American Football Database
1988 Dallas Cowboys season
Head Coach Tom Landry
Home Field Texas Stadium
Record 3–13
Place 5th NFC East
Playoff Finish did not qualify
Previous season Next season
1987 1989

1988 was the final year for Cowboys head coach Tom Landry. After the season, the team would undergo drastic changes including a new head coach, and change of ownership from the late Bum Bright to current owner Jerry Jones. Notable additions to the team that year include wide receiver Michael Irvin, linebacker Ken Norton Jr. and defensive tackle Chad Hennings. The 1988 season marked the first time since 1976 that future hall-of-fame running back Tony Dorsett was not on the roster. Dorsett had been relegated to a backup role to Herschel Walker for most of 1987 and was traded to the Denver Broncos during the offseason.

The 1988 season faced hardship from the release of the schedule. In 1987, Dallas (at 7–8) had finished in a 3-way tie for second place in the NFC East and tiebreaking rules gave Dallas the "second place position", even though Dallas finished fifth (last) in the NFC East in 1987 in "union games" (i.e. a strong replacement team had inflated the Boys' '87 record). As a result, their 1988 schedule was primarily against teams that were strong in 1987 (and also in 1988).

Steve Pelluer had won the starting quarterback job from veteran Danny White late in the 1987 season and won the job in training camp for 1988. Early in the season, White appeared briefly in relief roles before suffering a season ending injury in week 7, which elevated Kevin Sweeney to the backup position. Sweeney briefly took over the starting job for Pelluer in weeks 11 and 12, but the results were poor and Pelluer regained the job.

In the season opener, Dallas lost to Pittsburgh, 24–21. The Cowboys had the ball inside the Pittsburgh 10 in the game's closing seconds (in position to tie or win) but Steve Pelluer was intercepted. After a close win over Phoenix in week two, Dallas lost to the New York Giants 12–10 (the margin of defeat being a strange safety on the opening kickoff). A last second goal line stand brought victory over Atlanta in week four but the following week, they Cowboys lost to New Orleans a last second Morten Andersen field goal. Two convincing losses followed and at 2–5, the season was in jeopardy.

In week 8, Dallas traveled to Philadelphia. Bad blood still existed from 1987, when Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan had (in the game's closing seconds) called a deep pass play while already leading by 10. The Cowboys roared to a 20–0 lead in the first half, but the Eagles came back to win 24–23 by scoring a touchdown on the game's final play. The next week, Dallas blew a 10–0 second half lead to lose to the Phoenix Cardinals and fell to 2–7. Five more losses followed (and the losing streak extended to 10 games) before Dallas upset the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in Week 15 in RFK Stadium (eliminating the Redskins from playoff contention). The Redskins win marked the end of an era (It turned out to be Tom Landry's last win) but was also a harbinger as rookie (and future hall-of-fame) wide receiver Michael Irvin caught three touchdown passes. The team lost the next week at Texas Stadium to Philadelphia and finished 3–13, the worst record in the NFL and the team's worst record since 1960, when they were an expansion team. A bright spot for the season was running back Herschel Walker, who led the NFC in rushing yards.

In addition to Landry, this was also the final season for long-time Cowboys such as President/General Manager Tex Schramm, Personnel Director Gil Brandt, defensive tackle Randy White, quarterback Danny White, Linebacker Mike Hegman and defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner.


NFL Draft

Pick # NFL Team Player Position College
11 Dallas Cowboys Michael Irvin Wide Receiver Miami

Regular season


Date Opponent Result Attendance
September 4, 1988 at Pittsburgh Steelers L 24–21
September 12, 1988 at Phoenix Cardinals W 17–14
September 18, 1988 New York Giants L 12–10
September 25, 1988 Atlanta Falcons W 26–20
October 3, 1988 at New Orleans Saints L 20–17
October 9, 1988 Washington Redskins L 35–17
October 16, 1988 at Chicago Bears L 17–7
October 23, 1988 at Philadelphia Eagles L 24–23
October 30, 1988 Phoenix Cardinals L 16–10
November 6, 1988 at New York Giants L 29–21
November 13, 1988 Minnesota Vikings L 43–3
November 20, 1988 Cincinnati Bengals L 38–24
November 24, 1988 Houston Oilers L 25–17
December 4, 1988 at Cleveland Browns L 24–21
December 11, 1988 at Washington Redskins W 24–17
December 18, 1988 Philadelphia Eagles L 23–7


NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles 10 6 0 .625 379 319
New York Giants 10 6 0 .625 359 304
Washington Redskins 7 9 0 .438 345 387
Phoenix Cardinals 7 9 0 .438 344 398
Dallas Cowboys 3 13 0 .188 265 381



Dallas Cowboys 1988 roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Reserve Lists

Currently vacant

Rookies in italics
46 Active, 0 Inactive

Awards and records



  1. NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York,NY, ISBN 0-7611-2480-2, p. 293
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1988 NFL DraftNFL PlayoffsPro BowlSuper Bowl XXIII