DALLAS — Football fans will remember the 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction as the year John Madden finally got his due as the Oakland Raiders coach. Dallas fans will remember the ceremony as yet another year where they got to see two former Dallas Cowboys inducted for the price of one when Troy Aikman and Rayfield Wright were part of the six-man class.
Though Aikman and Wright were never teammates, both spent their entire careers with the Cowboys and were key parts of their respective great eras in franchise history.
Aikman was the first pick of the Jerry Jones' era, and a no-brainer at that. The Cowboys had the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, and the new owner had trouble deciphering who to take with the pick. The 6-4, 220-pound signal caller threw a tight spiral and had surprising athletic ability.
It wasn't until 1991 that Aikman's career started to realize its potential as a No. 1 overall pick, and it was thanks to his new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who presented Aikman at the Hall of Fame.
Turner was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for three short seasons from 1991-93, and the two were together for 42 regular season games. However, it was the hiring of the former Los Angeles Rams receivers coach, a disciple of "Air Coryell," that was the catalyst for Aikman's development.
In 1992, Aikman threw for his career-high in touchdown passes with 23, which seems like a down year in today's NFL and would anger a nation's worth of fantasy owners. However, one of Aikman's best traits was determining where the football needed to go, and most times that was into the bread basket of running back Emmitt Smith.
Aikman didn't get the respect during his playing career that a three-time Super Bowl champion would normally receive. The '90s Cowboys dynasty was seen as a cavalcade of superstars, and not the result of an individual player being the best in the world at his position.
The Super Bowl XXVII MVP Aikman had a great offensive line, an NFL rushing champion running back, and a bevy of receivers led by Michael Irvin. And don't forget the crushing defense led by Charles Haley, Leon Lett, Ken Norton, Jr., Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson, and later Deion Sanders.
The argument was that Aikman, a six-time Pro Bowler, was successful because he had help. Steve Young, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Randall Cunningham, John Elway, and Jim Kelly were NFL quarterbacks who sliced into Aikman's first-team All-Pro votes but he was right there among his peers and was especially present as a standout when it was time to shepherd those superstars during the playoffs.
It is the disparity of evaluation that is given to franchise players, unlike components of an efficient machine, which is what Wright was from 1967-79 in Dallas. Vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt was the godfather of modern scouting, and was constantly evaluating smaller schools for hidden gems. Wright was one of those prospects, and the Cowboys took him in Round 7 of the 1967 NFL Draft from Fort Valley State, a HBCU in Georgia.
Coach Tom Landry looked for ways to incorporate the original "Big Cat," who stood 6-6, 225 pounds. Wright played his rookie season as a tight end, and then toggled between defensive line and offensive line. Wright even caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in his second year.
In 1969, Wright replaced an injured Ralph Neely at right tackle on Nov. 23 in a match-up with the Los Angeles Rams. Baptized by fire, Wright went against the legendary Deacon Jones, and passed the test. In 1970, Wright took over the right tackle job for good and started 110 of his next 128 games with the Cowboys.
Wright helped the Cowboys appear in five Super Bowls in the 1970s, winning two of them at the end of the 1971 and 1977 seasons. Wright played only two games in '77, but he managed to place on the NFL's 1970s all-decade team with six Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pros.
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