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Danny White ended up being the Cowboys’ starting quarterback in 1980 after quarterback Roger Staubach retired. Despite going to 12– 4 in 1980, the Cowboys came into the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In the opening round of the 1980– 81 NFL playoffs they avenged their removal from the previous year’s playoffs by defeating the Rams. In the Divisional Round they squeaked by the Atlanta Falcons 30– 27. For the NFC Championship they were pitted against division competing Philadelphia, the team that won the division during the regular season. The Eagles recorded their first conference championship and Super Bowl berth by winning 20– 7.
1981 brought another division championship for the Cowboys. They got in the 1981-82 NFL playoffs as the number 2 seed. Their first game of the postseason saw them blowout and shutout Tampa Bay 38– 0. For the Conference Title game they were pitted against the San Francisco 49ers, the number 1 seed. Regardless of having a late 4th quarter 27– 21 lead, they would lose to the 49ers 28– 27. 49ers quarterback Joe Montana led his team to an 89-yard game winning touchdown drive linking to Dwight Clark in a play called The Catch.
The 1982 season was reduced after a player strike. With a 6– 3 record Dallas made it to the playoffs for the 8th successive season. As the number 2 seed for the 1982– 83 NFL playoffs they removed the Buccaneers 30– 17 in the Wild Card round and dispatched the Packers 37– 26 in the Divisional round to advance to their 3rd successive Conference championship game. 3 times was not a charm for the Cowboys as they fell 31– 17 to division competitor and ultimate Super Bowl XVII champions Redskins.
For the 1983 season the Cowboys went 12– 4 and made it once again to the playoffs however were beat at home in the Wild Card by the Rams 24– 17. Prior to the 1984 season, H.R. “Bum” Bright acquired the Dallas Cowboys from Clint Murchison Jr. Dallas posted a 9– 7 record that season but missed the playoffs for the very first time in 10 seasons. After going 10– 6 in 1985 and winning a division title, the Cowboys were burnt out in the Divisional round in the house to the Rams 20– 0.
Tough times came for the organization as they went 7– 9 in 1986, 7– 8 in 1987, and 3– 13 in 1988. Throughout this time period Bright ended up being disenchanted with the team. Throughout the Savings and Loan crisis, the team and Mr. Bright’s Savings and Loan were taken over by the FSLIC. During an embarrassing home loss to Atlanta in 1987, Bright told the media that he was “frightened” at coach Tom Landry’s play calling. The FSLIC forced Mr. Bright to offer the Cowboys to Jerry Jones on February 25, 1989.
Jones immediately fired Tom Landry, the only head coach in franchise history, changing him with University of Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson, who was also Jerry Jones’ colleague in University of Arkansas as a fellow defensive lineman and Michael Irvin was under his tutelage in college. With the first pick in the draft, the Cowboys selected UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman. Later that same year, they would trade seasoned running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for 5 veteran players and 8 draft choices. Although the Cowboys finished the 1989 season with a 1– 15 record, their worst in nearly 30 years, “The Trade” later allowed Dallas to draft a variety of impact players to reconstruct the team.