1996 Dallas Cowboys Season
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1996 Dallas Cowboys Season
1996 Dallas Cowboys season
OwnerJerry Jones
Head coachBarry Switzer
Home fieldTexas Stadium
Division place1st NFC East
Playoff finishWon Wild Card Playoffs (vs. Vikings) 40-15
Lost Divisional Playoffs (at Panthers) 17-26
Pro BowlersQB Troy Aikman
DB Deion Sanders
DB Darren Woodson
OL Larry Allen
OL Erik Williams

The 1996 Dallas Cowboys season was the franchise's 37th season in the National Football League and was the third year under head coach Barry Switzer. Following their victory in Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys endured a rough year failing to improve their 12-4 record from 1995 but still reached the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first five games and before the playoffs was accused along with lineman Erik Williams of sexual assault. Controversy also took place when writer Skip Bayless published a scathing account of the Cowboys' 1995 season. Longtime trainer Mike Woicik also left the team after the season following a sideline dispute with coach Barry Switzer although Woicik returned in 2011.

This season would be the last season the Cowboys won a playoff game until 2009, and since their Super Bowl win the previous season, the Cowboys have never made it past the divisional round as of 2021.

This would be Troy Aikman's final season with a playoff win.


NFL draft

1996 Dallas Cowboys draft
Round Pick Player Position College Notes
2 37 Kavika Pittman  Defensive end McNeese State
2 49 Randall Godfrey  Linebacker Georgia
3 67 Clay Shiver  Center Florida State
3 94 Stepfret Williams  Wide Receiver Louisiana-Monroe
3 95 Mike Ulufale  Defensive end BYU
5 157 Kenneth McDaniel  Defensive back Norfolk State
5 167 Alan Campos  Linebacker Louisville
6 207 Wendell Davis  Cornerback Oklahoma
7 243 Ryan Wood  Running back Arizona State
      Made roster    +   Pro Football Hall of Fame    *   Made at least one Pro Bowl during career

Regular season

Against the Chicago Bears in week one, running back Emmitt Smith would leave the game late with an injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. Though not career-threatening, Smith's injury would hamper his effectiveness for the duration of the season. Adding to their difficulties, star wide receiver Michael Irvin would be suspended for the first five games due his highly publicized off-season incidents. Star cornerback Deion Sanders would be the first player in the modern era of the NFL to start several games on both offense and defense. Charles Haley, a major defensive force for the Cowboys during the prior four seasons, missed most of the 1996 season with injury. Tight End Jay Novacek, a key offensive threat in recent seasons, missed the entire season due to an injury.

After losing three of their first four games, the team would return to form, winning three straight before defeating former head coach Jimmy Johnson, then head coach of the Miami Dolphins on the way to their fifth consecutive NFC East title. Although Dallas still moved the ball well on offense, they had serious late-season trouble scoring touchdowns (ultimately finishing just 25th in the league in points scored). They won games with Green Bay (21-6) and New England (12-6) (the season's eventual Super Bowl participants) without scoring a touchdown (seven field goals against Green Bay and four against New England); Dallas' defense finished third in the league in fewest points allowed.

The season would also see the return of former Cowboy Herschel Walker who added versatility as both a running back and kick off returner. Walker had ten carries for 83 yards and a touchdown and 27 kick returns for 779 yards.

The game of the year came on November 10 at San Francisco. The Cowboys stood at 5-4 with the Niners at 7-2; the Niners had won three straight meetings with the Cowboys since Barry Switzer was hired as head coach. Sacks by Broderick Thomas and Jim Schwantz knocked Niners quarterback Steve Young out of the game and Elvis Grbac, who'd shredded the Cowboys defense the previous year, came on, and after the Niners blew a 10-0 lead they took a 17-10 lead with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys drove to the Niners redzone but Aikman was picked off in the endzone by Marquez Pope with 6:30 to go. Grbac, however, was intercepted at his six-yard line on the ensuing play by Fred Strickland, and three plays later Aikman connected with Eric Bjornson for the tying touchdown. In the overtime a big Emmitt Smith run set up Chris Boniol's winning field goal. With the win combined with a Redskins loss to Arizona, the Cowboys surged to win the NFC East.

After defeating the Minnesota Vikings 40-15 in the first round of the playoffs at Texas Stadium (which was, until 2009, their last playoff win), the Cowboys would travel to Charlotte, North Carolina and lose to the second year Carolina Panthers, who'd won the NFC West at 12-4 in their second ever season. Star receiver Michael Irvin was injured in the opening moments of the Carolina playoff game. Deion Sanders was also injured and had to leave as well.

