The Dallas Cowboys won a breakthrough Super Bowl championship in 1992 and with a plethora of young talent, were poised to start a dynasty. But the bid for a repeat title got off to a rocky start when running back Emmitt Smith, a future Hall of Famer and two-time defending rushing champ, held out of training camp and the first two regular season games. The 1993 Dallas Cowboys still completed a championship run everyone expected, but the Smith holdout was the sign there would be some rocky times along the way.
Even without Emmitt, Dallas still had a core of talent that was the envy of the league. Troy Aikman, the future Hall of Fame quarterback and current Fox Sports game analyst, led the NFL with a 69% completion rate. Aikman was also second in yards-per-attempt and with his 15-6 TD/INT ratio could avoid mistakes. He made the Pro Bowl.
Michael Irvin, another star with a future in Canton, made the Pro Bowl with an 88-catches/1,330 receiving yards performance. Alvin Harper was a big-play threat on the other side, averaging over 21 yards-per-catch. And if you focused too much on the receivers? All Aikman needed to do was look for tight end Jay Novacek, a Pro Bowl player himself.
If this flash wasn’t enough, the Cowboys could also play meat-and-potatoes football. An old-style fullback, Daryl Johnston, was another Pro Bowler. As were Nate Newton and Mark Stepnoski on the offensive line. Right tackle Erik Williams enjoyed a breakout year, making 1st-team All-NFL at age 25.
The defensive side of the ball didn’t have quite as many stars, but they still ranked second in the league in points allowed. Russell Maryland was a Pro Bowl defensive tackle and Charles Haley could wreak havoc at defensive end. Linebacker Ken Norton and free safety Thomas Everett made the Pro Bowl, while 23-year-old corner Kevin Smith intercepted six passes.
In short, this talent on hand, along with Jimmy Johnson overseeing it all on the sidelines, sounds like the description of a Super Bowl team already. But it turned out that Emmitt mattered even more than anyone would have realized.
Dallas was destroyed on the opening Monday Night game of the year against the Washington Redskins—a team that would finish 3-13—and then lost a Super Bowl rematch against the Buffalo Bills. With no team having ever won the Super Bowl after starting 0-2, a mix of urgency and panic was running through Big D and consuming the national media. Jones got Smith back into the fold.
An unimpressive 17-10 win at lowly Phoenix on a Sunday night followed, but at least it was a win, Emmitt was worked back into the lineup and Dallas got a bye week to regroup. They returned two weeks later with blowout wins over playoff-bound Green Bay and a lousy Indianapolis Colts team.
Aikman was playing exceptionally efficient football and the Cowboys were positioned for a crucial three-game stretch against the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. The 49ers were the principal measuring stick for the Cowboys, while the Eagles and Giants joined them in a packed NFC East race.
Irvin was electric before a late Sunday afternoon national TV audience against San Francisco. He caught 12 passes for 168 yards, while Emmitt ran for 92. The Cowboys won 26-17. Another bye week followed—1993 was the year the NFL tried the ill-fated experiment of giving each team two weeks off during the season. Nobody liked it and the idea has never come back.
But maybe the time off did something for Emmitt and the offensive line. Because he came back and played one of the best games of his career, rushing for 237 yards in Philadelphia and leading a 23-10 win. He rolled up 117 more in a 31-9 home rout of the Giants.
The New York win came at a cost though. Aikman was injured and would miss the next two games. The Cowboys went with Bernie Kosar. The one-time great quarterback of the Cleveland Browns had been released and with Dallas suddenly in need of some veteran insurance, they picked him up. Kosar started in a win over the Cardinals (the Cards were an NFC East team prior to the realignment of 2002). But without Aiman, and with Emmitt having to leave the next game after just one carry, the Cowboys lost at mediocre Atlanta.
