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Memory Lane: Dallas Cowboys trade RB Tony Dorsett to Denver Broncos

Back in June of 1988, the Dallas Cowboys saw the end of an era come when Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett was traded to the Denver Broncos
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos' Tony Dorsett (33) is seen in action, 1988, location unknown. Other players unidentified. (AP Photo)


All good things come to an end, unless the goodness believes it can contribute elsewhere. That is exactly the path Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett took in 1988.

On June 4, it was reported in newspapers across the country that the Dallas Cowboys had traded their former 1977 first-round pick to the Denver Broncos for a conditional fifth-round draft choice.

Dorsett couldn't get away from Herschel Walker on his heels in Dallas and Father Time had his undefeated pursuit angle that tackles all great NFL careers. The 34-year-old running back was coming off of a 1987 season that saw him post the lowest rushing yards of his career. 

Granted, one game was lost due to the NFL players strike, but Dorsett was back on the gridiron for the Cowboys' fourth game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 11, a 41-22 win.

Walker was taking a more prominent role in the Dallas offense as compared to the aging Dorsett. In 1986, a year quarterback Danny White said was the most fun he had in the NFL the former USFL star from Georgia tallied 1,574 scrimmage yards.

The next year, Walker collected 1,606 as a dual threat in the running game and passing game. Dorsett had a paltry 633, even with rushing and receiving. The former Super Bowl champion had more yards in the strike-shortened, nine-game '82 season than he did in 1987.

The Broncos were coming off of their second straight Super Bowl loss, this time to Washington in Super Bowl XXII. Quarterback John Elway needed more talent around him on offense, and coach Dan Reeves, who was the de facto offensive coordinator for Dallas from 1974-80, was very familiar with Dorsett's skills. Reeves once joked that the drafting of Dorsett with the second overall pick in 1977 made him a better running backs coach overnight.

Dorsett led Denver in rushing with 703 yards in 1988, and his 825 scrimmage yards were 10 more than running back Sammy Winder had produced the year before for the Broncos. Dorsett's 703 yards are still 11th-most all-time for a rusher 34 years or older.

Though the Broncos failed to make the playoffs with an 8-8 finish, Dorsett rose in the all-time rushing record list. With legendary Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton having retired after the 1987 season, Dorsett was able to make ground and overtake Jim Brown for second place with 12,739 by the end of the '88 campaign. Payton was still substantially ahead with 16,726 yards. Any chance the former Pitt Panther had to make Sweetness move over summarily ended during training camp in '89 when Dorsett sustained a career-ending knee injury.

In 1994, Dorsett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and subsequently was enshrined in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor on Oct. 9, 1994 along with defensive tackle Randy White. Like other Cowboys running backs before and after him, Dorsett finished his career elsewhere, but he will always be remembered for what he did with America's Team.

What are your favorite memories from Tony Dorsett’s time in Dallas? Share ‘em with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.  

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