May 3, 2011

1977: Cowboys Trade Up to Pick Tony Dorsett with 2nd Overall Draft Choice

Leading up to the first round of the NFL draft on May 3, 1977, the two ’76 expansion teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, held the first two overall picks. The Bucs, who suffered through an 0-14 inaugural season, made clear well ahead of time that they would take RB Ricky Bell of USC – the team that Head Coach John McKay had guided prior to crossing over to the NFL.

The logical choice for the next pick, which was property of the 2-12 Seahawks, was Heisman Trophy-winning RB Tony Dorsett from the University of Pittsburgh. However, the front office found itself awash in trade offers from teams that wanted the record-setting running back, and the fact that Dorsett made clear his aversion to playing for Seattle made those offers all the more enticing.

In the end, it was the Dallas Cowboys swinging the deal that allowed them to choose Dorsett second overall. The Seahawks were looking to stockpile draft choices, and Dallas had extra picks to trade. Seattle came away with a first round choice that had come to the Cowboys by way of San Diego in the deal for QB Clint Longley (14th overall) as well as three second-round draft choices.

With the picks from Dallas, the Seahawks took G Steve August from Tulsa in the first round and offensive lineman Tom Lynch of Boston College with the second pick in the second round. They also came away with LB Terry Beeson from Kansas with their next second-round choice, eleven slots down the line. Yet another of the second round choices was traded back to the Cowboys for WR Duke Fergerson, who had been on injured reserve in 1976. Seattle also obtained LB Pete Cronan from Boston College in a trade with the Rams that sent one of the second round picks to LA for C Geoff Reece and that club’s second round pick.

The Cowboys, who were widely credited with having pulled off the steal of the draft, were hardly bereft of talent, having won the NFC East in 1976 with an 11-3 record and gone to the postseason in ten of the previous 11 seasons. However, the running game had been beset by injuries in ’76; RB Doug Dennison was the club’s leading rusher with 542 yards.

“We were willing to sacrifice numbers (the draft choices) for one good football player,” explained Dallas President/GM Tex Schramm. “We did not disturb our current team, which also was one of our major objectives.”

The Cowboys may have sacrificed draft picks, but they still had enough to take WR Tony Hill from Stanford in the third round who, following a quiet rookie season, became a mainstay of the offense for the next nine years. They also took QB Glenn Carano of Nevada-Las Vegas, a backup for the next several seasons until moving on to the USFL. Tenth-round selection Steve DeBerg, a quarterback from San Jose State, failed to make the team but went on to a 17-year NFL career with six clubs.

Dallas got off to an 8-0 start and Dorsett was eased into the lineup, although he scored two touchdowns in the season’s second game and had a 14-carry, 141-yard performance against the Cardinals in Week 4. HB Preston Pearson, in tandem with FB Robert Newhouse, continued to start until midseason. Despite the relatively light use, the prize rookie made the most of his opportunities and still gained a thousand yards on the ground (1007 on 208 attempts), including 206 yards on 23 carries in a game against Philadelphia. The Cowboys again won the NFC East, with a 12-2 record, and went on to win the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos – Dorsett scored the game’s first touchdown and ran for 66 yards.

It was the start of a career in which the 5’11”, 192-pound Dorsett crossed the thousand-yard threshold in eight of his first nine seasons (the players’ strike that limited the schedule to nine games in 1982 was the only exception), was a consensus first-team All-Pro in ’81 and was selected to four Pro Bowls. Ending up his 12-season career with a year in Denver, he rushed for a total of 12,739 yards and 77 touchdowns while also catching 398 passes for another 3554 yards and 13 more TDs. The Cowboys went to one more Super Bowl and four NFC Championship games during that period. Dorsett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

As for the players that Seattle obtained as a result of dealing the second overall draft pick, Steve August was injured in a motorcycle accident before the 1977 season that limited his playing time, but went on to appear in 102 games for the Seahawks, 91 of them as the starting right tackle, until 1984. Tom Lynch made it into the starting lineup as a rookie and stayed for four seasons before departing for Buffalo, where he played another four years. He was a second-team All-AFC selection by UPI in ’78.

Terry Beeson became the starting middle linebacker, was an All-Rookie selection in ’77, and stayed with the Seahawks for five years. Pete Cronan was mostly used on special teams in his 3 ½ years in Seattle before moving on to Washington during the 1981 season. He played for the Redskins through ’85. Duke Fergerson caught 19 passes for 374 yards (19.7 avg.) and two touchdowns in 1977, but only 16 more over the course of the remaining three years of his NFL career. Geoff Reece, the young veteran obtained from the Rams, accomplished the least, appearing in just three games with Seattle in ’77.

The Seahawks improved to 5-9 in ’77 and posted their first winning record (9-7) in 1978. However, Tampa Bay beat them to the postseason, going all the way to the NFC Championship game in 1979 thanks to an outstanding defense and Ricky Bell’s 1263 rushing yards.