Many great players have worn the Dallas Cowboys uniform with pride and distinction during the teams glorious 50 year history. None however, can lay claim to the ultimate team nickname, “Mr. Cowboy” save one, the great Bob Lilly.
Though there are many current and former Cowboys who deserve their due recognition for helping the Dallas Cowboys become and maintain the title of “America’s Team”, a strong case can be made that if not for Bob Lilly, it may have never happened.
Bob Lilly is considered by most fans to be the best Defensive Tackle in Cowboy history. A fact that cannot be disputed.
That said, it’s only a small part of Lilly’s amazing legacy and the impact he made on a young franchise that would soon become one of the juggernauts of the NFL.
Bob Lilly was born in 1939 and went to Texas Christian University where he became a star defensive end and was named to the All-America team. As part of this honor he received a camera as one of his awards, a gift that would surely impact the rest of his life.
In 1961 Bob was drafted with first overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys, thus becoming the first ever draft pick in franchise history. He would not disappoint.
Though he was originally drafted as a defensive end, in his third year with the Cowboys, coach Tom Landry switched his position to defensive tackle where he would become one of the best at his position in the NFL for many years to come.
“The competition is what I love,” Lilly once said. “That makes me a lot more intense. Personalities don’t enter into it at all. My objective is to get the man with the ball. Nobody better get in my way.”
Lilly was a punishing defender and his tough demeanor and sheer determination made him the undisputed leader of the Cowboys’ famous “Doomsday Defense’. Lilly was so unstoppable, that he was regularly double and triple teamed for the majority of his career.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl a then record 11 times between 1962 and 1973, and Lilly was also a seven time first team All Pro selection.
During his long 14 year Hall of Fame career he was as durable as they came missing only one game to a leg injury.
Lilly was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility, and was the first player who spent his entire career with the Cowboys to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He is a member of the All Century Team and in 1999 was ranked number 10 on the “100 Greatest Football Players” by the Sporting News. Sports Illustrated calls him the greatest Defensive Tackle in NFL history.
In addition to being the Cowboys’ first ever draft pick, when all was said and done, “Mr. Cowboy” would also become the first player ever to be inducted into the “Ring of Honor”. He is the only Dallas Cowboy to wear the #74, and is the only number unofficially retired by the team.
“A man like that comes along once in a lifetime,” late Cowboys head coach Tom Landry once said. “He is something a little bit more than great. Nobody is better than Bob Lilly.”
A true iron man, Lilly is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in consecutive games played at 196, is tied for second with 14 seasons played and second all-time with 194 games started. Lilly led the Cowboys in sacks three consecutive years, beginning with his rookie season. No player ever to wear the Cowboys uniform was more deserving of the name Mr. Cowboy.