The Cowboys were at rock bottom when they drafted Aikman with the No. 1 overall pick in 1989, and at first there wasn’t much he could do about it. He went 0-11 as a starter his rookie season, but as Dallas added talent it became clear that the cool gunslinger was the perfect leader for an emerging dynasty. Starting in 1991, Aikman made six straight Pro Bowls and, more importantly, led the Cowboys to six straight playoff appearances. They won three Super Bowls in that stretch, with Aikman earning MVP honors of Super Bowl XXVII after throwing for 273 yards and four TDs against the Bills. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
QB Roger Staubach
Described by Dallas coach Tom Landry as “possibly the best combination of a passer, an athlete and a leader to ever play in the NFL,” Staubach was the face of the Cowboys as they became America’s Team. Dallas shrewdly drafted Navy’s Heisman Trophy winner in the 10th round in 1964, knowing his military commitments would delay his NFL debut for five years, but he rewarded the Cowboys for their patience with 11 years of consistent excellence. Staubach made six Pro Bowls and led the Cowboys to their first two Super Bowl titles in 1971 and 1977. He retired in 1980 as the then-highest rated passer of all time at 83.4 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
RB Emmitt Smith
Smith was nimble, tough and hugely successful – and that was just on “Dancing with the Stars.” In 13 seasons with the Cowboys, he was all of those things and more. Despite relatively ordinary in size and speed for a tailback, he was a model of efficiency, churning out yards with subtle moves and a relentless north-south style. Incredibly durable, he had 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons, made eight Pro Bowls and remains the NFL career leader in rushing yards (18,355), rushing touchdowns (164) and 100-yard games (78). Three times he led the league in rushing and won the Super Bowl in the same year (1992, 1993 and 1995). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
RB Tony Dorsett
Dallas traded the No. 26 overall pick and three second-round choices to the Seahawks in order to move up to No. 2 and get Dorsett, the 1976 Heisman Trophy winner from Pitt. Good move. The speedy tailback earned Rookie of the Year honors and helped the Cowboys win the Super Bowl, then spent another decade in Big D as one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons. He ran for more than 12,000 yards and 70 touchdowns as a Cowboy, including a 99-yard jaunt against the Vikings that will never be topped. He is the only player ever to win the Heisman, a college national title and a Super Bowl as well as earn enshrinement in the college and pro football Halls of Fame.
DT Bob Lilly
The first draft pick in Cowboys history may be the best player in Cowboys history. That’s debatable, of course, but taking Lilly with the ninth overall choice in 1961 was clearly a fortuitous move by the fledgling franchise. A fast, strong, agile defensive tackle with a nonstop motor, Lilly made 11 Pro Bowls in a 14-year career and was voted All-Pro seven times from 1964-71. The anchor of Dallas’ famed “Doomsday Defense,” he helped win Super Bowl VI with a 29-yard sack of Dolphins QB Bob Griese. “Mr. Cowboy” missed just one game his entire career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980.