Dan Reeves “The Unwanted Cowboy”
Daniel Edward Reeves was an unheralded quarterback out of South Carolina when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1965. The school-record holder in ten different passing categories when he was finished with college, Reeves landed in Dallas with little hope of becoming an NFL signal-caller. Buried beneath Don Meredith and Jerry Rhome on the depth chart, the Cowboys weren’t going to waste Reeves’ fine athletic ability by setting him down on the bench. Reeves, thought head coach Tom Landry, was a natural at the safety position.
His tenure in the defensive backfield was a short-lived one, however, as injuries depleted the Cowboys running back position during training camp, leaving Landry little alternative but to give Reeves a chance on offense. After serving in a limited role during his rookie season, Reeves became a star in 1966 when the team’s experiment with speedy All-Pro cornerback Mel Renfro at halfback fell through with a summer injury. Now a regular on offense, Reeves posted career highs with over 1,300 all-purpose yards and a combined 16 touchdowns. He followed that up the next year with another solid campaign, rushing for 603 yards, catching 39 passes, and totaling 11 touchdowns, and even landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November.
A severe knee injury in the early stages of 1968 caused him to miss the remainder of the season, and would be the reason Landry used him primarily as a situational player for the remainder of his career.
Perhaps his most memorable play as a professional, Reeves’ halfback pass to Lance Rentzel during the famed Ice Bowl against mighty Green Bay in the 1967 NFL Championship Game gave the Cowboys a brief 17-14 advantage in the second-half.
Though Reeves’ eight-year career in Dallas will always be defined by his strong will and tough play, Reeves also played a significant role in the franchises’s historic struggle to win “The Big One.” With Dallas trailing Green Bay by seven points during the final minute of the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl, Reeves was stopped a yard short of the goal line on first-down. After a false start backed the Dallas offense up five yards, quarterback Don Meredith found Reeves wide-open in the flat. What Meredith didn’t realize was that Reeves’ vision was blurred from the previous play, leading to a dropped pass. The Cowboys could not find a way to score thereafter.
And in Super Bowl V, a mysterious three-hour conundrum aptly rendered as “The Blooper Bowl,” Reeves put the finishing touches on a forgettable afternoon for the Cowboys, letting a pass go through his hands and into the waiting arms of a Baltimore defender, setting up Jim O’ Brien’s game-winning kick with five seconds left.
A year later in Super Bowl VI, Reeves accepted a reserve role, carrying only once for 7 yards, as the Cowboys rolled over the Miami Dolphins and into the NFL record book with a 24-3 victory. Along with teammate Mike Ditka, Reeves retired after the 1972 season to become a full-time assistant on Landry’s staff and would help the Cowboys win Super Bowl XII to close out the 1977 campaign.