PRO: Dat Nguyen (pronounced WIN) has been overcoming long odds his entire life. The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Nguyen has battled the perception that he was too small to play football for as long as he has been involved in the game. He began proving critics wrong at an early age, and he proceeded to leave Texas A&M as the Aggies career record holder for starts (51 consecutive), tackles (517) and tackles-per-game average (10.1). Despite such an illustrious collegiate career, the "undersized" criticism was still heard from NFL personnel. The Cowboys went ahead and drafted the most productive linebacker in Texas A&M history in the third round (85th overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft. Nguyen made an impact with the Cowboys from the very beginning, leading the team in special teams stops as a rookie and becoming Dallas's starting middle linebacker in his second professional season. In 2001, he completed his first full season as a starting NFL middle linebacker and silenced the critics by recording the second highest single-season tackle total in Cowboys history. Since taking over the middle of the Cowboys defense five years ago, Dallas has finished with one of the top four defensive units in the league twice, including the top ranked unit in 2003. Nguyen's keen football instincts give him an uncanny ability to be around the ball, as he has led or tied for the team lead in tackles 35 times in his 61 starts, while his speed and quickness allow him to string plays wide while plugging up holes and creases. After paying his dues and earning his spot in the middle of the Dallas defense, Nguyen was selected defensive team captain in 2004 and has displayed the work ethic and leadership skills that will continue to guide one of the NFL's youngest and most rapidly improving defenses for years to come.
2004: Nguyen continued his solid play quarterbacking the defense as he led the team with 135 tackles - the third time in four years he has led the team and recorded 100-or-more tackles. His performance made him the first player to lead the team in tackles in back-to-back seasons since Ken Norton in 1992-93. Ngyuen led or tied for the team lead in tackles eight times. In the season opener at Minnesota (9/12), he led the team with 10 tackles before picking up six tackles - tied for second on the team - and recorded his fourth career interception in the home opener against Cleveland (9/19). He posted seven tackles at Washington (9/27) and led the team with 13 tackles while adding a forced fumble against the N.Y. Giants (10/10). Nguyen finished second on the team with 10 tackles and added a pressure against Pittsburgh (10/17) before leading the team with 10 tackles at Green Bay (10/24). He recorded three tackles against Detroit (10/31) as the Lions were held to just 39 rushing yards. He notched his fourth double-digit tackle game in five weeks with 11 stops - one for a loss - at Cincinnati (11/7). At Baltimore (11/21), Nguyen tied for the team lead with nine tackles as the Ravens were held to a 2.8 yard-per-carry average with 59 yards on 21 rushes. He picked off his second pass of the season, recorded four tackles and helped limit Chicago (11/25) to 49 rushing yards on 20 carries (2.5 avg.) and 140 total yards in the Thanksgiving Day showdown. In Dallas's come-from-behind Monday night win at Seattle (12/6), he finished fourth with seven tackles - one for a loss - and recovered a Shaun Alexander fumble that set up a Dallas touchdown. He led the team with a season-high 14 stops while limiting Duece McAllister to a 2.8-yard average against New Orleans (12/12). He tied for the team lead with eight tackles and picked up his only sack of the season with an eight-yard takedown of Donovan McNabb at Philadelphia (12/19). Against Washington (12/26), Nguyen finished second with seven stops. In the season finale at the N.Y. Giants (1/2/05), Nguyen led the team with 12 tackles while recording his career-high third interception of the season.
