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By Jonathan Bales

All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part II: Linebackers

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All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team
By Vince Grey

I thought since it was kind of a dead period between actual football and the draft, I’d have some fun creating my version of the all-time Dallas Cowboys team.  After some consideration, I decided to do it as a 53-man roster and coaching staff, as if I were building the team to compete this upcoming season in the NFL.

A couple of notes on that. . .First, I took some “artistic license” as it were, in order to include players from the distant past. Obviously, an All-Pro 260 pound offensive tackle from the 60s, large for that time, would be 50-70 pounds light by today’s standards.  I went with the assumption that had that same player been of this era, with better training and diet, he would have added size/speed to equate to this era’s players.  Also, I decided to only include a player at his level of play during the time he was with the Cowboys.  For example, Herb Adderley was a HoF defensive back for the Packers, but only played for the Cowboys at the tail end of his career.  He couldn’t make my team because he wasn’t “All-Pro Herb” with us.  Got it?  Good..

Click for Part I: Defensive Line

  • LINEBACKERS (Seven players)

In the first part of this series, we studied one of the deepest position in Cowboys history (defensive line).  Now we take aim at one of the least deep.   The linebacker spot is the only area of the Cowboys, including coaches, with no Hall of Fame inductees.

Looking over Dallas’ linebackers since the team’s inception, you see a common theme: small, quick players rather than Dick Butkus-type brutes.  No real surprise, as both Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson favored speed and quickness over size on defense.  Even since we’ve switched over to a 3-4 scheme, Dallas has shied away from the big bruisers you see on other teams (I like that approach, by the way, and eight Super Bowl appearances means it’s obviously a successful one).

  • Weak Side “Will” Backer

1.  Chuck Howley

2. Dexter Coakley

Howley is far and away the most accomplished Cowboys linebacker of all-time. Five-time first-team All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion (1971) and Super Bowl MVP (1970).  Personally, I think he’s a very viable Hall of Fame candidate.  No offense, but if Dave Wilcox is a Hall of Famer, then Chuck Howley is darn sure one as well.  Howley did everything very well, and he was very capable of making the big play, as he so often did. `Nuff said.

Coakley was a three-time Pro Bowler, playing from 1997 to 2006.  Bad timing, really, because he just missed all the Super Bowl fun of Troy and the ‘Boys.  He was released when Dallas switched to a 3-4.

But, Dex could really play.  He was an outstanding weak-side linebacker. He was very short at about 5’ 10”, but packed a wallop at 235 pounds.  Dexter is tied for the Cowboys record for most defensive touchdowns (five), four of those being interception returns.

He was also a rock-solid tackler.  Obviously, his game was speed and quickness, and he used it extremely well.  Like Howley, Coakley excelled in pass coverage.  Both covered more like strong safeties than linebackers. I think either player, in a 4-3 defense, would be special in this era’s wide open game.

  • Middle “Mike” Backer

1.  Lee Roy Jordan

2.  Bob Breuing

Frankly, I was surprised when I looked up Lee Roy Jordan’s awards.  He was a five-time Pro Bowler, but with only two All-Pro selections (one as first-teamer). I was a little perplexed at that, but then I realized Jordan played middle linebacker in an era when the NFL had a boatload of  Hall of Fame-caliber middle `backers.  Looking at it from that aspect, I suppose it speaks to his ability that he made the All-Pro team at all.

Jordan was pretty small even by the standards of his day, standing 6’ 1” and weighing 210-215 pounds.  Were he playing today, I doubt he would get to more than 230 or so, but what Jordan lacked in size, he made up for with intelligence, quickness, and toughness. He was just a tough, hard-nosed player who gave everything he had on every play.  Very football savvy.  Lee Roy is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and is also in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.

I can honestly say that I’ve seen 99 percent or more of Bob Breunig’s playing career as a Cowboy and I can’t specifically recall a single play.  Not one.  That, in a nutshell, was Breunig.  Mr. Steady. He made just about every play he was supposed to, but not many passed that. Very smart (Stanford), excellent tackler, kind of a liability in coverage. Very good, but not great, at diagnosing plays. Limited speed and quickness.

Breunig played the middle for Landry’s flex from 1977 to 1984.  He never missed a game until late in his career.  Bob was a captain on some really dominant defensive teams, but truthfully, I give much of the credit for Breunig’s success to the system (Tom’s defense protected the “Mike” from blockers extremely well) and to the defensive line he played behind.

Still, he did make three Pro Bowls and go to three Super Bowls.  NOTE: Wikipedia has Breunig named All-Pro 4 times. I think that’s incorrect.  I don’t recall him ever making AP All-Pro, and I can’t find anything to collaborate that notion.

  • Strong Side “Sam” Backer

1.  Ken Norton Jr

2.  Dave Edwards

This one’s virtually a toss up.  Norton had more awards, barely, as he was named to the Pro Bowl one time (1993), and he has two Super Bowl victories to Dave’s one, but Edwards played longer (11 seasons compared to six for Edwards), and almost never missed a game. Both players were very, very good, but just a shade below All-Pro/multi-Pro Bowl level.

I give Norton the slight edge due to his versatility, but he was also the largest of my group, weighing about 240-250 pounds on a 6’ 1” frame.  His natural position was “Sam” LB, but he could play the middle, and even the weak side, without losing much production. Edwards, as far as I can determine, was exclusively a “Sam” LB.  That’s not to say he couldn’t play the other positions, only that he never did as far as I know.  Dave was taller at 6’ 3,” but listed at 230.  However, extrapolating that out to today, I could easily see him going 250 or so.

