Anyone who follows the Dallas Cowboys knows what the jersey number 88 means. The number 88 is reserved for the number one receiver on the Cowboys team. The number was made prestigious by none other than 2011 Ring of Honor inductee, Drew Pearson.
Taking a look at this number had me thinking: Is the Dallas Cowboys number 88 cursed? Two of the last three Dallas Cowboys to wear the number 88 had their football careers end due to major injury. The third? Let’s just say he just self-destructed. Here is a look at the last three players and a summary of the current person.
Drew Pearson (1973-1983)
Drew Pearson was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1973. He played a very limited amount in his rookie season (mainly due to Tom Landry’s rule of not starting rookies). In his second year, the Dallas Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 9 seasons. Just to put this into perspective, this was the ONLY year between 1966 and 1983 that the Cowboys did not qualify for the playoffs. Even in the midst of this disappointment, Drew Pearson was giving Cowboys fans a glimpse of what was to come. He caught 62 passes for 1087 yards. He was rewarded with the first of three visits (1974, 1976, and 1977) to the NFL Pro Bowl. In those same years, Drew was a First Team All-Pro selection. Drew Pearson helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to three Superbowl appearances; finally winning in Superbowl XII in 1978.
Along with Dallas Cowboys RBs Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill, Drew helped place the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL record books by becoming the first team in history to have two 1000-yards wide receivers and a 1000-yard running back in the same year (1979). Also known as “Mr. Clutch”, Drew Pearson was known to be the “go to” receiver when the Cowboys needed a game winning play. If it was not for a lucky tackle by San Francisco 49er Eric Wright in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, “The Catch” would have been null and void. Well the tackle coupled with a Danny White fumble right after put the game out of reach. In March of 1984, Drew Pearson was in a horrible car accident which took the life of his brother, Corey Pearson. Due to the internal injuries he suffered, Drew was forced to retire from the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL. Drew Pearson, “Mr. Clutch”, set the standard for that number 88 jersey.
Michael Irvin (1988-1999)
Michael Irvin was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1988. Tom Landry quickly gave him the number 88 jersey. Michael stated he was nervous and scared to wear that number because he knew what it meant. He knew who had worn that number before him, and the standard he set for the #1 Dallas Cowboys receiver. Michael Irvin’s first three years as a Dallas Cowboys were hampered by injuries. Never one to be counted out, Michael came out on fire in the 1991 season. He helped lead the Cowboys to their first playoff win since 1985. To read more about Michael Irvin’s career, click here.
Michael lived up to the very high standards set by Drew Pearson: three Superbowl wins in four years, four consecutive trips to the NFC Championship game, and five trips to the Pro Bowl (1991-95). Michael Irvin’s career came to an abrupt end October 10, 1999. Michael was tackled by Philadelphia defensive back Tim Hauck. While being tackled, Michael Irvin went head first into the Veterans Memorial Stadium notoriously unforgiving turf. He suffered a Cervical Spinal Cord injury which was non-life threatening. Later he was diagnosed with a narrow spinal column which forced him to retired.
Antonio Bryant (2002-2004)
The next person to wear the famed number 88 jersey did not stay with the Dallas Cowboys for long. Matter of fact, if you were not paying attention, you might not even remember his name. Antonio Bryant was the 2nd round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. This guy had incredible potential; he was an All American at the University of Pittsburgh. Due to character concerns, his draft stock dropped quickly. Antonio was the first rookie wide receiver to start for the Dallas Cowboys in an NFL season-opener since Michael Irvin. His second year in the league brought changes to the Dallas Cowboys offense. Terry Glen was a free agent signing which in turn moved Antonio Bryant to the third receiver.
The following year in free agency, Dallas brought in Keyshawn Johnson. With the arrival of Keyshawn, Antonio’s attitude really started to change. Upset with the number of reps he was receiving during a Cowboys mini-camp, Antonio Bryant voiced his frustration by cursing and throwing his jersey at then head coach Bill Parcells. The team broke up the fight and Parcells gave him a second chance. Due to the tension between Antonio and Parcells, the Dallas Cowboys traded Antonio Bryant to the Cleveland Browns five games into the 2004 season.
Desmond “Dez”Bryant (2010- ?)
The Dallas Cowboys moved up from the 27th overall pick to the 24th pick to nab Dez Bryant in the 2010 NFL Draft. He was expected to go higher, but his off-field problems caused his draft stock to drop. He was suspended by the NCAA for failure to disclose his interactions with former Dallas Cowboys and NFL player Deion Sanders. Before his suspension, Dez Bryant was considered the BEST wide receiver in college football in 2009 and a possible Heisman Trophy contender. The news of him being assigned the sacred number 88 was given by none other than Michael Irvin. They had a brief discussion where Michael explained the “responsibility” that goes along with wearing Drew Pearson’s number to Dez.
During his rookie season, Dez did not start in most games for the Dallas Cowboys. With Roy Williams listed as the number one wide receiver, Bryant’s time was split with Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton, and Sam Hurd. The 2011 off-season was an adventure for Dez Bryant: unpaid jewelry bills and other legal matters kept him in the headlines. Dez seemed to put his hectic summer behind him and got back to work during training camp. With Roy Williams’ exit, Dez was selected to start opposite of Miles Austin. He had a few injuries during the season. They didn’t seem to slow him down much as he racked up 928 yards on 63 receptions. As he looked to be trying to live up to that number 88 jersey he wore on the field, off the field it was a very different story. Dez Bryant again made headlines during the off-season in 2012. He was arrested for allegedly striking his mother, a class A misdemeanor. She did eventually drop the charges. These incidents led Drew Pearson to say he did not believe that Dez Bryant was living up to the responsibilities of wearing number 88.
When Michael and I had a chance to talk to Dez when he came in his rookie year we told him, “Don’t do what Drew Pearson did in it. Don’t do what Michael did in it. Do more than that.”
Michael Irvin also spoke out about Dez’s off-field problems. The Dallas Cowboys have given Dez a set of rules all his own and surrounded him with support people to help keep him out of trouble. As the 2012 season started, Dez seemed to still be running routes incorrectly and was easily talked out of his game. By mid-season, things had done a complete turnaround. Dez Bryant stopped talking trash on the field. He got his personal life under control. Dez developed a better relationship with his quarterback, Tony Romo. Cowboys’ Nation finally got to see what everyone knew Dez Bryant could be. He finished the 2012 season with 1382 yards on 92 receptions and 12 touchdowns. Most of these numbers occurred in the second half of the season, giving hope to Dallas Cowboys fans everywhere.
Dez Bryant is starting his fourth season in the NFL for the Dallas Cowboys. He has shown flashes of what he can be. His NFL career started a little shaky, but things seem to be shaping up. We all should be happy he is not pulling an Antonio Bryant and going off the deep end. We all hope and pray his career is not cut short by serious injury. Could Dez Bryant break the curse of the sacred number 88 for the Dallas Cowboys? I think he will. To tell the truth, we all have to hope so. With the Dallas Cowboys run on talent, we only find elite people in skilled positions once every seven to ten years and every once in a while at the same time.