1975 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings: #28 Randy Hughes
The name of Randy Hughes will be forever remembered in pro football annals for its connection with the famed Dirty Dozen draft class of 1975 that helped the Dallas Cowboys re-claim their status as one of the NFL’s elite franchises. What has long remained a pallid, forgotten truth is that there actually existed a moment in time when Hughes was considered to be the best rookie out of a bunch that now includes such household names as Randy White, Pat Donovan, Herbert Scott, and Thomas Henderson.
A fourth-round selection out of Oklahoma where he broke Darrell Royal’s career interceptions mark, Hughes arrived in Dallas fresh off a national championship season with the Sooners that him riding the high waves of youthful confidence. Not until the drudgery of the Thousand Oaks practice schedule greeted him in early July did the 22-year old rookie realize the inherent demands of playing in the NFL.
In the early days of training camp Hughes was a soul of dejection in the Cowboys’ rookie dormitory that housed players three-deep in bunks. On top of nursing a hip-pointer, a hamstring pull, and the after-effects of a concussion, Hughes was forced to celebrate an anniversary and his wife’s birthday with a long-distance telephone call, all while harboring fears that he was destined to be released.
“Frankly, I was babied at Oklahoma,” said Hughes in August. “Work here was a lot harder than I expected. We scrimmage every day here. In college I came off a knee operation and wasn’t even in a scrimmage until we had our first game.”
A counseling session with secondary coach Gene Stallings helped to get the young safety out of his personal funk, and back onto a path that would promote his name as one of the summer’s most pleasant surprises.
“When he decided he wanted to be a player, he improved every day,” said Stallings.
Hughes closed the preseason schedule with a bevy of impact moments, intercepting a pass in three different games against Minnesota, Oakland, and Pittsburgh, which had head coach Tom Landry singing his praises, even suggesting that Hughes was more than capable of being a full-time player on defense for the Cowboys.
“Randy Hughes would be in competition (for a starting job) with anybody, wherever he is, at either safety,” said Landry. “That’s because he has a great knack for the football. He shows it in practice all the time and he’s also shown it in the games.
“If he keeps playing as he has, it’s certainly possible he could move in there.”
Because he was staring up at the duo of Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters on the depth chart, Hughes was slotted as the backup at both safety positions as the regular season began. Though not a starter, Hughes still managed to stay busy, serving on certain versions of the Cowboys’ nickel defense and on special teams. An equal opportunity hustler, Hughes was recognized for his outstanding kick-coverage abilities against Kansas City in Week 8, winning the team’s Headhunter award.
Four weeks later he earned the Big Play award with his first career interception during an otherwise listless December defeat in St. Louis. And in the regular season finale at Shea Stadium, it was Hughes delivering the knockout blow to the Jets, intercepting a pass along the sideline and returning it 33 yards for a touchdown to seal the 31-21 Dallas victory.
Hughes’ most critical contribution came in Week 13 in a must-win contest at Texas Stadium versus Washington that would decide the NFC’s wild-card participant. Late in the first half with Dallas trailing 10-7, Washington returner Larry Jones muffed a Mitch Hoopes punt. Diving in front of several Redskin pursuers was Benny Barnes, who reached in and slapped the ball down the field and away from the crowd.
Barnes’ lunging act worked like a charm, as the ball bounced and rolled directly to Hughes at the 16-yard line. Moments later Roger Staubach’s scoring run provided the Cowboys with a lead they would not relinquish. So it happened that as a footnote inside a jubilant Dallas postgame locker room, Hughes and Barnes were rewarded for their efforts when they split the Headhunter award.