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Johnson quickly returned the Cowboys to the NFL’s elite. Proficient drafts added fullback Daryl Johnston and center Mark Stepnoski in 1989, running back Emmitt Smith in 1990, defensive tackle Russell Maryland and offensive tackle Erik Williams in 1991, and safety Darren Woodson in 1992. The young skill signed up with holdovers from the Landry era such as wide receiver Michael Irvin, guard Nate Newton, linebacker Ken Norton Jr., and offensive lineman Mark Tuinei, defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, and veteran pickups such as tight end Jay Novacek and defensive end Charles Haley.
Things started to look up for the franchise in 1990. On Week 1 Dallas won their first home game since September 1988 when they beat the San Diego Chargers 17– 14. They went 2– 7 in their next 9 games however won 4 of their last 6 games to finish the season with a 4th place 7– 9 record.
Entering into 1991 the Cowboys replaced offensive planner Dave Shula with Norv Turner; the Cowboys raced to a 6– 5 start, then defeated the previously-unbeaten Redskins regardless of injury to Troy Aikman. Backup Steve Beuerlein took over and the Cowboys finished 11– 5. In the Wild Card round they defeated the Bears 17– 13 for the Cowboys first playoff win since 1982. In the Divisional round their season ended in a 38– 6 playoff rout by the Lions.
In 1992 Dallas set a team record for regular season wins with a 13– 3 mark. They began the season by beating the defending Super Bowl champ Redskins 23– 10. Entering into the playoffs as the number 2 seed they had a first round bye prior to facing division rival the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys won that game 34– 10 to advance to the NFC Conference Championship game for the first time in 10 years. They were pitted against the San Francisco 49ers, the number 1 seed. On January 17, 1993 the Cowboys went to Candlestick Park and defeated the 49ers 30– 20 to clinch their first Super Bowl berth since 1978. Dallas defeated the Buffalo Bills 52– 17 in Super Bowl XXVII, during which they forced a record 9 turnovers. Johnson became the first coach to claim a national championship in college football and a Super Bowl victory in professional football.
Despite starting the 1993 season 0– 2, they once again beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII, 30– 13 (becoming the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl after starting 0– 2). Dallas finished the regular season 12– 4 as the number 1 seed of the NFC. They defeated the Green Bay Packers 27– 17 in the divisional round. In the NFC Conference Championship, Dallas beat the 49ers in Dallas, 38– 21. Dallas sent a then-NFL record 11 players to the Pro Bowl in 1993: Aikman, safety Thomas Everett, Irvin, Johnston, Maryland, Newton, Norton, Novacek, Smith, Stepnoski and Williams.
Only weeks after Super Bowl XXVIII, nevertheless, friction in between Johnson and Jones culminated in Johnson stunning the football world by revealing his resignation. Jones then worked with former University of Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer to replace Johnson. The Cowboys finished 12– 4 in 1994. They once again clinched a first round bye and defeated Green Bay 35– 9 in the Divisional Round. They missed the Super Bowl, however, after losing to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, 38– 28.
Prior to the start of 1995 season Jerry Jones enticed All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders far from San Francisco. Dallas began the season 4– 0 consisting of shutting out their division competing New York Giants 35– 0 at Giants Stadium to open their season. Emmitt Smith set an NFL record with 25 rushing touchdowns that season. They ended the season 12– 4 and went into the playoffs as the number 1 seed. In the Divisional round they dispatched their division competing Eagles 30– 11 to advance to their 4th successive NFC Conference Championship Game, where they beat Green Bay, 38– 27. In Super Bowl XXX the Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27– 17 at Sun Devil Stadium for their 5th Super Bowl championship. Switzer signed up with Johnson as the only coaches to win a college football national championship and a Super Bowl.
The glory days of the Cowboys were once again starting to dim as free agency, age, and injuries started taking their toll. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first five games of 1996 following a drug-related arrest; he came back after the Cowboys began the season 2– 3. They finished the regular season with a 10– 6 record, won the NFC East title, and went into the playoffs as the number 3 seed in the NFC. They defeated Minnesota 40– 15 in the Wild Card round however were removed in the Divisional round of the playoffs 26– 17 by the Carolina Panthers.
The Cowboys went 6– 10 in 1997 (including losing their last 6 games of the season), with discipline and off-field issues ending up being major diversions.
As a result, Switzer resigned as head coach in January 1998 and former Steelers offensive planner Chan Gailey was hired to take his place.
Gailey led the team to two playoff appearances with a 10– 6 record in 1998 and an NFC East championship, but the Cowboys were beat in the playoffs by the Arizona Cardinals 20– 7.
In 1999 Dallas went 8– 8 (throughout which Irvin suffered a career-ending back injury in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles) ending in another playoff loss (this time to the Minnesota Vikings 27– 10). Gailey was fired and ended up being the first Cowboys coach who did not take the team to a Super Bowl.