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Johnson quickly returned the Cowboys to the NFL’s elite. Skillful 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 talent joined 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 began to search for the franchise in 1990. On Week 1 Dallas won their first home game since September 1988 when they defeated 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 coordinator Dave Shula with Norv Turner; the Cowboys raced to a 6– 5 start, then defeated the previously-unbeaten Redskins in spite of injury to Troy Aikman. Backup Steve Beuerlein took control of 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 started the season by beating the safeguarding Super Bowl champion Redskins 23– 10. Entering into the playoffs as the number 2 seed they had a first round bye before dealing with division competitor 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 beat the Buffalo Bills 52– 17 in Super Bowl XXVII, during which they forced a record nine turnovers. Johnson ended up being the first coach to declare a championship game in college football and a Super Bowl victory in professional football.
Regardless of starting the 1993 season 0– 2, they once again beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII, 30– 13 (ending up being 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, however, friction between Johnson and Jones culminated in Johnson stunning the football world by announcing his resignation. Jones then employed 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, nevertheless, after losing to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, 38– 28.
Prior to the start of 1995 season Jerry Jones drew All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders away from San Francisco. Dallas started the season 4– 0 including shutting out their division rival 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 rival 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 beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27– 17 at Sun Devil Stadium for their 5th Super Bowl championship. Switzer joined Johnson as the only coaches to win a college football national championship and a Super Bowl.
The splendor days of the Cowboys were once again starting to dim as free firm, age, and injuries started taking their toll. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first 5 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 but were removed in the Divisional round of the playoffs 26– 17 by the Carolina Panthers.
The Cowboys went 6– 10 in 1997 (consisting of losing their last 6 games of the season), with discipline and off-field issues ending up being major distractions.
As a result, Switzer resigned as head coach in January 1998 and former Steelers offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was employed to take his place.
Gailey led the team to 2 playoff appearances with a 10– 6 record in 1998 and an NFC East championship, but the Cowboys were defeated in the playoffs by the Arizona Cardinals 20– 7.
In 1999 Dallas went 8– 8 (throughout which Irvin suffered a career-ending spine 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 became the first Cowboys coach who did not take the team to a Super Bowl.