The Dallas Cowboys have had some great quarterbacks over the years. Names such as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, the two quarterbacks who helped bring Super Bowl titles to the franchise, are revered. Don Meredith led Dallas to the brink of championships in the franchise’s early years. More recently, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott have joined the ranks as some of the best all-time quarterbacks in Cowboys history. The names mentioned above are the names one usually hears most when discussing the all-time great QBs in Cowboys history. One name that doesn’t come up as often is Danny White and it really should.
Danny White had the unfortunate task of taking over for Roger Staubach
After spending a few years in the World Football League following a stellar career at Arizona State in which he went 33-4 with three Fiesta Bowl wins, also setting numerous NCAA passing records, Danny White signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1976. Roger Staubach, who led Dallas to a Super Bowl win following the 1971 season, was still the starter and White spent his first few years in the NFL as a punter.
White had punted in college and was actually drafted by the Cowboys for his punting abilities in the third round of the 1974 draft. However, wanting to play quarterback, he chose to go to the WFL and joined the NFL when that league folded.
Staubach led the Cowboys to another Super Bowl victory in 1977 and would remain Dallas’ starter until his retirement following the 1979 season. It’s not easy to follow a legend but Danny White was given the difficult task in 1980 and performed better than anyone could have expected in that situation.
Danny White led the Dallas Cowboys to three consecutive NFC Championship games
Many people expected a dropoff when Roger Staubach retired. In his final season, Staubach led the Cowboys to an 11-5 record and an NFC East title. Unfortunately, Dallas lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Rams, 21-19.
Danny White took over in 1980 and exceeded expectations. White had started just one game in four years in Dallas and had attempted just 103 passes. Nobody knew quite what to expect but White was fantastic. Starting all 16 games, he led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record, throwing for 3,287 yards and 28 touchdowns, all while still maintaining his role as the punter. After beating the Rams in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, White led a dramatic comeback in the divisional round, defeating the Atlanta Falcons, 30-27, to set up a matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship. The Eagles were just too much, however, beating Dallas, 20-7, to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.
Danny White once again had the Dallas Cowboys on the brink of a Super Bowl appearance the following season. After a 12-4 regular season, the Cowboys destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 38-0, in the divisional round of the playoffs, setting up a showdown with the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas had the lead with less than a minute to play but White could only watch from the sidelines as Dwight Clark hauled in “The Catch” from Joe Montana, dashing Dallas’ Super Bowl dreams.
Dallas went 6-3 in the strike-shortened season of 1982 and White was selected to his first and somehow only Pro Bowl of his career. He was also a Second Team All-Pro selection. The Cowboys found themselves back in the NFC Championship, this time facing the Washington Redskins, whom they’d beaten in the regular season, Washington’s lone loss of the season. However, the Redskins bested the Cowboys for a Super Bowl berth, 31-17.
Danny White’s legacy in Dallas
While Danny White would lead the Dallas Cowboys back to the playoffs a few more times before retiring after the 1988 season, he would never get back to the NFC Championship. Unfortunately, White ultimately never had the championship talent around him that Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman did. But as it goes, the blame goes to the quarterback and, like Tony Romo was in later years, he was constantly looked at as the guy who couldn’t win the big one.
It’s unfortunate that Danny White isn’t recognized as much as some of the other quarterbacks in Dallas history. It’s not easy to take over for a legend and Danny White did it. It’s not easy to take a team to three consecutive NFC Championship games and he did that as well.
The numbers are intriguing as well. In his career, Danny White threw for 21,959 yards. Roger Staubach threw for 22,700. White threw for 155 touchdowns for the Cowboys. Staubach threw for 153. With four more years than White as a starter, Troy Aikman threw 164. White had a winning percentage of .674 as a starter. Aikman’s was .569. Even take away that dreadful first year for Aikman when the Cowboys were 1-15 (Aikman was 0-11 as a starter) and his winning percentage is still lower at .610.
But it’s always going to be the lack of a Super Bowl win that keeps Danny White out of the conversation. History recognizes champions and he simply never got one. But he was the big reason why the Cowboys stayed competitive in the 1980s, even with some of the great teams of that decade. Plain and simple, Danny White is the most underappreciated quarterback in Dallas Cowboys history.