The Best of the Cowboys: Defense

No team in the history of the National Football League has possessed Hall of Fame-caliber players at every position in the course of a given year. Not only is it financially unfeasible, but often times greatness needs to lead and not merely co-exist with other great players.

Defensive Line
End – Harvey Martin is the best defensive end to ever play for the Cowboys. While names like Pugh and Haley bring up memories of Doomsday, Martin was simply the best. A co-MVP of the 1977 Super Bowl, Martin may best be remembered for entering the Redskins' locker room and tossing down a wreath of flowers the Skins sent to Dallas to boast of their impending NFC East title. Dallas won the game as Martin stared down the entire Redskins squad.

End – Ed "Too Tall" Jones was the bookend of the late 1970's defensive line and, not only a superior run stopper, but a sack artist as well. At 6'9", he batted down passes and smacked quarterbacks with regularity. For fifteen years he solidified the Dallas line, and somehow in between he worked in a year off to become a professional boxer.

Tackle – Bob Lilly was the first draft choice of the 1961 season and the best defensive player ever for the Dallas Cowboys. The tackle was triple teamed on every play, yet he disrupted the offense with his skills and power. NFL films have immortalized his sacks of Bob Griese in the 1971 Super Bowl, and rightfully so.

Tackle – Randy White was a known as the "Manster," half man and half monster. His fierce attack brought him the honor of being co-MVP of the 1977 Super Bowl with Harvey Martin. Of his many great plays he will always be remembered for two: One was a rundown of Eagles running back Wilbert Montgomery from behind, forty yards down field. The second was his taking his helmet off to beat a Chicago Bear over the head in a preseason game in 1988.

Our votes for the top defensive linemen in the history of the Dallas Cowboys go to Harvey Martin, Ed Jones, Bob Lilly and Randy White.

Linebackers
Nominees: Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan, Thomas Henderson, Ken Norton Jr.
Chuck Howley is the only Super Bowl MVP who was on the losing team. He also is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But there has been no tougher linebacker in the Dallas Cowboys' 45-year history. He recorded 25 interceptions for a total of 400 yards along with being the centerpiece of the Dallas defense. Six times picked for the Pro Bowl and six times an All-Pro, Howley was also the first defensive player selected as the MVP of the Super Bowl.

Lee Roy Jordan played with Howley for ten years and was part of the reason the Dallas defense was called "Doomsday." Jordan was also a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro during his 14-year career. He was named by the Dallas Morning News as the greatest Cowboys linebacker of all time, starting 154 consecutive games and holding the Cowboys record for tackles, with 743 solo and 493 career.

Thomas Henderson perhaps had more athletic ability than any other linebacker in the history of the Cowboys. A true sideline-to-sideline player, he was as devastating in the run defense as he was in covering receivers. His boasts that Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A came back to haunt him as the Steelers exposed him in the 1975 Super Bowl.

Ken Norton, Jr. was the last middle linebacker drafted by Tom Landry. Fast, tough and a leader on the field, he coordinated the 1992 and 1993 defenses that won championships. He may best be remembered for his heads-up tackle of Thurman Thomas on the goal line of Super Bowl XXVII against the Buffalo Bills. His play turned the tides on the Bills and changed the momentum for the rest of the game.

Our votes for the top linebackers in the history of the Dallas Cowboys go to Chuck Howley, Lee Roy Jordan and Ken Norton, Jr.

Cornerbacks
Nominees: Mel Renfro, Cornell Green, Deion Sanders
Mel Renfro is one of the few Dallas Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played during an era when receivers used stick ‘em and contact began at the snap of the ball. A running back out of Oregon, he played cornerback for the Cowboys as well as safety. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. In addition, his 52 interceptions are a Cowboys' record.

Cornell Green played during the same era as Mel Renfro. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and a five time All-Pro. A solid player who played man-to-man coverage, Green was part of a tandem as physical and successful as the Oakland Raiders' Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes. His 34 interceptions are third on the list of defensive backs for the Cowboys.

Deion Sanders came to the Cowboys in 1995, and he brought with him a swagger and another World Championship.

The best cover corner to play the game, Sanders had the ability to take away half the field. Yet he was not known for his tackling like the other candidates. Blazing speed and an innate ability to be where the ball was when it arrived, Sanders will be remembered as both a celebrity and one of the best to play this position.

While Sanders was clearly one of the most athletic players in the history of the game, it would be hard to pick against the tandem of Renfro and Green. Their physicality and cover skills make them complete players.

Our votes for the top cornerbacks in the history of the Dallas Cowboys go to Mel Renfro and Cornell Green.

Safeties
Nominees: Cliff Harris, Darren Woodson, Charlie Waters, Roy Williams
Cliff Harris played during the entire decade of the 1970's. He was a tough leader, and an excellent strong safety that was also one of the big hitters on the Dallas defense. Six times he went to the Pro Bowl and five more times he was named as an All-Pro. Most will remember him for the Super Bowl play when Lynn Swann's feet got tangled with his and as they fell, Swann made a circus catch.

To this day Harris claims it was offensive pass interference.

Darren Woodson came to the Cowboys as a draft pick by Jimmy Johnson. He arrived during the beginning of the success of the 1990's Cowboys. A student of the game, he would end up leading the defensive backs in much the same way as Harris. His eleven sacks, along with his 23 interceptions and three Super Bowl appearances, make him one of the best Dallas has to offer.

Roy Williams is a student of Woodson and the changing of the guard from Darren's years as the leader of the backfield. Williams is not as gifted in pass coverage, but there is no other defensive back that can deliver a hit like Roy. His play in the box makes him a player that all quarterbacks and running backs want to account for before the snap of the ball. And he has had more knock-outs than some champion professional boxers. He is the anchor of the defensive backfield that is growing in skill and stature and he will undoubtedly lead this team for many years to come.

Charlie Waters was another star defensive back that was named as an All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl three times in his career.

As a player, he was a cornerstone for the Cowboys' "Doomsday Defense" from 1970-82. During that same period, the Cowboys were so successful that they never experienced a losing season, and Waters was a big reason why. In all, he played he played in five Super Bowls and won two World Championships.

He's one of the all-time favorite players of most Cowboys' fans, and he easily ranks as one of the top safeties in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Our votes for the top safeties in the history of the Dallas Cowboys go to Charlie Waters and Darren Woodson.

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