Notable additions to the team included linebacker Randall Godfrey and safety George Teague.

The Cowboys' win over the 49ers ended a curious decade-long losing streak in Week 10 games (this included an 0-3 record in week 10 games during World Championship seasons). Also, with the win against the Miami Dolphins at Joe Robbie Stadium, this was the first time the Cowboys franchise won a football game in South Florida. During this period of futility, the Cowboys lost three Super Bowls in the Orange Bowl by a total of 11 points and lost twice to the Miami Dolphins in 1978 (23 to 16, also in a week 10 game) and in 1984 (28 to 21).


Week Date Opponent Result Record Venue Recap
1 September 2 at Chicago Bears L 6-22 0-1 Soldier Field Recap
2 September 8 New York Giants W 27-0 1-1 Texas Stadium Recap
3 September 15 Indianapolis Colts L 24-25 1-2 Texas Stadium Recap
4 September 22 at Buffalo Bills L 7-10 1-3 Rich Stadium Recap
5 September 30 at Philadelphia Eagles W 23-19 2-3 Veterans Stadium Recap
6 Bye
7 October 13 Arizona Cardinals W 17-3 3-3 Texas Stadium Recap
8 October 20 Atlanta Falcons W 32-28 4-3 Texas Stadium Recap
9 October 27 at Miami Dolphins W 29-10 5-3 Pro Player Stadium Recap
10 November 3 Philadelphia Eagles L 21-31 5-4 Texas Stadium Recap
11 November 10 at San Francisco 49ers W 20-17 6-4 3com park Recap
12 November 18 Green Bay Packers W 21-6 7-4 Texas Stadium Recap
13 November 24 at New York Giants L 6-20 7-5 Giants Stadium Recap
14 November 28 Washington Redskins W 21-10 8-5 Texas Stadium Recap
15 December 8 at Arizona Cardinals W 10-6 9-5 Sun Devil Stadium Recap
16 December 15 New England Patriots W 12-6 10-5 Texas Stadium Recap
17 December 22 at Washington Redskins L 10-37 10-6 RFK Stadium Recap

Game Summaries

Week One at Chicago Bears

Dallas' season as defending champions got off to a terrible start between the five-game suspension of Michael Irvin and a poor performance by Troy Aikman with two interceptions and just 21 passes completed. Emmitt Smith had seventy yards rushing but suffered temporary paralysis. The Cowboys surrendered four turnovers (Aikman had a fumble in the fourth quarter as did Deion Sanders) in the 22-6 loss.

Week Two vs. NY Giants

At home the Cowboys rebounded by intercepting Giants quarterback Dave Brown three times and limiting him to just 55 yards. Emmitt Smith and Sherman Williams combined for 31 carries and 120 yards while Aikman threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-0 shutout.

Week Three vs. Indianapolis Colts

What fell an Aaron Bailey touchdown drop short of being the Super Bowl XXX matchup happened at Texas Stadium and the ensuing game was a tight affair (though held without a catch Bailey had 148 kick return yards). After the Cowboys raced to a 21-3 lead the Colts lived up to Jim Harbaugh's "Captain Comeback" nickname as Harbaugh stormed the Colts to lead 22-21 in the third. After an exchange of field goals (25-24 Colts) in the fourth Aikman completed two passes to the Colts 39. Chris Boniol booted the ball for the 57-yard field goal but it bounced off the crossbar; asked in post game about his range he said it was "fifty-six and a half."

Week Four at Buffalo Bills

Following an ugly loss at Pittsburgh the week before the Bills had to start young Todd Collins in injured Jim Kelly's stead hosting the team that had denied them in two Superbowls. The Bills defense took over; Troy Aikman was intercepted three times and he suffered an ankle injury on his final throw as he was sandwiched by Bruce Smith. The result was a 10-7 Bills win in a game with just 416 total net yards of offense.

Week Five at Philadelphia Eagles

Returning to the site of the controversial twin attempt to convert a late 4th down the year before, the Cowboys fell behind 10-0 then raced to lead 20-10 and ultimately won 23-19 in a game with seven turnovers, five of them by the Eagles. Rodney Peete of the Eagles was lost for the season during the game.

Bye week

Week Seven vs. Arizona Cardinals

Michael Irvin returned from suspension and the Cowboys won 17-3. Irvin caught five passes on ten targets for 51 yards. Despite the return of Irvin teammate Darren Woodson lamented, "We're not close to being a championship team. If we think getting Michael back fixes everything, we're kidding ourselves."[1]

Week Eight vs. Atlanta Falcons

Few expected the 0-6 Falcons embroiled in controversy between coach June Jones and benched quarterback Jeff George to put up serious resistance to the Cowboys but after Dallas led 17-6 the Falcons behind Jamal Anderson and Bobby Hebert stormed to lead 28-25 with 7:09 to go. After an exchange of punts the Cowboys in the final 2:46 needed just one minute and a 60-yard Troy Aikman touchdown to Kelvin Martin to ultimately win 32-28.

