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The Cowboys’ Triplets: A 25-Year Shadow

Of the 32 teams in the NFL, few have been criticized and ridiculed more than the Dallas Cowboys in the last 25 years. After enjoying immense success throughout the ’70s and ‘90s, winning five Super Bowls from 1972 to 1996, the Cowboys have been lackluster since. 

Disregard even clinching a Super Bowl appearance. The last time the Cowboys advanced past the divisional round was when they won their last championship in 1996, with the franchise famous Triplets. 

The legendary trio was the source of three championships, one of the best dynasties in NFL history, and motivation for future Cowboys teams. As of late, however, their legacy has seemingly brought more pressure than inspiration.

The Legend of the Triplets

The Triplets, which consisted of quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith, and wide receiver Michael Irvin were not only legendary because they were exceptional players, but because they accomplished something no team had ever done in NFL history. 

They became the first tandem and team in league history to win three out of four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1992, 1993, and 1995 seasons. The New England Patriots would later follow suit in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. 

Of course, these three players were not the entirety of the Cowboys’, success as there other major components to the team such as the “Great Wall of Dallas,” a stellar defense, and an all-time great coach in Jimmy Johnson. 

Regardless of all the great talent, the Triplets were the face of the team, and they were dynamic. 

  • Emmitt Smith: Eight-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time All-Pro selection, four league rushing titles, three rushing touchdown titles, 1993 NFL MVP,  three-time Super Bowl champion.
  • Michael Irvin: Five-time Pro Bowl selection, 1991 All-Pro selection, two-time league leader in receiving yards,  three-time Super Bowl champion.
  • Troy Aikman: Six-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time Super Bowl champion. 

The Cowboys were the face of football and were among the league’s most respected and talented rosters under the head coaching of Johnson.

Otherwise known as, “America’s Team,” originating from a broadcast in a 1979 regular-season game against the St. Louis Cardinals, now in Arizona, the Triplets backed up their name standing tied with the 49ers for most Super Bowls in NFL history at the time. Since the success of the Triplets, however, the nickname has become a point of mockery from fans and analysts alike.

The Modern Day Cowboys

For nearly 25 years, the Dallas Cowboys have been held out of the Super Bowl and with relative ease. 

They have a combined playoff record of 4-10 since their last Super Bowl win with just 10 appearances since. On top of this, the Cowboys clinched a measly 3 playoff berths in the last decade, the worst they have done in any decade in franchise history. 

Whether it is fair or not, the legacy of the Triplets and what they accomplished has put immense pressure on Jerry Jones and his franchise.

They have continuously failed to follow in their footsteps and produce wins, consistently making them one of the most disappointing teams in the league over the last quarter-century. The only thing that’s going to change that is winning football games. 

As of now, the Cowboys stand in 20th place in terms of teams and the last time they had a Super Bowl appearance. While that isn’t necessarily good standing, they are in a better position than most teams. 

Many compared the trio of Tony Romo, Demarco Murray, and Dez Bryant to the Triplets including Smith and Irvin themselves. While they enjoyed relative success together, they also failed to advance past the divisional round. 

Now the new era of talent in Dallas, comprising Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper is being compared to the legendary offensive unit. 

As talented as this unit is, they have also failed to advance past the divisional round, but that shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern.

When the Triplets played their first full season together, they went 7-9. While it only took them two years to piece a championship run together, there was a glaring difference between the rosters in the stature of their defense. 

The Cowboys’ defense in the ’90s was one of legend, finishing top five from 1992-1996 every year. When comparing that to the defense the Cowboys have today, it’s easy to see why the Cowboys have struggled. 

In fact, the Cowboys have had a relatively bad defense for the entirety of the century which has hurt their championship hopes a great amount.

The Cowboys’ offense is still electric, however, and with the return of Prescott to the team this season, there will certainly be an improvement. The defense is also getting a new look under the team’s new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, along with some key defensive additions.

The reality is that window to win is right now. The Cowboys have most of their key players in their prime, they simply need to stay healthy and start piecing wins together. 

If they can’t, the legacy of the Triplets may no longer be seen as a source of motivation for the young roster, but rather a hanging shadow that has been looming over the franchise for years on end. 

The good news for the Cowboys is that they have time. The majority of their high-end players are contractually committed to the team for at least another four years, and if history is any indication of success to come then it may not be long before the Cowboys are back in the big game.

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