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REMEMBERING COWBOY RUNNING BACKS
Before their famous posse of Hall of Fame running backs, the Dallas Cowboys employed a legendary list of workhorses in the early days of the NFL franchise
A true Texan is probably a Dallas Cowboy fan, and they look forward to each season to see if the Cowboys are going to bring us some joy and excitement in the fall. It has always amazed me to see the great fan base they have all across the country. I guess that’s why they are called ‘America’s Team.”
The Cowboy franchise has a rich history going back more than 60 years. And over the years, certain names keep popping up – names like Meredith, Lilly, Staubach, Jordan and Too Tall Jones. There are a few lesser known guys that pioneered football for the Cowboy organization and it is only fitting and proper that we remember them.
My memory takes me back to 1958 when I was at Cameron College in Lawton, Oklahoma. A couple of my teammates had been talking about an athlete playing at Lawton Douglas High School who was getting a lot of attention from sports writers named Eddie Shegog. He was fun to watch on Friday nights – he could do it all!
After high school, Shegog went to play for Central State in Edmond, Oklahoma. At that time, the only black athlete playing in a major university in Oklahoma was Prentice Gautt, the first black athlete to play at Oklahoma University in 1956. We went to watch Eddie Shegog, but we saw another athlete stealing the show.
J.W. Lockett was a fullback for Central State who created problems for the Langston University defense. I remember I was impressed with his power and speed. After college, Lockett was an undrafted free agent and was signed by the San Francisco 49ers, but traded to the Dallas Cowboys where he played the 1961 and 1962 seasons.
Lockett played 26 games and started seven games at fullback. During his career in Dallas, he carried the ball 75 times for 304 yards for a 4.1-yard average per carry. Lockett was six feet two and weighed 226 pounds, and his career in Dallas was short and certainly not star-studded. But J.W. Lockett was a part of those early days in Dallas, and he gave it his all. Lockett was traded to the Baltimore Colts, retired in 1966 and died in 1999.
Amos Marsh was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 1961 from Oregon State University. In college he not only played football, but was a track star who at six feet tall and two hundred and twenty pounds brought attention from the Cowboys who were looking for players. He split time with J.W. Lockett at full back until he was moved to halfback. Marsh played four seasons in Dallas playing in 54 games while rushing 427 times for 2,065 yards and four touchdowns and a 5.6-yard average. Lockett and Marsh were the first featured backs for the Cowboys.
In 1961, I got to watch Lockett and Marsh and the Cowboys play the St Louis Cardinals in the Cotton Bowl. Gil Brandt had sent tickets inviting my wife and I to the game where we saw Eddie LeBaron, Billy Howton, Jerry Tubbs, Bob Lily and Chuck Howley play against my cousin Bobby Joe Conrad, who was with the Cardinals. The Cardinals won 31-17 with Lockett and Marsh serving as the work horses for Dallas that day. Marsh died in 1992.
Don Perkins became the next pioneer ball carrier to show up in Dallas. I first saw Perkins in 1960 in Albuquerque at the JUCO All-American Classic. Perkins spoke at our banquet after being introduced as their All-American from New Mexico University who had just signed a personal service contract for $10,000 and a $1,500 bonus for signing with the Dallas Cowboys. He had been drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but Dallas negotiated a deal with the Colts to get Perkins, who soon drew great favor from the Dallas fan base.
After being named “rookie of the year” in 1961, Perkins played fullback in 107 games while rushing 1,500 times for 6,317 yards and 42 touchdowns and a 4.1-yard average. Perkins, a class act who was cut from the same cloth as his coach Tom Landry, played eight years for the Cowboys, retiring after the 1968 season. Perkins, a three time All-Pro, a six-time Pro Bowl player and a member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, died in 2022.
Dan Reeves arrived in Dallas in 1965 as an undrafted free agent after playing for South Carolina University as a three-year starter at quarterback. Dan Reeves was considered by Landry as a “utility player” who could play anywhere he was needed. His experience as a college quarterback was displayed when the Dallas quarterbacks were injured and Reeves temporarily assumed the job of leading the Dallas Cowboys.
