1988 Dallas Cowboys season
OwnerBum Bright
Head coachTom Landry
General managerTex Schramm
Home fieldTexas Stadium
Local radioKRLD–AM 1080
Division place5th NFC East
Playoff finishDid not qualify
Pro BowlersRB Herschel Walker

The 1988 Dallas Cowboys season was the franchise's 29th season in the National Football League. They failed to improve on their 7–8 record from 1987, finishing at 3-13 and missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Also this was the final year for Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.


NFL Draft

Main article: 1988 NFL draft

1988 Dallas Cowboys draft
Round Pick Player Position College Notes
1 11 Michael Irvin *   WR Miami (FL)
2 41 Ken Norton *  LB UCLA
3 67 Mark Hutson  OG Oklahoma
4 94 Dave Widell  OT Boston College
6 151 Scott Secules  QB Virginia
7 178 Owen Hooven  OT Oregon State
8 205 Mark Higgs  RB Kentucky
9 232 Brian Bedford  WR California
10 263 Billy Owens  DB Pittsburgh
11 290 Chad Hennings  DE Air Force
12 317 Ben Hummel  LB UCLA
      Made roster    †   Pro Football Hall of Fame    *   Made at least one Pro Bowl during career

Game summaries

Week 3

1 234Total
• Giants 5 070 12
Cowboys 3 070 10


The 1988 season was the last of the Tom Landry era. After the 1988 season, the team would undergo drastic changes including a new head coach, and change of ownership from Bum Bright to current owner Jerry Jones.

Notable additions to the team in 1988 included wide receiver Michael Irvin and linebacker Ken Norton Jr. Defensive tackle Chad Hennings was also drafted in 1988 but, due to his obligations to the U.S. Air Force, he would not join the team until 1992.

The 1988 season was the first time since 1976 that future hall-of-fame running back Tony Dorsett was not on the Dallas roster. Dorsett had been relegated to a backup role to Herschel Walker for most of 1987 and was traded to the Denver Broncos during the offseason.

The 1988 season faced hardship from the release of the schedule. In 1987, Dallas had finished at 7–8, in a 3-way tie for second place in the NFC East and tiebreaking rules gave Dallas the “second place position”, even though Dallas finished fifth (last) in the NFC East in 1987 in “union games” (i.e. a strong replacement team had inflated the Boys’ ‘87 record). As a result, their 1988 schedule was primarily against teams that were strong in 1987 (and also in 1988).

Steve Pelluer had won the starting quarterback job from veteran Danny White late in the 1987 season and won the job in training camp for 1988. Early in the season, White appeared briefly in relief roles before suffering a season-ending injury in week 7, which elevated Kevin Sweeney to the backup position. Sweeney briefly took over the starting job for Pelluer in weeks 11 and 12, but the results were poor and Pelluer regained the job.

In the season opener, Dallas lost to Pittsburgh, 24–21. The Cowboys had the ball inside the Pittsburgh 10 in the game's closing seconds (in position to tie or win) but Steve Pelluer was intercepted. After a close win over Phoenix in week two, Dallas lost to the New York Giants, 12–10 (the margin of defeat being a strange safety on the opening kickoff). A last-second goal line stand brought victory over Atlanta in week four but the following week, the Cowboys lost to New Orleans on a last-second Morten Andersen field goal. Two convincing losses followed and at 2–5, the season was in jeopardy.

In week 8, Dallas traveled to Philadelphia. Bad blood still existed from 1987, when Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan had (in the game's closing seconds) called a deep pass play while already leading by 10. The Cowboys roared to a 20–0 lead in the first half, but the Eagles came back to win 24–23 by scoring a touchdown on the game's final play. The next week, Dallas blew a 10–0 second-half lead to lose to the Phoenix Cardinals and fell to 2–7. Five more losses followed (and the losing streak extended to 10 games) before Dallas upset the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in Week 15 in RFK Stadium (eliminating the Redskins from playoff contention). The Redskins win marked the end of an era (and Landry's last win) but was also a harbinger as rookie (and future hall-of-fame) wide receiver Irvin caught three touchdown passes. The team lost the next week at Texas Stadium to Philadelphia and finished 3–13, the worst record in the entire NFL and the team's worst record since 1960, when they were an expansion team. A bright spot for the season was Walker, who led the NFC in rushing yards.

In addition to Landry, this was also the final season for long-time Cowboys such as president-general manager Tex Schramm, personnel director Gil Brandt, defensive tackle Randy White, quarterback Danny White, linebacker Mike Hegman, and defensive coordinator Ernie Stautner.


Dallas Cowboys 1988 roster

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Linemen


Defensive Backs

Special Teams

Reserve Lists

Rookies in italics
44 Active, 11 Inactive

Regular season


Week Date Opponent Result Record Game Site Attendance Recap
1 September 4 at Pittsburgh Steelers L 21–24 0–1 Three Rivers Stadium 56,813 Recap
2 September 12 at Phoenix Cardinals W 17–14 1–1 Sun Devil Stadium 67,139 Recap
3 September 18 New York Giants L 10–12 1–2 Texas Stadium 55,325 Recap
4 September 25 Atlanta Falcons W 26–20 2–2 Texas Stadium 39,702 Recap
5 October 3 at New Orleans Saints L 17–20 2–3 Louisiana Superdome 68,474 Recap
6 October 9 Washington Redskins L 17–35 2–4 Texas Stadium 63,325 Recap
7 October 16 at Chicago Bears L 7–17 2–5 Soldier Field 64,759 Recap
8 October 23 at Philadelphia Eagles L 23–24 2–6 Veterans Stadium 66,309 Recap
9 October 30 Phoenix Cardinals L 10–16 2–7 Texas Stadium 42,196 Recap
10 November 6 at New York Giants L 21–29 2–8 Giants Stadium 75,826 Recap
11 November 13 Minnesota Vikings L 3–43 2–9 Texas Stadium 57,830 Recap
12 November 20 Cincinnati Bengals L 24–38 2–10 Texas Stadium 37,865 Recap
13 November 24 Houston Oilers L 17–25 2–11 Texas Stadium 50,845 Recap
14 December 4 at Cleveland Browns L 21–24 2–12 Cleveland Stadium 77,683 Recap
15 December 11 at Washington Redskins W 24–17 3–12 RFK Stadium 51,526 Recap
16 December 18 Philadelphia Eagles L 7–23 3–13 Texas Stadium 46,131 Recap

Division opponents are in bold text


NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles(3) 10 6 0 .625 6–2 8–4 379 319 W2
New York Giants 10 6 0 .625 5–3 9–5 359 304 L1
Washington Redskins 7 9 0 .438 4–4 6–6 345 387 L2
Phoenix Cardinals 7 9 0 .438 3–5 6–6 344 398 L5
Dallas Cowboys 3 13 0 .188 2–6 3–9 265 381 L1




  1. ^ NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York,NY, ISBN 0-7611-2480-2, p. 293