Legendary Days: Barry Switzer’s 4th & 1 Nearly Sinks Dallas’ Season and Dynasty

In the long history of the NFC East one of the most hated rivals are the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Their disdain has grown into a feud expressed by players and fans all year around and the advent of social media has taken it to absurd levels. Yet its fun to go back in time and wonder what social media would have been like had it existed at key moments in the rivalry.

One of which was an epic game that took place in 1995.

Dallas was in the 2nd season of the Barry Switzer era after Jerry Jones let go of Hall of Fame Coach Jimmy Johnson. In ’94 the Cowboys had just missed on their chance to threepeat when they lost the ’94 NFC Championship Game out in San Francisco. Switzer morphed into the goat not because he lost in that game, but more from incurring the 15 yard penalty that became the indelible mark ending Cowboys come back attempt.

Switzer had to answer questions about his shortcomings from 1994 during a contentious summer. Was he the right coach and could he win on the NFL level were what pundits were asking. Or in other words “Was a once retired Barry Switzer in over his head?”

For the 2nd straight season the team endured free agent defections that eroded the game’s most talented roster. FS James Washington, WR Alvin Harper were the most notable defections, yet once you lose offensive linemen Mark Stepnoski, Kevin Gogan, John Gesek, LB Ken Norton Jr & FS Thomas Everett before the team was changing. A 2nd straight awful draft signaled 1995 might be the last great year from the roster Jimmy Johnson originally constructed. They hadnt adequately filled all the holes and were a top heavy team that had played an additional half season more than the rest of the NFL over a 3 year period with the additional postseason games. They were running out of gas.

All was not lost as T Erik Williams returned from injuries stemming from an auto accident and they did draft future Hall of Fame lineman Larry Allen. When they plugged in a 300 plus pound C in veteran Ray Donaldson, Emmitt Smith would be behind a complete wall of 300 pounders. Troy Aikman still had a prime Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek to throw to but lost a dynamic physical athlete in 6’3 Alvin Harper signing with Tampa.

Diminutive former KR Kevin Williams would replace him but gone was a 1st rate athlete who could high point the football with the best the decade had to offer. This brought more to bear on the rushing attack and with a team who couldn’t back you off with the deep throw to Harper how would it affect their approach late in the season? Especially once the season wore on with an older team.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles were searching for an identity. The last few years had seen the Buddy Ryan/ Richie Kotite era players that were first rate performers leave the team. Reggie White, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Keith Jackson, Keith Byars were the heart of that ball club. Couple their departure with the inability to replace 1st round and Pro Bowl DT Jerome Brown who died a few years before and you couldnt recognize the team anymore.

Needing a complete reboot the Eagles hired C Ray Rhodes from the Super Bowl champion 49ers. Not only had he been the DC who throttled Dallas twice in ’94 but he had a defensive approach and pedigree to build tough minded defenses. Since the Eagles were retooling on the fly they brought in a series of grizzled old veterans not only to their roster, but fit Rhodes no nosense street tough gritty approach to football.

In comes G Guy McIntyre, LB Bill Romanowski, LB Kurt Gouveia, DE William Fuller, S Greg Jackson, and CB Barry Wilburn. Barry Wilburn?? The corner who led the league in interceptions in 1987 helping the Redskins win the Super Bowl 8 years before?? The guy who picked off John Elway twice in Super Bowl XXII?? Yes… that Barry Wilburn. All but Fuller had played for previous Super Bowl champions and brought professionalism to a team trying to find itself.

Although Charlie Garner had emerged as a runner, Eagles brass pulled a coup and lured RB Rickey Watters away from the 49ers in free agency. It was this move that crippled the world champions 49ers and kept them from returning to the Super Bowl the rest of the decade. Even more than Dallas signing Deion Sanders away. Watters (1,273 yds 11 TDs) was eager to prove he could be the #1 offensive weapon was stepping out of the shadow cast by Jerry Rice, Steve Young and John Taylor. But both proved vital to the turnarounds of their new teams in 1995.

The season began with the Cowboys hellbent on returning to the winner’s circle exploding out of the blocks with an 8-1 start. But an inexplicable 38-20 loss to the 5-4 49ers sent their season off kilter. The game where they could have delivered the killing blow to San Francisco sapped some of their confidence and the 49ers went on to win 6 straight.

Dallas was then upset by the Washington Redskins and were 10-3 when they had to travel to cold Philadelphia to take on a surprising 8-5 battle hardened Eagle team. Randall Cunningham had been replaced by journeyman Rodney Peete at QB and no way they should be able to beat Dallas. This hodge podge Eagles team? No way…

Well Barry Switzer pulled the gaffe of the season with his dual 4th and 1 attempts and NFL shows were unmerciful the following weeks. The chasm between Jimmy Johnson running the Cowboys was never greater than it was at this time.¬† From his meltdown after the Deion Sanders non pass interference call in the previous championship game to these calls, pundits and fans had their doubts when it came down to Switzer’s decision making¬† in a close game. When you think back to his winning in Oklahoma, he just had the best athletes. He never outsmarted his competition or came up with great game plans. It was just “The Wishbone” with more superior athletes than his lesser opponents in an era of unlimited scholarships.

Then Switzer was thrown a life line when the 49ers lost homefield advantage losing to the Atlanta Falcons 27-24 after winning 6 straight. Dallas was able to regain homefield with a win in the season finale against Arizona.

Dallas went on to win Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix and that game mirrored their season. They came out of the blocks taking a 13-0 lead and held on for dear life winning it 27-17 thanks to 2 horrible Neil O’Donnell interceptions. The Cowboys set a Super Bowl record for fewest 2nd half yards for a team that won the Super Bowl with just 61 yards. They were older and the wear and tear caught up to them late in games as it did late in the season. Hell it happened in the upset loss to the Eagles when Aikman & Emmitt Smith combined for just 55 yards of offense in the 2nd half! In the midst of that he went for 4th and 1 twice at his own 30?? Inexplicable…

This kept Jerry Jones from having to eat his words “any of 500 coaches could have won Super Bowls with the rosters the Cowboys had.” Well he almost hand selected the coach that couldn’t. Had they not won the Super Bowl it would have opened the door to Denver, San Francisco or Green Bay being able to make a claim as Team of the 90s. The Cowboys won 1 playoff game the remaining 4 years of the decade. They were out of the playoffs and an NFL afterthought by the time we make it to 1999. Would John Elway have retired before 1999 had the Broncos the shot at 3peating and possibly becoming “Team of the Decade” as the only 3 time champion of the ’90s?? Something to think about…

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