1996 Dallas Cowboys season
The 1996 Dallas Cowboys season would mark their 37th consecutive season in the NFL. Following their victory in Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys endured a tumultuous year. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first five games and before the playoffs was accused with lineman Erik Williams of sexual assault (a charge subsequently proven inaccurate). Controversy also took place when writer Skip Bayless published a scathing account of the Cowboys' 1995 season. Long time trainer Mike Woicik also left the team after the season following a sideline dispute with coach Barry Switzer.
This season would be the last season the Cowboys won a playoff game until 2009.
|1996 Dallas Cowboys season|
|Head coach||Barry Switzer|
|Home field||Texas Stadium|
|Division place||1st NFC East|
|Playoff finish||Won Wild Card Playoffs (Vikings) 40–15
Lost Divisional Playoffs (at Panthers) 26–17
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.
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).
|at Chicago Bears||6||22||L||Emmitt Smith injured||
|New York Giants||27||0||W||Giants held to 105 total yards||
|Indianapolis Colts||24||25||L||Last second 57-yard FGA by Chris Boniol bounced off the crossbar||
|at Buffalo Bills||7||10||L||Troy Aikman sacked by Bruce Smith and suffered ankle injury||
|at Philadelphia Eagles||23||19||W||Cowboys intercepted two Eagles passes||
|Arizona Cardinals||17||3||W||Michael Irvin returned from suspension||
|Atlanta Falcons||32||28||W||Irvin had seven catches for 119 yards||
|at Miami Dolphins||29||10||W||First meeting between Cowboys and former coach Jimmy Johnson||
|Philadelphia Eagles||21||31||L||Eagles won despite 12 penalties||
|at San Francisco 49ers||20||17||W||First win over 49ers since 1993 playoffs||
|Green Bay Packers||21||6||W||Chris Boniol tied a then NFL Record with 7 field goals in one game.||
|at New York Giants||6||20||L||Troy Aikman intercepted twice||
|Washington Redskins||21||10||W||Emmitt Smith's 155 yards accounted for over half of Dallas' 247 total yards||
|at Arizona Cardinals||10||6||W||Michael Irvin posted his highest receiving yardage of the season (198 with a touchdown)||
|New England Patriots||12||6||W||Win clinched NFC East||
|at Washington Redskins||10||37||L||Final game at RFK Stadium; Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith did not play||
|New York Giants||6||10||0||.375||242||297|
|Dallas Cowboys 1996 roster|
Rookies in italics