Week Nine at Miami Dolphins

This was the most anticipated regular season game of the season in the meeting of the Cowboys and their former coach. But Jimmy Johnson, questioned incessantly all week about his former team, could only watch as his Dolphins collapsed from a 10-6 lead in the second to a 29-10 loss. While Troy Aikman (363 yards and three touchdowns) downplayed the meeting, Charles Haley, only in his fourth game of the season, spoke freely about hating Johnson over a "no practice, no play" rule during his time in Dallas; Haley was held without a tackle.

Week 10 vs Philadelphia Eagles

The Cowboys' playoff hopes took a hit in a 31-21 home loss to the now-7-2 Eagles. Troy Aikman was intercepted twice while Ty Detmer threw one touchdown and ran in another.

Week 11 at San Francisco 49ers

For four seasons this had been the rivalry of football and it was once again a league-wide measuring stick. After Steve Young was sacked out of the game the Cowboys fell behind 17-10. Aikman was intercepted by Marquez Pope at San Francisco's 9-yard line in the final seven minutes, but on the next play Elvis Grbac was intercepted by Fred Strickland. Given new life Aikman found Eric Bjornson and the game went to overtime tied 17-17. A long Emmitt Smith run in overtime resulted in the winning Cowboys field goal. The win was Barry Switzer's only win over the Niners and Dallas was now just one game out in the NFC East.

Week 12 vs. Green Bay Packers

Seven Chris Boniol field goals were more than enough to beat the Packers 21-6, but the game was marred by a sideline argument between Switzer and head trainer Mike Woicik.

Week 13 at New York Giants

A 20-6 loss to the now-5-7 Giants in which the Cowboys yet again failed the score a touchdown left Dallas still on course for the NFC East but eliminated from a playoff bye.

Week 14 vs. Washington Redskins

Emmitt Smith rammed in three touchdowns, the first for Dallas since the San Francisco game, in a 21-10 win over a Redskins team in free fall after starting 7-1. Troy Aikman had his worst showing of the season with just 63 yards and a pick.

Week 15 at Arizona Cardinals

Aikman had a touchdown to Irvin while George Teague and Darren Woodson picked off Boomer Esiason in a 10-6 Dallas win.

Week 16 vs. New England Patriots

Once again the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown but held the surging Patriots to just two field goals; rookie kicker Adam Vinatieri also ran down Herschel Walker on a long kick return as the Cowboys clinched the NFC East in a 12-6 win.

Week 17 at Washington Redskins

Having clinched the division and out of contention for a playoff bye the Cowboys rested Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith among others while the Redskins, out of the playoffs at 8-7, played their final game at RFK Stadium and won going away 37-10. Wade Wilson and Jason Garrett combined for just 11 completions for Dallas.


NFC East
(3) Dallas Cowboys 10 6 0 .625 286 250 L1
(5) Philadelphia Eagles 10 6 0 .625 363 341 W2
Washington Redskins 9 7 0 .563 364 312 W1
Arizona Cardinals 7 9 0 .438 300 397 L1
New York Giants 6 10 0 .375 242 297 L2


Wildcard vs. Minnesota Vikings

The Cowboys put the game away in the first half in exploding to a 30-0 lead and ultimately winning 40-15. The Cowboys forced six Vikings turnovers and put up 438 yards of offense.

Divisional Round at Carolina Panthers

The dynasty of the decade in essence ended in a 26-17 defeat to the second-year Panthers in their first ever playoff game. The week started ominously with sexual violence allegations against Michael Irvin and Erik Williams (later disproven). Irvin's weekend ended on the game's second play as he was brought down by Lamar Lathon and broke his collarbone. Deion Sanders was later injured on a tackle by Tyrone Poole as the Panthers clawed to a 23-17 lead in the fourth. Troy Aikman's final two possessions ended in interceptions as the game combined for just 471 yards of offense.



The Football Encyclopedia ISBN 0-312-11435-4
Total Football ISBN 0-06-270170-3
Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes ISBN 0-446-51950-2


  1. ^ Reprinted in Pearlman, Jeff, BOYS WILL BE BOYS: The Glory Days And Party Nights Of The Dallas Cowboys Dynasty, p. 344

External links

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