|1996 Dallas Cowboys season|
|Head coach||Barry Switzer|
|Home field||Texas Stadium|
|Division place||1st NFC East|
|Playoff finish||Won NFC Wild Card Playoff (Vikings) 40–15|
Lost NFC Divisional Playoff (at Panthers) 17-26
The 1996 Dallas Cowboys season was the franchise's 37th season in the National Football League and was the third year under head coach Barry Switzer. Following their victory in Super Bowl XXX, the Cowboys endured a rough year failing to improve their 12-4 record from 1995 but still reached the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Star receiver Michael Irvin was suspended by the league for the first five games and before the playoffs were accused with lineman Erik Williams of sexual assault. Controversy also took place when writer Skip Bayless published a scathing account of the Cowboys' 1995 season. Longtime trainer Mike Woicik also left the team after the season following a sideline dispute with coach Barry Switzer although Woicik returned in 2011.
This season would be the last season the Cowboys won a playoff game until 2009, and since their Super Bowl win the previous season, the Cowboys never made it past the divisional round as of 2018.
|1996 Dallas Cowboys draft|
|2||37||Kavika Pittman||Defensive end||McNeese State|
|3||67||Clay Shiver||Center||Florida State|
|3||94||Stepfret Williams||Wide Receiver||Louisiana–Monroe|
|3||95||Mike Ulufale||Defensive end||BYU|
|5||157||Kenneth McDaniel||Defensive back||Norfolk State|
|7||243||Ryan Wood||Running back||Arizona State|
|Pro Football Hall of Fame Made at least one Pro Bowl during careerMade roster|
Against the Chicago Bears in week one, running back Emmitt Smith would leave the game late with an injury that left him temporarily paralyzed. Though not career-threatening, Smith's injury would hamper his effectiveness for the duration of the season. Adding to their difficulties, star wide receiver Michael Irvin would be suspended for the first five games due his highly publicized off-season incidents. Star cornerback Deion Sanders would be the first player in the modern era of the NFL to start several games on both offense and defense. Charles Haley, a major defensive force for the Cowboys during the prior four seasons, missed most of the 1996 season with injury. Tight End Jay Novacek, a key offensive threat in recent seasons, missed the entire season due to an injury.
After losing three of their first four games, the team would return to form, winning three straight before defeating former head coach Jimmy Johnson, then head coach of the Miami Dolphins on the way to their fifth consecutive NFC East title. Although Dallas still moved the ball well on offense, they had serious late-season trouble scoring touchdowns (ultimately finishing just 25th in the league in points scored). They won games with Green Bay (21-6) and New England (12-6) (the season's eventual Super Bowl participants) without scoring a touchdown (seven field goals against Green Bay and four against New England); Dallas' defense finished third in the league in fewest points allowed.
The season would also see the return of former Cowboy Herschel Walker who added versatility as both a running back and kick off returner. Walker had ten carries for 83 yards and a touchdown and 27 kick returns for 779 yards.
The game of the year came on November 10 at San Francisco. The Cowboys stood at 5–4 with the Niners at 7–2; the Niners had won three straight meetings with the Cowboys since Barry Switzer was hired as head coach. Sacks by Broderick Thomas and Jim Schwantz knocked Niners quarterback Steve Young out of the game and Elvis Grbac, who'd shredded the Cowboys defense the previous year, came on, and after the Niners blew a 10–0 lead they took a 17–10 lead with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys drove to the Niners redzone but Aikman was picked off in the endzone by Marquez Pope with 6:30 to go. Grbac, however, was intercepted at his six-yard line on the ensuing play by Fred Strickland, and three plays later Aikman connected with Eric Bjornson for the tying touchdown. In the overtime a big Emmitt Smith run set up Chris Boniol's winning field goal. With the win combined with a Redskins loss to Arizona, the Cowboys surged to win the NFC East.
After defeating the Minnesota Vikings 40-15 in the first round of the playoffs at Texas Stadium (which was, until 2009, their last playoff win), the Cowboys would travel to Charlotte, North Carolina and lose to the second year Carolina Panthers, who'd won the NFC West at 12–4 in their second ever season. Star receiver Michael Irvin was injured in the opening moments of the Carolina playoff game. Deion Sanders was also injured and had to leave as well.
The Cowboys' win over the 49ers ended a curious decade-long losing streak in Week 10 games (this included an 0–3 record in week 10 games during World Championship seasons). Also, with the win against the Miami Dolphins at Joe Robbie Stadium, this was the first time the Cowboys franchise won a football game in South Florida. During this period of futility, the Cowboys lost three Super Bowls in the Orange Bowl by a total of 11 points and lost twice to the Miami Dolphins in 1978 (23 to 16, also in a week 10 game) and in 1984 (28 to 21).
|Opponent||Result||TV Time (CT)||TV Announcers||Notes||Attendance|
|at Chicago Bears||6||22||L||ABC 8:00PM||Al Michaels, Frank Gifford & Dan Dierdorf||Emmitt Smith injured|
|New York Giants||27||0||W||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Giants held to 105 total yards|
|Indianapolis Colts||24||25||L||NBC 3:00PM||Dick Enberg, Paul Maguire & Phil Simms||Last second 57-yard FGA by Chris Boniol bounced off the crossbar|
|at Buffalo Bills||7||10||L||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Troy Aikman sacked by Bruce Smith and suffered ankle injury|
|at Philadelphia Eagles||23||19||W||ABC 8:00PM||Al Michaels, Frank Gifford & Dan Dierdorf||Cowboys intercepted two Eagles passes|
|Arizona Cardinals||17||3||W||FOX 12:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Michael Irvin returned from suspension|
|Atlanta Falcons||32||28||W||FOX 12:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Irvin had seven catches for 119 yards|
|at Miami Dolphins||29||10||W||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||First meeting between Cowboys and former coach Jimmy Johnson|
|Philadelphia Eagles||21||31||L||FOX 12:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Eagles won despite 12 penalties|
|at San Francisco 49ers||20||17||W||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||First win over 49ers since 1993 playoffs|
|Green Bay Packers||21||6||W||ABC 8:00PM||Al Michaels, Frank Gifford & Dan Dierdorf||Chris Boniol tied a then NFL Record with 7 field goals in one game.|
|at New York Giants||6||20||L||FOX 3:00PM||Dick Stockton & Matt Millen||Troy Aikman intercepted twice|
|Washington Redskins||21||10||W||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Emmitt Smith's 155 yards accounted for over half of Dallas' 247 total yards|
|at Arizona Cardinals||10||6||W||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Michael Irvin posted his highest receiving yardage of the season (198 with a touchdown)|
|New England Patriots||12||6||W||NBC 12:00PM||Marv Albert, Randy Cross & Sam Wyche||Win clinched NFC East|
|at Washington Redskins||10||37||L||FOX 3:00PM||Pat Summerall & John Madden||Final game at RFK Stadium; Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith did not play|
|(3) Dallas Cowboys||10||6||0||.625||286||250||L1|
|(5) Philadelphia Eagles||10||6||0||.625||363||341||W2|
|New York Giants||6||10||0||.375||242||297||L2|
|Dallas Cowboys 1996 roster|
Rookies in italics