock for the list considering the Cowboys defense held New Orleans to a field goal following the interception return, thus making the tackle all the more worthy. And Dallas won the game, too, 24-16.
So what happened?
Well, Danny White to Drew Pearson happened in a Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 13, 1981. In the final minute, a gorgeous floating pass, 23 yards in the box score, 31 from where White actually launched it. Cowboys win. If Roger Staubach had thrown that ball, it would've been right there with the Hail Mary and the 1979 comeback win in the finale against the Redskins.
To be candid, the play snuck up on me in the midst of compiling the list, and had to be included. Knew the Cowboys beat the Falcons twice in the playoffs when former Dallas quarterback Eddie LeBaron was Atlanta's general manager from 1977-82, because he told me a few years back they were his two toughest losses in football, as a player, coach, executive, whatever. Just didn't know White threw a last-minute touchdown to win one of them. Could use the excuse of being five years old and living in Boston at the time, but the list was inclusive of numerous plays from the 1960s and early-1970s before my birth, so that wouldn't make much sense.
So by the time we were approaching Allen territory – my thought was around 10ish – came across the White/Pearson pass-and-catch in researching if there were any plays we may have missed. Now the dilemma was which of the remaining plays to cut. And Allen was my choice.
The play should've been in there. In retrospect, would've cut one of the bottom few, and Allen would've landed in the 10-12 range.
As for the rest of the list, a few thoughts:
- Went above and beyond in finding plays from meaningful games, and obviously those won by the Cowboys. There were exceptions, though, when the play was just so mind-boggling that common sense prevails, like the Woody Dantzler kick return in a completely meaningless loss to San Francisco in 2002. Ended up watching that replay at least 10 times; it's just stunning on so many levels. Think it's all the cooler that it's Woody Dantzler rather than say a Bob Hayes or Deion Sanders.
- Was thinking some may feel the Alvin Harper slant catch against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game might have been rated a little high at No. 2, but for me, the play represented the entire mindset of the trio of Super Bowls that came in that four-year run. We're not running Emmitt Smith three times off tackle and punting the ball back to watch Steve Young march down the field and win. We're the best team on the planet and we're not playing to lose. Try and stop us.
- Was tough to select an Emmitt Smith play from the 1993 finale against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. For me, it's the singular greatest individual game played by any member of the franchise. Ever, in the 52 years. How to pick just one play? And his longest play from scrimmage that day was the one during which he separated his shoulder late in the first half. Didn't pick that one, kind of felt like it had to be a play after the separation.
- Some felt Emmitt breaking the rushing record was too low on the list at No. 16. Look, the run was certainly historic, but the team stunk at the time, lost the game in question at home to Seattle, and Emmitt ran for a lot more yards after. Just didn't think in the grand scheme of it all that as a snap of the football it carried more meaning than an interception to win a playoff game or a game-winning catch. Not a knock at Emmitt in the least.
- Not sure why Emmitt is Emmitt and not Smith. Just is. Not like we're buddies, have spoken with him twice. Same way as Deion is Deion and Dez is Dez. Can't really explain the reasoning.
- The Hail Mary play was No. 1 with about two seconds of thought. Much like when we did the Top Games in Texas Stadium history the 1979 regular-season finale against the Redskins was No. 1. Could've tried to be cute in both instances, but would've also looked like an idiot in the process. Like people who try and argue Wayne Gretzky is the greatest hockey player ever. If he never scored a single goal, not one, he would be the all-time leading scorer. That's how many assists he tallied. And, oh yeah, he's also the all-time leading goal scorer. There is no debate.