When Dallas Cowboys Owner and GM Jerry Jones inducted Drew Pearson, Larry Allen, and Charley Haley in to the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, it brought the total to 20 men (18 players plus Tom Landry and Tex Schramm) in the Ring. It also sparked questions about whether Charley Haley deserved to be in The Ring, and that controversy led some of us to start thinking about who should be the next to get inducted in to the Ring.
We decided to let you, the Dallas Cowboys faithful, determine which Cowboy player(s) most deserve to be in the Ring of Honor. We will continue providing profiles for the 10 finalists this week. If you want to read about the methodology we used to create the list of 10 finalists or the 3 players who received Honorable Mentions for almost making the Top 10, please click here.
One clarification before we introduce this week’s Candidate for the ROH: I received several emails this week questioning whether the order in which the candidates were introduced was meant to be an indication of their worthiness for induction. It doesn’t; the candidates are being introduced randomly. Click here to read about last week’s nominee.
This weeks candidate: TE Jay Novacek.
One of the hallmarks of greatness in professional sports is whether a particular player changed the way the game was played. Bob Hayes is famous for being so fast that defenses couldn’t cover him; hence, the zone defense was created. Landry invented the flex defense. Many would say that Michael Irvin was part of the beginning of the shift to tall physical WR’s. As we said last week, Daryl Johnston changed the way offensive coaches conceived of the FB position.
Novacek was part of the transition of the TE position. He wasn’t known for his blocking prowess (Artie: he was no Marty B!), but for his skills as a receiver. Jay Novacek was a part of the evolution of the TE position that began in the 1980s with the “Air Coryell” offense and Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. In the 1990s it was TE’s like Novacek and Shannon Sharpe who flourished as the emphasis on an aerial attack proliferated. The effectiveness of Novacek as a receiver, particularly on 3rd down, paved the way for current TE’s like Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez to catch 90-100 receptions a year.
In 2010, an NFL-record 22 tight ends gained more than 500 receiving yards, a number that has risen each year since 2006, when only 12 tight ends passed it. Last season, five of the NFL’s 15 leading receivers (# of catches not yards) were TE’s, the most in NFL history. Gronkowski set a record with 17 TD’s as a TE last year.
Dallas Cowboy football is famous for setting trends in the NFL. The phrase “security blanket” is ridiculously overused in the NFL media today. The phrase “security blanket” was first used to describe a specific type of relationship between a QB and receiver. Some are convinced that the phrase began in Dallas as description of the trust and confidence Troy Aikman placed in Jay Novacek. The original commentators, were trying to highlight Aikman’s penchant for looking for Novacek whenever he was under duress. The phrase has been so overused and misused that today people really just mean “security”.
Novacek was drafted in the 6th Round of the 1985 NFL Draft by the Cardinals. He played for the Cardinals (both St. Louis and Phoenix) from 1985 to 1989; he was acquired by the Cowboys as a Plan B free agent in 1990 and retired as a Cowboy after the 1996 season. He made 5 consecutive Pro Bowls between 1991 and 1995. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He played at the University of Wyoming. His 83 career receptions for 1,536 yards (10 TD’s) was an NCAA record. He also won the Western Athletic Conference’s decathlon championship.
Novacek does not have HOF type career stats, but neither do some of the players already in the Ring. Jay caught 422 receptions for 4,630 yards and 30 TD’s. One could argue that his career stats were negatively affected by the infrequency with which the Cardinals threw him the ball. In his 5 years as a Cardinal, he recorded just 83 receptions, but in his 6 seasons with the Cowboys, he caught 339 passes.
When trying to gauge the magnitude of Novacek making the Pro Bowl in five consecutive years, it was not easy to find comparisons. I could only find one 2 other TE’s who made more than 5 Pro Bowls: Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez. Only John Mackey and Mike Ditka in the 60s, Dave Casper in the 70s, and Kellen Winslow in the 80s, have also made five Pro Bowls as TE’s. Only Ben Coates and Todd Christensen have made 5 consecutive Pro Bowls. Surprisingly, Coates and Christensen are the only two TE’s in that list that are not in the Hall of Fame. If you look at Pro Bowls and team success, Novacek stacks up well against most of the best TE’s in NFL history.
Despite his five consecutive Pro Bowls and 3 Super Bowls, Novacek does not have the career numbers to get him into the Hall of Fame. But, he does seem to fit the basic criteria of the Ring of Honor: he was an integral part of 3 Super Bowl teams, he played at an elite level every year he was in Dallas, his style of play had an impact on the game, he was a class act, and he personified Dallas Cowboy football.
He had fairly big games in 2 of the 3 Super Bowls he played. He scored the Cowboys 1st TD (23 yard toss from Aikman) in SuperBowl XXVII to tie the Buffalo Bills at 7-7. He had 7 catches that day; Irvin had 6. He also caught 5 passes (same as Irvin) in Super Bowl XXX. He also had a TD; Irvin did not.
When I think back about Novacek’s career as a Cowboy, it is the things I don’t remember that really stand out: I am sure he dropped a few passes, but I don’t remember him ever dropping one at a crucial time; I don’t remember him ever running the wrong route or thinking that he should have been somewhere that he wasn’t; I don’t remember questioning whether it was his fault when Aikman threw an incompletion in his direction as I do whenever Romo is way off target; I don’t remember any embarrassing celebrations or bonehead penalties; I don’t remember him ever making headlines for the wrong reasons; I don’t remember him ever being anything but a class act and gentleman. If I had to sum his career as a Cowboy up in two words: “Mr. Reliable”.
Last 2 points:
1. If being in the Ring of Honor is tantamount to immortality, then it seems inevitable that at some point Troy Aikman, Commander-in-Chief for 3 Super Bowls, will need his “security blanket”.
2. Jay Novacek is a real Cowboy; he owns a ranch! Nuff said.
Click on the last link for a list of the 20 members currently enshrined in The Ring of Honor.