Troy Aikman (8), Michael Irvin (88) and Emmitt Smith (22) led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls in the 1990s. USA TODAY
The Dallas Cowboys used to draft well. The Dallas Cowboys used to win championships. Those two things usually coincide.
In 1988, the Dallas Cowboys selected a tall powerful receiver out of the University of Miami with the 11th selection in the first round.
The next year, Dallas selected a quarterback out of UCLA with the first overall selection.
In 1990, the Cowboys drafted a short, stocky running back with the 17th pick in the first round out of Florida.
Those three triplets all made the NFL Hall of Fame. But those aren’t the triplets I am referring to right now. We all know Irvin, Aikman and Smith.
But does anyone remember Ken Norton Jr., Mark Stepnoski or Darren Woodson. Those are the triplets I am talking about.
Ken Norton Jr. (51) was a key component to the Dallas Cowboys winning their first two Super Bowls in the early ’90s.
Norton Jr., a second-round selection in 1988 out of UCLA. The inside linebacker went on to help the Cowboys win two of three Super Bowls in the ’90s. He anchored a defense that was rated No. 1 in 1992, and helped the Cowboys come back from an 0-2 start to the 1993 season to defend their championship.
Norton Jr. went on to help the San Francisco 49ers to another championship in ’94. He was the first player in NFL history to win three-straight Super Bowls.
Stepnoski was drafted in the third round of the 1989 draft. The center out of Pittsburgh was an anchor himself for a formidable offensive line that helped the Cowboys wear down opponents’ defensive lines. Stepnoski along with Erik Williams, Mark Tuinei, Larry Allen and Nate Newton paved the way for the NFL’s All-Time leading rusher to run over the opposition.
Mark Stepnoski (53) anchored the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line in the early ’90s. Stepnoski played for 13 years that included 5 Pro Bowls.
Stepnoski left the Cowboys in 1995 to go play for the Houston Oilers, yes they were a team. He returned to the Cowboys in 1999 and played another three seasons under the Star. Stepnoski played 13 seasons in the NFL and played in five-consecutive Pro Bowls.
The most important and probably most popular of the “triplets” is Woodson. The Arizona State product made a living as a hard-hitting tough safety who could lead on and off the field. Woodson was drafted in the second round of the 1992 draft. He played linebacker at Arizona State, but covered and played like a safety according to defensive backs coach and former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo. He quickly became a household name in Dallas.
Darren Woodson was the defensive leader for the Dallas Cowboys from 1992-2004. Woodson is the all-time tackles leader in Cowboys history. Ronald Martinez/ALLSPORT
Woodson continued to be overshadowed when in 2002, he set the all-time Cowboys record for career tackles against the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, that is the same game Emmitt Smith ran past Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record.
Aikman, Smith and Irvin may have been the popular choices as triplets. But in any case, the Dallas Cowboys of the early-to-mid ’90s wouldn’t have been the same without Norton Jr., Stepnoski and Woodson.
If the Cowboys can invest in their lower draft picks, and focus on the not-so-pretty positions like O-Line, Linebacker and Safety, they can build a championship caliber team.