Cowboys Champions: Russell Maryland
It’s not every day that a 300-pound defensive tackle is taken with the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft. But that’s what circumstances compelled the Dallas Cowboys to do on Draft day 1991, as they selected Miami Hurricanes lineman Russell Maryland to begin one of the franchise’s most impressive classes that helped turn the Cowboys from pretentious contenders to Super Bowl champions.
Dallas had traded up to the No. 1 spot with New England in the hopes of luring Notre Dame standout wide receiver Raghib Ismail away from the Canadian Football League. That plan fell to pieces when Ismail insisted that he was signing with the Toronto Argonauts, leaving head coach Jimmy Johnson mulling over his remaining options.
Rather than trade down, Johnson used the top pick on Maryland, a consensus All-American and Outland Trophy award winner as the national’s best collegiate defensive lineman in 1990. Having coached him for two years at Miami, Johnson felt comfortable making the pick, and anticipated that Maryland would make a quick, smooth transition into the NFL. As was often the case in those days, Johnson’s projection soon turned into a golden reality. Maryland cracked the starting lineup by the tenth game of his rookie season, finishing with 4.5 sacks while helping the Cowboys finish No. 8 in run defense and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Maryland was a key contributor on early downs to one of the deepest line rotations in NFL history. Maryland, along with the likes of Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Tony Casillas, Jim Jeffcoat, Jimmie Jones, Daniel Stubbs, and Chad Hennings, helped the Dallas defense finish No. 1 overall in 1992. During a Week 17 victory over Chicago at Texas Stadium, Maryland scooped up a fumble by Bears running back Darrin Lewis and scooted 26 yards for his first and only NFL touchdown. Two weeks later, Maryland provided the Dallas faithful with a few more thrills during a divisional playoff conquest of Philadelphia by twice sacking Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.
After upsetting San Francisco in the NFC Championship, Maryland and the Dallas defense took Buffalo apart at the seams in Super Bowl XXVII, forcing nine turnovers in the Cowboys’ 52-17 romp.
Maryland’s third season in Dallas proved to be his finest individually. While tallying a career-high 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks that earned him a Pro Bowl berth, Maryland assisted the Cowboys in another championship season. Only seven days after notching a sack of Steve Young in another NFC Championship beatdown of the 49ers, Maryland earned his second ring as Dallas ran away from the Bills in the second half 30-13.
On a No. 1 ranked defense that allowed a league-low 86 first-downs over the course of the regular season, Maryland quietly enjoyed another solid campaign in 1994. In his first season as the Cowboys’ starting left defensive tackle (Tony Casillas had signed with Kansas City in free agency), Maryland posted 3 sacks and a fumble recovery on another Dallas team that landed in San Francisco for the NFC Title Game. Maryland could only muster one tackle, which is more than can be said for a Dallas offense which committed five turnovers that resulted in a 38-28 Cowboy defeat.
Maryland’s fifth and final season in Dallas was one of mixed results. Playing on a defensive unit that had been depleted through the avenue of free agency in recent years, Maryland played more snaps in 1995 than at any other point during his NFL career. But despite missing three games with injury, Maryland’s big frame proved invaluable in the postseason, as the Cowboys followed up a whipping of Philadelphia with conquests of first Green Bay and then Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX.