Free Agent Running Back Doug Dennison Brought Toughness to Cowboys’ Offense in the Mid-70s

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys

Pennsylvania native Doug Dennison (#21) played for the Cowboys from 1974 through 1978, leading the team in rushing in 1976 and scoring 21 touchdowns (two in the post-season) in his Cowboys’ career.

With star tailback Calvin Hill one year away from free agency and with veteran stalwart fullback Walt Garrison a year from retirement, the Dallas Cowboys used the second round of the 1974 NFL draft to select running back Charley Young from North Carolina State.  Young was not the only first year back who made the Cowboys roster in 1974, but the rookie who joined Young in the Cowboys’ running back stable joined the team with much less fanfare.

Free agent Doug Dennison, who turns 65 years old today, signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent out of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and battled his way onto the Cowboys’ squad.  Lancaster, Pennsylvania native Dennison would play five years for the Cowboys, leading the team in rushing in 1976 and showing a toughness that was (and stil is) typical of players from the Keystone State.

Dennison’s first year got off to a somewhat rocky start.  After he scored his first NFL touchdown to give Dallas a lead at Philadelphia, Dennison fumbled as he was about to go into the endzone again with the Eagles’ Joe Lavender returning the miscue 96 yards for an Eagels’ score. The 14 point swing was a big factor in the Eagles’ 13-10 upset win.

The free agent back carried the ball only 16 times in his rookie year, but showed a nose for the goal line as he scored four touchdowns (including two in a week 14 game at Oakland).  With Hill and Garrison leaving Dallas following the season, Dennison would see his role on the team expand in 1975.

The Cowboys’ 1975 team was among the NFL’s best on offense, with Dennison, Robert Newhouse and new Cowboy Preston Pearson sharing the ball carrying duties. Dennison and Pearson shared the halfback job, with Dennison rushing for 383 yards and scoring seven touchdowns in the season.  His biggest game of the year came in a week nine contest at Texas Stadium against Philadelphia as he ran for 65 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown in Dallas’ 27-17 win.  In the Cowboys’ divisional playoff game at Minnesota, Dennison’s four yard third quarter touchdown evened the score at 7-7 and helped set the stage for the Hail Mary pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson that would give the Cowboys one of their best wins ever.

Dennison’s 542 yards rushing led the division winning 11-3 Cowboys’ team in 1976.  The tough running back picked up a career high 76 yards and scored a touchdown in Dallas’ final game of the year against arch-rival Washington.

The 1977 campaign brought another Pennsylvanian to the Cowboys’ backfield, as future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett joined a soon to be World Championship team. Dorsett’s emergence cut into Dennison’s time in the backfield, but the veteran was a key part of the Cowboys’ special teams.   Dennison did rush for 40 yards and a score in the Cowboys’ 37-7 rout of the Chicago Bears in the first round of the playoffs.

The 1978 season would be Dennison’s last in Dallas. He gained 75 yards in 14 carries with one touchdown over five games played, but suffered knee injury that limited his effectiveness. He was released prior to the season.

There have been more talented running backs than Dennison in the Cowboys’ history, but there probably haven’t been too many that were tougher.  Dennison was lauded by teammates as being a hard worker and by Coach Tom Landry in the team’s 1979 Media Guide as being of great character.  Happy 65th birthday to a player who left it all on the field during his five year career with the Cowboys.




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