Dallas was still 7-3 and in good shape when Thanksgiving Day arrived. What followed against a playoff-bound Miami Dolphins team was one of the most bizarre finishes to any NFL game. a
A blizzard hit Dallas and the game was played on a snow-covered field. The Cowboys led 14-13 and appeared to have won, when Dolphin kicker Pete Stoyanovich had a field goal partially blocked at the line of scrimmage. The ball skidded toward the end zone. Cowboy defenders surrounded the ball, letting it roll dead.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the well-intentioned, but rules-challenged, Cowboy defensive tackle Leon Lett, barreled through the pile and tried to pounce on the ball. Lett thought it was live, but that only became the case after he touched it and it skidded off his body. Miami won the race to the loose ball and Stoyanovich kicked a short field goal to win it 16-14.
The record was now 7-4. Dallas trailed the New York Giants by a game in the NFC East, although there was a head-to-head matchup in the Meadowlands to end the regular season and the Cowboys had won the first meeting. They still controlled their destiny, but there was no slack.
Philadelphia came to Dallas on a Monday Night, but the Eagles were fading amidst key injuries. Emmitt ran for 172 yards in a 23-17 win. The Cowboys paid a visit to Minnesota, where the mediocre Vikings were fighting to stumble into the playoffs. Emmitt rolled up another 100-plus in an easy 37-20 win. Another contender, the 8-5 New York Jets, were easily dispatched in a 28-7 road win before a late Saturday afternoon audience.
A revenge blowout of the Redskins, who had begun their fall from Joe Gibbs-era excellence to the mediocrity that has marked their existence ever since, set the stage for the January 2 regular season finale. The Cowboys and Giants would meet in the Meadowlands in the late Sunday afternoon TV window to settle both the division title and the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Oddsmakers saw the Cowboys as nearly a touchdown favorite, even on the road and that looked prophetic when they took a 13-0 lead into halftime. But the Giants answered back in the second half, tying the game 13-13. This was a game that was even in most every way. Aikman and counterpart Phil Simms each avoided mistakes and each were sacked four times. Each team had a 100-yard game from their key running back, with Rodney Hampton running well for New York and Emmitt doing the same for Dallas.
But Emmitt went above and beyond. With a separated shoulder causing immense pain, Smith ran for 168 yards. He caught ten passes out of the backfield. The game went to overtime and Dallas was able to survive 16-13. The performance got Emmitt the rushing title, even with missing the first two games. And it sealed his MVP award.
The playoff run would include games with Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers, along with fellow early 1990s stalwarts, the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills. But the regular season finale was the most significant test for the 1993 edition of the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas was favored by nearly two touchdowns in the divisional round against the Packers, making their first playoff appearance with Favre. The Cowboys started slow and trailed 3-0 after the first quarter. Then Aikman got rolling. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Harper, another scoring pass to Novacek and, in the third quarter, a 19-yard strike to Irvin, who ended the game with nine catches for 126 yards. The Cowboys took a 24-3 lead and cruised home, 27-17.
San Francisco was the heavyweight opponent, although with a 10-6 record, this 49er team was weakest of their 1992-95 editions that joined Dallas at the top of the league. The Cowboys were in control in this NFC Championship Game, leading 28-7 at the half. There was a scary moment though, when San Francisco scored a touchdown and then Aikman had to leave the game.
Enter Bernie Kosar. The one-time great quarterback for the Cleveland Browns had been released earlier that year and Dallas picked him up for insurance. Like this moment. Kosar went 5-for-9 for 83 yards and threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Harper. The 49er rally was turned back and the Cowboys won 38-21.
A Super Bowl rematch with the Bills was next in Atlanta, and Dallas was a double-digit favorite for the second time in the postseason. It wouldn’t be the ‘93 Cowboys though, if they didn’t start a little slow before turning on the juice.
Buffalo led 13-6 at the half and it took a defensive touchdown from James Washington in the third quarter to pull Dallas back even. It was time for Emmitt to make one last display of greatness. He got a steady diet of the football down the stretch, rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys pulled away. The final was 30-13 and the repeat championship was in the books.
It would be a tumultuous offseason for the franchise, as the bad blood between Jones and Johnson boiled over and they parted ways. But that soap opera shouldn’t prevent Emmitt Smith from being the enduring memory of the 1993 Dallas Cowboys. He completed a historic trifecta of NFL MVP, rushing leader, and Super Bowl MVP. He was the heart and soul of the 1993 Dallas Cowboys.