I had a major dislike for Norton after he defected to the Niners in 1994.  I didn’t mind him leaving so much (this was the infant days of the salary cap and Dallas refused to pay their LBs any real money back then), but going to despised `Frisco was just too much to bear.  Of course, the fact that Ken was from California didn’t seem relevant at the time.  All I knew was that he went over to the dark side and suddenly we couldn’t beat the 49ers anymore.  I’ve mellowed some on Norton since that time, forgiving. . .but never forgetting.

  • The Seventh Man

Hollywood Henderson

With two true middle linebackers and another who could play that spot as well, I didn’t want anymore players at that spot.  While I briefly considered Dat Nguyen and Bradie James, I didn’t go there.  I also thought of Darrin Smith, an underrated “Will” backer from the early-mid 90s, but decided against it.

I decided to get creative, going with Hollywood Henderson.

Yes, I know.  Loudmouth.  Pop-off.  Coke head.

But, also, arguably the fastest and best all-around athlete at linebacker in Dallas Cowboy history.  Thomas was a really, really good backer for the Cowboys for four seasons before he blew up in 1979.  He started on three Super Bowl teams, made a lot of big plays, and, here’s the real kicker, was an outstanding special teams player.

Henderson was a natural “Will” who was forced to play the “Sam” in Landry’s defense.  I can almost guarantee had he played the weak side, Thomas would have made multiple Pro Bowls.

And, if and when Hollywood stepped out of line, there was always Randy White available to kick the crap out of him.

Again.

NEXT: Secondary

————————————

JB’s All-Time Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Corps

1.  Chuck Howley
2.  Ken Norton Jr.
3. Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson
4. Lee Roy Jordan
5. Dexter Coakley
6. Bradie James
7. Dat Nguyen

Not much to add here.  Howley leads the pack (although if we were including 3-4 outside linebackers, I would have Ware already rated No. 1).

Despite the off-field issues, Hollywood Henderson was an absolute beast.  As Vince pointed out, he was the most physically gifted of any Cowboys linebacker ever.

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6 Responses to All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part II: Linebackers

  1. beWARE says:

    Chuck Howley is my dad’s favorite player.  He loved watching that guy.

    I’m still hoping one day I’ll be on a game show and the million dollar question will be, who’s the only player to ever win SB MVP for the losing team?

    Your sentence about Hollywood got me laughing:
    “Yes, I know.  Loudmouth.  Pop-off.  Coke head.”

    That can be said about a WR that I’m sure will make your list.  =)

  2. Vince_Grey says:

    If it’s the same guy I’m thinking of, I wouldn’t call him a coke head. In my thinking, that word denotes a serious user with a real addiction. I’d say the receiver in question was more of a once-in-awhile recreational user. I’m not downplaying it, because it’s a filthy habit at any level, but he was never addicted and never let it affect his play, unlike Henderson, who let it destroy his career.

  3. Vince_Grey says:

    JB, Bradie James… at number 6… all time? Seriously? I mean, I know you’re a lot younger than I, but c’mon. Dave Edward and even D.D. Lewis deserve higher ranking than James. They were both rock steady players, who played a very long time, for multiple SB teams.

    And Ken, ahead of Lee Roy Jordan? That’s just wrong, dude.

  4. Pingback: All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part III: Cornerbacks | Dallas Cowboys Times

  5. Pingback: All-Time Dallas Cowboys Football Team, Part IV: Safeties | Dallas Cowboys Times

  6. william edwards says:

    When Dave Wilcox was elected to the hof in 2000 i was blown away, Look at the facts they dont lie , Chuck had more tackles, interceptions as well as played on more winning teams , championship games and super bowls. Tom Landry called him the greatest linebacker he ever saw. He was super bowl mvp in v and should have won mvp in vi when the cowboys won their first super bowl, his 4th quarter interception sealed the win. Chuck also played in the greatest championship game of all time, the Ice Bowl in 1967 and even when his teams didn’t win Chuck was outstanding, Does anyone remember that fumble return for a touchdown in the 1968 playoff loss to Cleveland when he was the only bright light in an otherwise terrible team performance, also Chucks cowboys met Wilcox 49ers 3 times in the early 70s in playoff games with Chucks teams winning every time , twice with the super bowl at stake.This is not an attempt to bash Wilcox who was an outstanding player but there is no way his career compares to Howleys who should have in my opinion been a first ballot hall of famer no doubt. It seems to me that there is a bias against former Dallas players by hof voters, in my opinion besides Chuck who is the obvious choice ,there is Cornell Greene Charlie Waters, Cliff Harris, Drew Pearson and from the more modern era Charles Haley, all deserve to be in canton and before i forget you could throw Lee Roy Jordan in there as well. Why did they wait until after he was gone to finally put Bob Hayes in. He revolusionized the passing game at a time when the rules actully allowed you to play defense unlike today when it seems that they throw a flag if you even look at a receiver. The fact that they waited so long to put Bob in the hall when he was no longer here to celebrate the moment was shameful and it now appears that Chuck Howley will suffer the same fate as year after year more modern era players get in as voters memories get shorter and shorter and they continue to forget the players from the past who made the game what it is today. please do the right thing and while he is still here to experence it put the great Chuck Howley in the Hall of Fame

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