DALLAS — Bob Lilly was the oldest brother of the Dallas Cowboys franchise in that he experienced most of the "firsts": first ever draft pick, inaugural member of the Ring of Honor, and first Cowboys player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Aug. 1, 1980, Lilly was inducted into the Hall of Fame in a four-man class that included defensive end Deacon Jones, center Jim Otto, and cornerback Herb Adderley, who was Lilly's teammate from 1970-72 after spending the entire decade prior with the Green Bay Packers.
Sure, OT Forrest Gregg, who played six games for Dallas in 1971, and WR Lance Alworth, who spent 1971-72 in Dallas, were inducted in 1977 and 1978. However, like Adderley, they weren't lifers like Lilly, who played all 196 games of his 14-year career with Dallas. There was a reason he earned the nickname "Mr. Cowboy."
Franchise founder Clint Murchison, Jr., was in a hurry to get the Cowboys launched in 1960 to establish the NFL's presence in Dallas, where Lamar Hunt was forming the AFL's Texans. The NFL wanted the Cowboys to wait until 1961 and enter into the league with the Minnesota Vikings.
Murchison, wanting to beat the AFL in market presence, went with his plan and the Cowboys ended up missing out on the 1960 NFL Draft despite that season being their inaugural year, which opened the door for TCU's Lilly to be the Cowboys' first draft choice in team history in 1961.
"What we did is we made a trade, we gave up our first pick the following year and a guy named Paul Dixon, who was our starting tackle to Washington to get the 16th pick in the first round, which enabled us to draft Bob Lilly," former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt said.
Lilly was part of the Cowboys' early wheeling and dealing in the draft. Dallas took Lilly with their 13th overall pick and then used the 16th overall selection to take Texas Tech center E.J. Holub.
For Lilly to start 14 games as a rookie was a feat unto itself given coach Tom Landry's reluctance to play rookies. However, the Cowboys were just a year removed from an 0-11-1 debut season, and Lilly really was that effective. In 1962, Lilly earned his first of 11 Pro Bowl selections, a franchise record that only tight end Jason Witten has matched.
In 1964, Lilly scored his first of seven All-Pro selections, and was named first-team All-Pro for six straight seasons starting in that year. Only Randy White can match Lilly's number for first-team All-Pro selections in team history.
Lilly's development as a defensive tackle was a microcosm of the Cowboys' development as an NFL powerhouse. Dallas was young, up-and-coming, and challenging the establishment, as they did squaring off with the Packers in the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games.
Dallas couldn't get over the hump; they were the bridesmaids of the NFL. There was no image more emblematic of the Cowboys' championship frustrations than at the end of Super Bowl V when Lilly hurled his helmet into the Miami skies, like a Saturn rocket off the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The Baltimore Colts bested the Cowboys 16-13 in one of the sloppiest Big Games in NFL history.
Lilly and the Cowboys would finally earn an elusive world championship at the end of the 1971 season when Dallas beat the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI. The Cowboys' squelching of the Dolphins set a Super Bowl record for points allowed: three. It took 47 years for the New England Patriots to match that total against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
The Super Bowl champion did whatever it took to help Dallas win. At 35 years old and in his 14th and final season, Lilly was still playing on special teams covering kickoffs.
The Cowboys inducted Lilly into the Ring of Honor on Nov. 23, 1975, amid a 27-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Lilly would earn spots on two NFL all-decade teams, 1960s and 1970s, and claimed a place on the NFL's 75th anniversary and 100th anniversary teams.
Dallas still will not allow members of the regular season roster to wear No. 74, Lilly's number, as it is still "in use." The club also has an award named for the meritorious defensive end that highlights a Cowboy for their sportsmanship, leadership, and dedication.
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