Watch Now: Franchise Five - NFC East: Cowboys (5:25)

Allow me to set the scene. You're Tom Cruise, and the only way to save the world is to rappel downward from a ventilation shaft into a room with heat and pressure sensors to acquire data from one of the most secure servers on the planet. His mission was as impossible then as mine is right now, but like the legendary character Ethan Hunt, I choose to accept mine as well, and I plan on accomplishing it. With that said, it's time to dive into the history of the Dallas Cowboys to determine (gulp) the five most important figures to have ever walked the organization's halls. 

CBSSports.com's Franchise Five series dives into five most impactful people in each NFL team's history. Our rules here allow us to pick one head coach, one quarterback and three non-quarterback players. Let's take a look back at some of the men who have made this franchise one of the more special ones in the NFL

Of course, this is no easy task, considering the slew of Hall of Famers produced by the team and the droves of talent they've employed over the course of 60-year history.

For perspective, only a handful of teams have a legacy even remotely equivalent to the Cowboys. 

What's the latest on the Dak Prescott contract drama? NFL Network's Jane Slater joins Will Brinson to break down everything about the Cowboys' offseason; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

There are those who mushroomed into the new guard at the turn of the century, but didn't achieve much of anything before then, making it a bit easier to sort out who will be on their respective lists. When it comes to measuring the expansive and cavernous history of Dallas, however, let's just say it's not exactly a walk in the park. More accurately, it's like trying to spray paint air, as there is a list of additional players who could've easily made my final cut, and each means something to a fan somewhere -- many even being elite enough to transcend generational bias -- so there's truly no wrong answer here. 

It's just a matter of having some unbelievably fun discussion, so let's. Oh, and as a sidebar, I think I had a cardiac event when I realized I couldn't figure out how to get Randy White listed here, above any of those I named, but consider this my nod to the "Manster" -- and some much-needed heart medication for myself as well.

Now, shall we dance? 

(Qualifier: Individual must be a Pro Football Hall of Famer.)

Coach Tom Landry

Tenure1960-88

Resumé (as a coach in Dallas)

  • Two-time Super Bowl champion
  • Two-time Head Coach of the Year 
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
  • Franchise record for career wins (250)

Jimmy Johnson is finally getting his just desserts in being named to the Hall of Fame in 2020, but when it comes to naming the most legendary coach in the history of the organization, make room for The Fedora. Landry was the team's first-ever head coach, tasked with immediately making the team viable after having seen the front office go to war with the Washington Redskins to be permitted to launch as an expansion franchise. In the social media-less age of sports, Landry was able to avoid incessant hot takes as he worked feverishly as one-third of The Triumvirate -- the other two being legendary scout Gil Brandt and former general manager/team president Tex Schramm (both Hall of Famers as well) -- in building the Cowboys up from the mud.

As a sidebar, he also played four different positions prior to entering the coaching ranks, being named a first-team All-Pro in 1954.

The Cowboys went from an 0-11-1 inaugural start to 10-3 in less than half a decade with Landry at the helm, which was microwave-quick by non-Twitter standards. He felt more than his fair share of playoff heartbreak but he and his players never waned, consistently pushing forward and perennially appearing in the playoffs until they finally broke through to land the team's first-ever Super Bowl win in 1971, and gifting the league with a list of legendary matchups that birthed some of the most heated rivalries in sports. The longest-tenured and winningest coach in Cowboys history (second-most in NFL history behind only Bill Belichick and the great Don Shula), Landry and his fedora are the stuff of legend. 

His statue outside of AT&T Stadium serves as a reminder that if you're not first, you're last. 

QB Roger Staubach

Tenure: 1969-79

Resumé

  • Two-time Super Bowl champion
  • Super Bowl VI MVP
  • Six-time Pro Bowler
  • NFL Man of the Year (1978)
  • NFL leader in passing touchdowns (1973)
  • Four-time NFL leader in passer rating
  • Bert Bell Award Recipient (1971)
  • 1970s All-Decade Team
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
  • 22,700 career passing yards
  • 153 career passing touchdowns

The original playmaking quarterback for the Cowboys, Staubach was Troy Aikman, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott decades before anyone would utter their names. His ability to escape sacks and make exceptionally difficult throws both while on the move and while stationary has earned Staubach the right to be a living legend. Along with the leadership of Landry, Staubach helped steer the Cowboys to their first two Super Bowl wins and make six Pro Bowls in the process. As much as it's been forgotten over the course of football history, he's also responsible for coining the phrase "Hail Mary" -- after a deep prayer of a throw to Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson in the 1975 divisional playoff game that gave Dallas the last-second win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Lovingly referred to as "Captain America," it's poetic in how he did as much for The Shield as he did for the Cowboys. And anyone, anywhere, who calls a pass a "Hail Mary" just saluted Staubach, whether they realize it or not.

