American Football Database
1961 Dallas Cowboys season
Head Coach Tom Landry
Home Field Cotton Bowl
Record 4–9–1
Place 6th NFL Eastern
Playoff Finish did not qualify
Previous season Next season
1960 1962

The 1961 Dallas Cowboys season was their second in the National Football League. The team finished with 4 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie, placing them 6th in the Eastern Conference.


The Cowboys participated in their first NFL college draft following the 1960 season. Despite owning the league's worst record, the team picked second overall because the expansion Minnesota Vikings received the first overall selection. However, the team previously traded away their first round pick in the 1961 draft to the Washington Redskins for quarterback Eddie LeBaron. The Cowboys had another selection in the first round (13th overall) that they acquired from the Cleveland Browns, and with that selection they chose defensive lineman Bob Lilly from Texas Christian University. Other notable selections in the draft included offensive linemen E.J. Holub, Billy Shaw, and Stew Barber. However, all three chose to sign with teams in the rival American Football League.

Other notable acquisitions by the Cowboys during the offseason included trading for linebacker Chuck Howley from the Chicago Bears, and signing rookie free agents Amos Marsh and Warren Livingston.


Week Date Opponent Result Game site Record Recap Attendance
1 September 17, 1961 Pittsburgh Steelers W 27–24 Cotton Bowl 1–0 [1]
2 September 24, 1961 Minnesota Vikings W 21–7 Cotton Bowl 2–0 [2]
3 October 1, 1961 at Cleveland Browns L 25–7 Cleveland Stadium 2–1 [3]
4 October 8, 1961 at Minnesota Vikings W 28–0 Metropolitan Stadium 3–1 [4]
5 October 15, 1961 New York Giants L 31–10 Cotton Bowl 3–2 [5]
6 October 22, 1961 Philadelphia Eagles L 43–7 Cotton Bowl 3–3 [6]
7 October 29, 1961 at New York Giants W 17–16 Yankee Stadium 4–3 [7]
8 November 5, 1961 St. Louis Cardinals L 31–17 Cotton Bowl 4–4 [8]
9 November 12, 1961 at Pittsburgh Steelers L 37–7 Forbes Field 4–5 [9]
10 November 19, 1961 Washington Redskins T 28–28 Cotton Bowl 4–5–1 [10]
11 November 26, 1961 at Philadelphia Eagles L 35–13 Franklin Field 4–6–1 [11]
12 December 3, 1961 Cleveland Browns L 38–17 Cotton Bowl 4–7–1 [12]
13 December 10, 1961 St. Louis Cardinals L 31–13 Busch Stadium 4–8–1 [13]
14 December 17, 1961 Washington Redskins L 34–24 D.C. Stadium 4–9–1 [14]

Season recap

Coming off of a winless first season, the Cowboys wasted no time getting their first win in franchise history in their second season, a 27–24 home victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, the winning points coming on a last second field goal. The Cowboys would go on to win two of their next three, both easy victories coming over the expansion Minnesota Vikings, and a month into the season the Cowboys found themselves tied for first in the Eastern Conference with a record of 3–1.

While much improved over their first season, the Cowboys would continue to be outclassed by the better teams in the league. In between their victories over the Vikings the Cowboys suffered a 25–7 defeat at the hands of perennial powerhouse Cleveland. The following weeks after their 3–1 start quickly dampened any realistic chance they had of contending for the Eastern Conference championship, with home losses to the New York Giants and the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles coming by a combined score of 74–17. However, the following week the team stunned the Giants at Yankee Stadium, 16–14, on another late field goal, and the Cowboys found themselves with a winning record at the midway point of the season at 4–3.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there, as the Cowboys didn't win another game all season. The Cowboys gave up 28 points or more in each of their remaining seven games, and were beaten by 14 or more points in five of them. The Cowboys managed a tie against the woeful Washington Redskins in week 10, a game in which quarterback Don Meredith, who had been splitting playing time at the position with Eddie LeBaron, suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder, and wouldn't play again the rest of the season. The final game of the season saw the Cowboys lose to the Redskins at D.C. Stadium (the Redskins first win at their new home), 34–24, the only win of the Redskins season.

Offensively, the Cowboys were an improved lot across the board. The offense moved the ball at a decent pace, finishing 8th in the league in yards gained. Quarterbacks Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith had quality targets at the receiver position, which helped the team finish 6th in passing yardage. Veteran Billy Howton established a career high in receptions with 56, and Frank Clarke developed into one of the league's top deep threats, averaging 22.4 yards per catch and scoring 9 touchdowns. Tight end Dick Bielski represented the Cowboys at the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys may have showed the most improvement in the running game. Rookie Don Perkins was one of the leagues top running backs with 815 yards, and Amos Marsh and J.W. Lockett contributed as well, improving the Cowboys to 10th in total yards rushing, and improving the yards per carry from 3.4 in 1960 to 4.4 in 1961. On the negative side, the offense turned the ball over 48 times during the season, second worst in the league, and the offensive line continued to struggle protecting the quarterback. The team only scored 236 points (13th in the league) despite the Cowboys improved offensive play.

Defensively, the team continued to struggle against the run, allowing 2161 rushing yards (12th in the league) and 4.8 yards per carry. Against the pass, the secondary allowed too many long completions (a league worst 15.7 yards per completion) and the defensive front didn't apply much pressure on the quarterback. The defense did make more than its share of big plays, forcing 43 turnovers. Cornerback Don Bishop had 8 of the defense's 25 interceptions.

Rookie kicker Allen Green struggled much of the season. His 36.7 yards per punt was worst in the league, and after going 5 of 15 on field goal attempts (though two of the field goals provided the game winning points) he was replaced by Dick Bielski, who made 6 out 9 field goals the rest of the season. Rookie running backs Amos Marsh and Don Perkins helped improve the kick retun game, with Marsh in particular standing out with a 25.7 yard average on kick returns.


Dallas Cowboys 1961 roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams

  • 61 Allen Green K/P
Reserve Lists

Currently vacant

Rookies in italics
41 Active, 0 Inactive


NFL Eastern
New York Giants 10 3 1 .769 368 220 T-1
Philadelphia Eagles 10 4 0 .714 361 297 W-1
Cleveland Browns 8 5 1 .615 319 270 T-1
St. Louis Cardinals 7 7 0 .500 279 267 W-3
Pittsburgh Steelers 6 8 0 .429 295 287 L-1
Dallas Cowboys 4 9 1 .308 236 380 L-4
Washington Redskins 1 12 1 .077 174 392 W-1

See also

1961 NFL season
1961 NFL Draft


2. The Football Encyclopedia ISBN 0-312-11435-4
3. Total Football ISBN 0-06-270170-3
4. Cowboys Have Always Been My Heroes ISBN 0-446-51950-2
5. (Archived 2009-05-09)

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Cleveland Baltimore
Dallas Chicago
NY Giants Detroit
Philadelphia Green Bay
Pittsburgh Los Angeles
St. Louis Minnesota
Washington San Francisco
1961 NFL DraftNFL ChampionshipPro Bowl
Related: 1961 AFL Season