Reeves was a gutsy and competitive player who knew how to get the job done. He spent eight years with Dallas mostly as a running back who helped fullback Don Perkins with the run game. Reeves played in 100 games rushing 535 times for 1,990 yards and 25 touchdowns and a 5.4 yard average. He was also a good pass receiver catching 128 passes for 1,693 yards and 17 touchdowns. After a severe knee injury, Reeves retired from playing but became part of Landry’s coaching staff until he took the head coaching job in Denver in 1981. Dan Reeves died in 2022.
Craig Baynham, who played for Georgia Tech, might be considered the place holder between Dan Reeves and Walt Garrison. He was drafted in the 12th round of the 1966 draft and played for Dallas in 50 games, rushing 152 times for 553 yards and 6 touchdowns from 1967-69. Most of his playing time occurred after Dan Reeves was injured. Baynham left for Chicago at the end of the 1969 season and retired in 1972, after playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Walt Garrison became the first Dallas area running back to play for the Cowboys in 1966. Garrison played linebacker for the Lewisville Farmers in north of Dallas, and then took his talents to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he was a linebacker until Coach Phil Cutchin moved him to running back. After a successful Big 8 Conference career,he was a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 1966, and also drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. Garrison chose to come to Dallas at the end of Dan Reeves playing career.
Garrison was a 205-pound fullback mounted on a six-foot frame and could “get it done.” He played nine years from 1966-74 playing in 119 games, rushing 899 times for 5,680 yards and a 4.3 yard average and scored 39 touchdowns. Garrison was used mostly as a punt returner his first two years until Landry moved him to fullback where he started 72 games at that position. One of the memorable things Garrison said was when asked by a sports writer if he had ever seen Coach Tom Landry smile. His answer was, “I’ve never seen him smile, BUT I was only there nine years.”
Interestingly, Garrison was actually a real cowboy spending time on the National Professional Rodeo (NPR) Circuit in the off-season. When he signed with the Cowboys in 1966, part of his signing agreement included a new horse trailer. A knee injury in 1975 from a steer wrestling incident ended his football career.
Calvin Hill came to the Cowboys in 1969 after being drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, weighing in at 227 pounds and standing six-feet, four inches tall. He played his college ball at Yale, managing 2,527 all-purpose yards as a halfback and proving to pundits that an Ivy League player could make it in the NFL. Hill was with Dallas six years while playing in 156 games and rushing 1,166 times for 5,009 yards, 39 touchdowns and a 4.3-yard per carry average, making the Pro-Bowl four times before retiring with the Cleveland Browns in 1981.
Preston Pearson was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1967, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, then signed with Dallas in 1975, used mostly as a third-down back. Playing for Dallas from 1975-80, Landry considered him to be an excellent blocker, but also a good receiver out of the backfield. Pearson played in 79 games over six years in Dallas, rushing 325 times for 1,207 yards, 13 touchdowns and a 3.7-yard average, while catching 189 passes for 2,274 yards and 11 touchdowns. He retired in 1980.
After Pearson left Dallas, the Cowboys began ushering in a long list of legendary running backs to headline their vaunted ground game. Robert Newhouse hung around for 11 years and proved to be a very good fullback. Duane Thomas from West Texas State did some great things, but moved on. And then, the Cowboys employed the serviceable trio of Scott Laidlaw, Doug Dennison and Ron Springs during the early 1970s before Dallas drafted Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett in 1977 and served as the Cowboys featured back until 1987. And let’s not forget Herschel Walker’s four years in Dallas and the trade with Minnesota that led to three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. Of course, that’s when Emmitt Smith made his mark in the NFL on the way to the Football Hall of Fame. Who knows, Zeke Elliott and Tony Pollard could be on that same road to Canton, Ohio.
But as true Dallas Cowboy fans, we mustn’t forget those early hard-working guys that led the way during the guts and glory days of the NFL.
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