cowboys.png

RB Emmitt Smith

Tenure: 1990-2002

Resumé

  • Three-time Super Bowl champion
  • Super Bowl XXVIII MVP
  • Eight-time Pro Bowler
  • Four-time first-team All-Pro
  • Second-team All-Pro
  • NFL MVP (1993)
  • Bert Bell Award Recipient (1993)
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1990)
  • Four-time NFL leader in rushing yards
  • Four-time NFL leader in rushing touchdowns
  • 1990s All-Decade Team
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
  • 18,355 career rushing yards (NFL record)
  • 164 career rushing touchdowns (Franchise record)

"Move over Sweetness and make room for Emmitt." - Brad Sham

The current NFL career leader in rushing yards, rushing TDs, and 100-plus yard games, Smith was the motor that pushed the Cowboys to cosmic heights in the 1990s. A four-time rushing champion with eight Pro Bowl selections, three SB wins, an NFL MVP, and a SB MVP, Smith is the definition of Cowboys' royalty. His impact on the field was so sizable it couldn't and still cannot be quantified, because his steady hand also kept Hall of Fame head coach Jimmy Johnson from being run out of town prematurely. 

The path for Smith was carved by Tony Dorsett before him, as he himself has done for Ezekiel Elliott, and every elite Cowboys running back until the end of time will be weighed against Smith, regardless of how fair or unfair that might be. For when you set the bar as high as Smith did, everyone else is simply left doing all they can to reach it. 

DL Bob Lilly

Tenure: 1961-74

Resumé:

  • Super Bowl VI champion
  • 11-time Pro Bowler
  • Seven-time first-team All-Pro
  • Two-time second-team All-Pro
  • 1970s All-Decade Team
  • 1960s All-Decade Team
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee

Before Jason Witten, there was Bob Lilly, aka "Mr. Cowboy." The former is a definitive doppleganger of the latter, which is a compliment of the highest order. Lilly, the Cowboys' first official NFL draft pick, is more than just a legend for owning that designation. What he did on the field was flat-out awe-inspiring, both his play and durability setting a high bar for anyone who wore the star after his retirement. His professionalism and imposing stature carried off-the-field as well, so it stands to reason he'd have awards named after him.

Lilly was a dynamo on the field, which is why not was he the Cowboys' first-ever pick, but also a second-round pick of the AFL in the same year by the Dallas Texans -- now known as the Kansas City Chiefs. The lynchpin in the famed "Doomsday Defense," Lilly missed only a single game in his entire NFL career and when he set eyes on a quarterback, they wrote out their obituary before taking the snap.

OL Larry Allen

Tenure1994-2005

Resumé

  • Super Bowl XXX champion
  • 11-time Pro Bowler
  • Seven-time first-team All-Pro
  • 1990s All-Decade Team
  • 2000s All-Decade Team
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
  • 197 starts in 203 games played

The unbridled animal of the "The Great Wall of Dallas," Allen was a monster amongst men. Routinely treating professional football players like they were the barbells he flung around in his now-famous bench press sessions, there was no getting around Allen, and you certainly weren't going through him. When that ball got snapped, defensive linemen had better start praying. Unfortunately for Allen, he arrived as the team's second-round pick on the back end of the Jimmy Johnson era, otherwise he'd have more than one Super Bowl ring to his credit.

One of the best players in the history of the NFL, and likely the best offensive lineman of all-time, Allen is the platinum standard for what an OL should be -- assuming they were also touched by the Hand of God. 

Honorable mention: WR Michael Irvin

Tenure: 1988-99

Resumé:

  • Three-time Super Bowl champion
  • Five-time Pro Bowler
  • First-team All-Pro
  • Two-time second-team All-Pro
  • 1990s All-Decade Team
  • Ring of Honor inductee
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
  • 11,904 career receiving yards (second-most in franchise history)
  • 65 career receiving touchdowns 

The didn't call him "The Playmaker" for nothing. If Aikman was the brains and Smith the lungs, Irving was undoubtedly the heart of what became a Cowboys dynasty in the mid-1990s. Time and again, he imposed his will upon opposing defensive backs and his unbridled fire kept the locker room passionate and driven to maul anyone they stepped on the field against. No one believed the No. 88 would ever again be worn by a player who was worthy following Drew Pearson, but they couldn't have been more wrong, and Irvin couldn't have done anything more to honor his predecessor. 

Rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb wants to "keep the tradition going" in following in the footsteps of Pearson, Irvin and Dez Bryant, and what a tradition it is.