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'Best team ever assembled': As Dallas ISD prepares for its first championship since 1958, memories of Dallas Carter's 1988 season remain

Dallas remembers this team, but the record books don’t
Players on the 1988 Carter High School State championship football team consider theirs to be one of the best squads ever, even though the team later had to surrender the title.

DALLAS — As South Oak Cliff heads to the 5A state championships this weekend, many in Dallas are celebrating, but it’s also reminding a lot of people of David W. Carter High School, commonly referred to as Dallas Carter.

If SOC wins Saturday morning, it would officially be the first Dallas Independent School District team to win a state championship since 1958. Unofficially, they would be the second team to do so, after the Dallas Carter Cowboys beat Converse Judson at Texas Stadium 31-14 in 1988.

That team was, resoundingly, one of the best high school squads ever assembled.

“In my eyes, I'd say we were the best ever," defensive back Gary Edwards told WFAA in 2013. “Not just the best in Dallas or Texas, I would like to say we're the best team ever assembled.”

“Dallas Carter, 1988? That was one of the great teams,” former WFAA sports anchor Dale Hansen said in “What Carter Lost,” a 2017 ESPN documentary about the Cowboys’ 1988 season.

“The greatest high school football team that has ever been assembled. Ever,” TCU alum and former San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson said in the same documentary.

But that Dallas Carter team had its title stripped in 1990 after a Texas University Interscholastic League investigation determined Edwards should have been ruled ineligible to play during the Cowboys’ playoffs run because of an algebra II grade. Instead, his grades were changed to make him pass that class.

And then there were the armed robberies.

Over the course of one month in the spring of 1989, six Dallas Carter players, including Edwards and defensive back Derric Evans, were charged with committing a series of seven armed robberies in Dallas before being arrested. When the ensuing trial was over, Edwards was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Evans got 20 years. The others got anywhere between 13 to 25 years. Edwards served four years in prison. Evans served seven years.

The ensuing media cycle put Texas high school football in the national spotlight. 

“I think we in the media, we created an environment that Texas high school football players, if they don’t have it, they’re gonna take it. And I think we share in some of the responsibility for that a great deal, actually. We put ‘em on a pedestal, and then we wonder why they fall off,” Hansen said in “What Carter Lost.”

The huge amounts of devastation and loss experienced by Dallas Carter’s high school football program were only heightened by the UIL stripping the school’s state title not long after the sentencing. Aside from the Southern Methodist University "pay-for-play" scandal that resulted in the program's so-called "death penalty" in 1987, the tale of the rise and fall of Dallas Carter was arguably the biggest football story to come out of Dallas in the 1980s.

It’s a story that’s been re-told in Dallas over and over, and on the national stage, too: first in Buzz Bissinger’s book “Friday Night Lights,” which chronicles the Odessa-Permian Panthers’ 1988 season, which saw them defeated by Dallas Carter in the state semifinals; then in the 2004 film adaptation of Bissinger’s book, which arguably painted the Cowboys as more villainous than they actually were; then in “Carter High,” a 2015 film about the 1988 season from the Cowboys’ perspective; and finally, in “What Carter Lost.”

The documentary points out many inaccuracies in the ways the Dallas Carter story has been told over the years. For one, they beat Odessa-Permian in the state semifinals, not the championship. They weren’t a bunch of cheap-shot chop-blockers either, as the movie would suggest. Twenty-eight players on the 1988 team got collegiate football scholarships. Of those 28, eight would go on to the NFL, including linebacker Jessie Armstead. And none of the players convicted in the robberies were ever charged with another crime again.

“Right now to this day, we're still talking about that class,” 1988 Carter quarterback Robert Hall told WFAA in 2013, when he was an assistant coach at Mesquite Horn. “We try to tell our young kids now, the decisions you make are going to affect you a long time.”

While the official record books won’t remember the 1988 Carter Cowboys, Dallas definitely does, and continues to tell the team’s story. And whether SOC wins or loses Saturday morning against Liberty Hill, Dallas ISD will always have an unofficial state championship.

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