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"Shopping" for franchise bargains

The NFL draft, a game show?

OK, let’s pretend. We’ll ask Mel Kiper to host it (after all, he’s got perfect game-show host hair).

Each team — I mean, each contestant — receives a shopping cart and a fresh 60-second clock.

Doors fly open. Carts roll. Aisles are jammed with players previously drafted by each of the NFL teams, but you’re eligible to take only your own.

You find “Dallas Cowboys” — and are now free to grab as many previously drafted players (remember, Old ’Boys Club is a reflective series) as game clock and cart space allow.

You have 60 seconds and an empty cart, so you want to get the “most bang for your buck” with each selection.

Note: Lower picks take up less room. For example, choosing Roger Staubach will cost you less time and less cart space than.....say, plucking Troy Aikman off the shelves.

Aikman was a No. 1 pick overall; Staubach, a 10th-rounder (129th overall).

Ready? Set? Here are the past Cowboys picks I’m grabbing — and why: “First-round” aisle — Must hurry. Must stay focused. Must stuff all five Cowboys’ first-round Hall of Famers — Bob Lilly (’61), Randy White (’75), Tony Dorsett (’77), Michael Irvin (’88) and Aikman (’89) — into my cart.(Lilly is a real bargain in this group. Mr. Cowboy made 11 Pro Bowls as a 13th pick overall in the team’s first-ever NFL draft.)

Next ... Emmitt Smith (’90) — the NFL all-time leading rusher and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer — was a 17th pick overall. Grand larceny.

Next ... Ring of Honoree Lee Roy Jordan (’63) was dubbed by Tom Landry as the “best leader we ever had.” Grand larceny II.

“Seventh-round” aisle — It takes me only a nanosecond to grab Rayfield Wright (’67) and “Bullet Bob” Hayes (’64). One is a Hall of Famer; the other should be.

“10th-round” aisle — Can’t get Staubach (’64) into my cart fast enough. He’s arguably the “best bang for your buck” draft selection by the Cowboys — ever. It was well worth the five-year wait once Capt. Comeback joined the team in ’69.

“11th-round” aisle — Jethro Pugh (’65). Slam ... dunk. All this guy ever did was bring to the Cowboys class, style and five straight years of team leadership in sacks.

“Second-round” aisle — My cart is barely touching the floor when I get to Mel Renfro (’64) — a Hall of Famer who racked up 10 Pro Bowls in 14 Cowboys seasons.

Since I’m here, I’m taking future Hall of Famer Larry Allen (’94) and Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler Darren Woodson (’92).

Oh, what the heck ... Daryl “Moose” Johnston (’89). How can you go wrong with someone so Pro Bowl-worthy that the NFL created a separate entry (the “fullback” position) in the Pro Bowl selection process just for him?

“Fifth-round” aisle — On my way back to Aisle 1, I take a wrong turn — oops, and am glad I did. I pick up Walt Garrison (’66) because who didn’t love this guy? And Ron Springs (’77) ... because we all do still.

“Sixth-round” aisle — In goes George Andrie (’62), a five-time Pro Bowler who barely makes a dent in my cart. Super Saver.

“Third-round” aisle — Harvey Martin (’73) — co-Super Bowl MVP whose smile could light up a locker room — is a flat-out steal. Good guy. Great value. Grossly underrated player.

And while I’m here, I’m grabbing Danny White (’74), Tony Hill (’77) and Mark Stepnoski (’89). Bargain, bargain, bargain.“First-round” aisle (second pass) — Running ... out ... of ... breath. But you didn’t think I’d forget John Niland (’66) or Ed “Too Tall” Jones (’74), did you? I’m picking up DeMarcus Ware (’05) as well — my lone contemporary Cowboy.

Bzzzzzz. Time expires. OK, I’ve selected 25 players whom the Cowboys couldn’t have done without — while keeping with the “best bang for the buck” spirit of the game.

OK, your turn. What 25 previously drafted Cowboys players would you put in your cart?

I think I hear Mel Kiper saying now ... you’re on the clock.

Extra points

Gil Brandt was asked to name his “best” and “worst” of 28 NFL drafts (1961-88) with the Cowboys. (Note: The team had only an expansion draft in ’60.)

Brandt’s choice for “Best Cowboys Draft” — 1975

Easy. “The Randy White draft,” as Brandt calls it. The Cowboys had two first-round picks that year (sound familiar?) and selected a certain “Manster” from Maryland (second overall), then followed up with Langston linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson (18th).

Their next four picks were Burton Lawless, Bob Breunig, Pat Donovan and Randy Hughes.

“Hughes could’ve been a Pro Bowler,” Brandt said. “But he ended up with shoulder problems. Donovan was a defensive end at Stanford, but we saw his athletic ability and thought he might make a left (offensive) tackle.”

Sure enough, Donovan made the switch and represented Dallas in four trips to the Pro Bowl.

Laidlaw used his abilities on special teams to win over Landry. Late-round picks Rolly Woolsley made the team as a DB, Mitch Hoopes as a punter, and Michael Hegman as a Tennessee State linebacker, even though league officials tried to warn the Cowboys that Hegman was not eligible for the ’75 draft.

“We knew he was [eligible] — so we took him in the seventh round,” Brandt recalled. “We produced documents to show that Hegman went to Alabama State five years earlier.

“He was a ‘legal choice’ ... and a good one, at that.”

Buck’s choice of “Best Cowboys Draft” — 1964

It’s not my place to correct Gil Brandt. After all, he was the architect of these early Cowboys drafts.

But I told him that I thought his ’64 draft was his most impressive — if not his strangest.

That year, the Cowboys were prepared to draft Ohio State’s Paul Warfield. Warfield knew it. It was money in the bank. But then Landry changed his mind and wanted instead a veteran receiver, so he traded the team’s first-round pick to Pittsburgh for Buddy Dial.

(Warfield, for the record, went to Cleveland, then Miami, then ended up in Canton, Ohio.)

Yet, Brandt and the Cowboys still managed to parlay the ’64 draft into future HOFer Mel Renfro (second round, 17th overall), game-changing wide receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes (seventh round, 88th) and legendary Hall of Famer Roger Staubach (10th round, 129th).

Also drafted by the Cowboys was QB Jerry Rhome (13th round, 172nd).

Said Brandt: “Think how that draft would’ve looked with Warfield taken in there, too.”

Brandt’s choice of “Worst Cowboys Draft” — 1982

I think Gil is reading his press clippings on this one. He took more heat over the Cowboys’ first-round selection of Kentucky State cornerback/return man Rod Hill (26th overall) than any top pick he ever made.

Buck’s choice of “Worst Cowboys Draft” — 2000 and 2001 (tie)

Call it a dead heat (with the emphasis on “dead”) between a pair of seven-round drafts after Brandt was gone. Neither draft provided Larry Lacewell or the Cowboys with a first-round choice.

How did that Joey Galloway trade work out, anyhow?

Cowboys’ top pick in 2000: Dwayne Goodrich (second round, 49th overall), followed by Kareem Larrimore, Michael Wiley, Mario Edwards and Orantes Grant.

Cowboys’ top pick in 2001: Quincy Carter (second round, 53rd), followed by Tony Dixon, Willie Blade, Markus Steele, Matt Lehr, Daleroy Stewart, Colston Weatherington, John Nix and Char-Ron Dorsey.

Memo to Brandt: Rod Hill doesn’t look so bad, after all.