I’m still trying to determine if it’s a blessing or curse that YDCFF Staff has to turn to the “Gray Beard” for deep Cowboys’ lore and history. It does date me, but I love the fact that I get to represent the Cowboys’ historic beginnings and have the honor of profiling all-time great, Cornell Green. For those wondering or counting, I was born in the very same year the Dallas Cowboys became a pro football franchise, so yes, I’ve seen a ton, remember more, and am very proud to recall the deep tradition this team maintains and enjoys.
Just a quick refresher that the YDCFF Staff is profiling Cowboys’ greats who should be under consideration as the potential, and possibly next, group of candidates to enter the famed Ring of Honor at Cowboys Stadium. In due time, you will see the top three nominations chosen from a list of 10 finalists/candidates. Will Cornell Green make the final three? Only time will tell, but the fact remains he is one of the Cowboys’ all-time greatest players. Even though the majority of our readers may not even know the name “Cornell Green”, let alone ever saw him play, let me assure you that Green’s skills, abilities and achievements as a professional football player are more than sufficient to justify his induction in to the Ring of Honor. Green, like all-everything, Mel Renfro, and the great Charlie Waters, doubled as a Cowboys’ safety and cornerback. That alone illustrates his versatility and athletic ability.
Born on February 10, 1940 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Cornell Green was a product of Utah State. But strangely, Green never played a down of football during his collegiate days. He was a three-time All-Skyline Conference basketball player. Green is one of Utah State’s most decorated basketball players; he earned All-America honors in 1960 and ’61, and he was awarded all-Skyline conference honors in each of his three years (1960-1962). Cornell Green set the Aggie rebounding record with 1,067 total pulls; that record still holds today. His 1,890 points ranks fifth in all-time Utah State scoring, While Green was at Utah State, the Aggies went to the 1960 NIT and to the 1962 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. In 1993, Green was inducted into the Utah State University Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.
Thus, he is no stranger to awards, recognition and noteworthy honors. But, what about as a Dallas Cowboy?
Having played no collegiate football, Green was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys in 1962. The acquisition of Green was the start of a trend that the Dallas Cowboys organizationÃ‚Â followed for many years: Gil Brandt, Tex Schramm and Coach Tom Landry had a propensity for drafting athletes that were naturally gifted with the hopes they could “morph” that raw athletic talent (through coaching, practice, and conditioning) into quality football players.
Cornell Green stood 6’4″ and weighed 205 lbs. That rivals anyone playing in an NFL Secondary today. He certainly had the presence to be a force in the Cowboys’ defensive secondary. Basketball denotes athleticism, so it is safe to say that Cornell Green had a speed and quickness element to his game as well. Even though Green had never played football, his physical prowess, stature, and natural ability was too good forÃ‚Â Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys to pass up.
While Green was leaning towards a potential NBA career, where he was actually drafted by the Chicago Zephyrs in the fifth round of the 1962 NBA Draft, it was a tip from Utah State basketball coach LaDell Anderson that led the Cowboys to sign Cornell Green for a mere pittance of $1,000 (think Romo would have signed for that sum?). It was a move that highlighted the innovative personnel decisions the Cowboys would become renowned for making. Green certainly didn’t think much of the signing.
“I never planned on playing for the Cowboys. I figured I’d go there for a week or so…..and they’d cut me,” Green said.
Then he could be on his way to NBA life instead.
When teammates nicknamed him “Sweet Lips”, it should have been a sign of great things to come. Green ended up making the 1962 roster, and he picked up things so fast that he actually started 3 games during the season and was selected to the NFL All-Rookie team. Not too shabby for a collegiate basketball stud and free agent football pick-up. Things actually went so well that Green became a full-time starter at cornerback the following year and had a career best 7 interceptions.
Leave it to Director of Player Personnel Gil Brandt to add:
“I mean, if Cornell had any kind of hands, he would’ve had three times as many interceptions as he got…and the guy played basketball in college.”
The truth is, Green became a huge contributor within Coach Tom Landry’s intricate and complex defensive schemes. He was a “feared” defender during his playing days in Dallas. There were no gaudy stats to come out of his overall play, but he was respected in every aspect and facet of the game. His task was cornerback for his first 8 seasons, and he lead the team in interceptions 4 times during that time-frame. At the same time, he was named to 5 Pro Bowls and 3 All-Pro teams. And just for the record once again, this was a collegiate basketball player, an unsigned free agent of the Dallas Cowboys in 1962. Those are high honors and accolades for someone who touched only the “round ball” and had no experience with the pigskin.
Coach Landry explains Cornell Green’s Ã‚Â success:
” He had the athletic skills from basketball to become a fine defensive back. His only transition was playing a sport where you could tackle someone with the ball, and Cornell never had a problem dealing with that.”
1970 brought sort of a weird and questionable turn of events as it related to Cornell Green and his position on the Dallas Cowboys defense. Due to an injury in the secondary, Coach Landry felt the cornerback position needed to be upgraded, so he moved All-Everything Safety Mel Renfro to corner. Landry wanted to match Mel Renfro with Herb Adderley in what he projected to be an unstoppable duo at cornerback. Thus, Green was moved from cornerback to strong safety. He was paired with an alternating duo at free safety with the likes of Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters (maybe our readership has heard of those two gents). Far be it from anyone to question Coach Landry: after the switch, the Cowboys proceeded to go to consecutive Super Bowls in 1971 and 1972, and Green made the Pro Bowl in 1972 as a safety.
Now comes the “nitty-gritty” for Ring of Honor consideration.
Cornell Green NEVER missed a game in 13 seasons (1962-1974): he played 168 games, including 145 consecutive starts for the Cowboys during those 13 years. He made five Pro Bowls at two different positions–cornerback and strong safety. He is tied with Michael Downs for fifth in career interceptions (34) in Cowboys history. In 1985, Cornell Green was named to the Dallas Cowboys 25th Anniversary Team.
Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent out of Utah State, a basketball player at that, who was signed for a mere $1,000 off a tip from his collegiate basketball coach. Oh, the legendary Cowboys of old, they could certainly find them and mold them.
To put a stamp on his football adaptation and love, Green began scouting for the Dallas Cowboys in 1970 while still an active player and continued scouting through 1979, at which time he entered the private business sector until coming to the Denver Broncos football organization in 1987. Green has over 29 years scouting in the NFL, and over 22 seasons doing it for the Mile High City.
Suffice it to say, Cornell Green is a bone fide and qualified candidate for the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. Let his accolades be known, especially to all you young “whipper-snappers.” Your resident Gray Beard has had a blast reliving one of the Dallas Cowboys’ all-time greats: Cornell Green.
For a review of the other nine Dallas Cowboys in the Top 10 Candidates for the Ring of Honor, please click here.