The Cowboys weren’t the only team to pass on Joe Montana in 1979. He was, after all, the 82nd overall pick that year.
But according to the system devised by Tex Schramm, Tom Landry and Gil Brandt, the Cowboys took the best player on their draft board regardless of position. With 76th overall pick that year, the Cowboys had Montana at the top of their draft board.
They also had Roger Staubach, Danny White and Glenn Carano already on their roster at the position.
Greg Aiello, who retired from the NFL last month after serving as the league’s senior vice president in charge of communications, was in his first month working for the Cowboys when Dallas passed on Montana.
“I’m wide-eyed and in the draft room,” Aiello told Clark Judge of The Talk of Fame Network, “and I was a graduate of Note Dame. So I had a particular interest as we got into the third round — and our pick was coming up — in the guy at the top of our board, Joe Montana. I was curious what we were going to do.
“. . . Nobody, of course, knew that Joe Montana was going to become one of the all-time greats and a Pro Football Hall of Famer or he would have been already taken before the third round. Nevertheless, here we are. Here’s our pick, and there’s Joe Montana’s name at the top. And I remember Tom Landry saying, ‘Well, we have three quarterbacks better than him right now.’ In other words, why would we want to take him? He was talking about Roger Staubach, who was about to go into his final season, but nobody knew that, and he was 37 at that point and was a young 37 because he spent four years in the Navy before he started the NFL. The backup quarterback was Danny White, and the third quarterback was Glenn Carano, who’s best known now for being the father of the great mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano, but at that time, he was a second-round pick of the Cowboys in 1977 out of UNLV, and the Cowboys didn’t know really what they had with him. He was a highly rated talented, a second-round pick, so in Tom Landry’s mind, we had three guys better than this guy ranked in the third round, Joe Montana. So [the Cowboys] took a pass and violated our own system and took the next guy on the board, who happened to be Doug Cosbie, who it would turn out was a very good pick. He was an outstanding tight end. Ironically, in the famous ‘Catch’ game, Doug Cosbie caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Danny White in the fourth quarter to put us up 27-21, and it looked like we were about to win that game. Unfortunately, we know what happened. Two teams and two quarterbacks went in different directions as a result of that game.”
Landry made the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, but his decision that day proves even the best get it wrong every now and again. It also again shows just how hard it is to evaluate quarterbacks, something that hasn’t gotten easier over the years.