2003: Nguyen helped guide the Cowboys defense to the league's top ranking by posting a team-high 140 tackles, the second highest tackle total of his career (172 in 2001). He also led the club in tackles behind the line of scrimmage (career-high tying nine) while finishing third in passes defensed (career-high 11) and tied for fourth in quarterback pressures (career-high 10), earning him second team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press. He also forced and recovered a career-high two fumbles. For the year, Nguyen led or tied for the team lead in tackles 11 times in 17 games. In the Monday night overtime win at the N.Y. Giants (9/15), he tied for second on the team with five stops, including one for a loss, and added his first career fumble recovery. At the N.Y. Jets (9/28), he tied for the team lead with 12 stops while helping limit the Jets running game to a 2.5 yard-per-carry average. He again tied for the team lead with eight stops against Arizona (10/5) while contributing a tackle for a loss and two pressures. Against Philadelphia (10/12), Nguyen totaled a team-high 10 tackles. At Detroit (10/19), he was second on the squad with six tackles while breaking up a career-high four passes and forcing a fumble. At Tampa Bay (10/26), he led the team with a season-high 15 stops while helping limit the Bucs to 133 net passing yards. He was second on the squad against Washington (11/2) with six tackles while recording his second sack of the season. At Buffalo (11/9), he tied for the team lead with eight tackles and registered a career-high three pressures while recovering a Bledsoe fumble at the Cowboys 30-yard line to end a potential scoring threat. At New England (11/16), he again led the team with 11 tackles while posting a tackle for a loss and two pass deflections as the Patriots were limited to 65 rushing yards. In the win against Carolina (11/23), he recorded a team-high eight tackles, including two stops of Stephen Davis behind the line of scrimmage. His play helped limit Davis to just 59 yards on 26 carries (2.3 avg.). Nguyen tallied nine tackles and a tackle for a loss against Miami (11/27) on Thanksgiving Day before tying for the team lead with seven tackles and a pass defensed at Philadelphia (12/7). In the win at Washington (12/14), his team leading 12 tackles helped limit the Redskins to 161 total yards. He also forced a Redskins fumble that Darren Woodson recovered. Nguyen tied for the team lead with 11 stops, including a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, against the N.Y. Giants (12/21). In the season finale at New Orleans (12/28), he posted a team-high tying eight tackles, two pressures, a tackle for a loss and a pass deflection while helping limit Deuce McAllister, the NFC's second leading rusher, to 49 yards on 21 carries (2.3 avg.). He recorded a postseason career-high 10 tackles in the Cowboys NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Carolina (1/3/04).
2002: The Cowboys defense opened the season with extremely high expectations for the starting linebacking trio of Dat Nguyen (middle linebacker), Dexter Coakley (weakside) and newcomer Kevin Hardy (strongside). That trio was dealt a serious blow in the season opener at Houston (9/8) when Nguyen suffered a broken wrist that forced him to miss the next eight games. Despite his injury, Nguyen finished the Texans game with a team-high 11 tackles while adding a sack and a tackle for a loss. Following surgery and a two month rehabilitation period, Nguyen returned to practice following the Detroit game (11/3) and assumed his starting spot in the middle of the Cowboys defense at Indianapolis (11/17), finishing as the club's third leading tackler with 11 stops, including one for a loss. In the following week's win over Jacksonville (11/24), he had six tackles. In the Thanksgiving Day win over Washington (11/28), Nguyen led all Dallas defenders with 13 stops, two of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Nguyen also played a key role in a defensive effort that helped hold Stephen Davis to 51 yards on 20 carries (2.6 avg.) while allowing just 121 second half yards on eight Redskins possessions. He was second on the team in tackles in consecutive losses to San Francisco (12/8) with 12 stops and New York (12/15) with eight. In the Saturday night loss to the Eagles (12/21), Nguyen tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. In the season ending loss at Washington (12/29), he had 10 tackles and a key quarterback pressure that led to a Roy Williams interception, which was returned 85 yards for a second quarter touchdown. Nguyen finished the year by collecting 70 tackles in the final seven games after returning from the injured wrist. He was named by his teammates as the club's 2002 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award for his battle back from the wrist surgery.
2001: Nguyen, a key component in the Cowboys dramatic turnaround on defense in 2001, led Dallas in tackles with 172 - a figure that (at the time) was second on the Cowboys all-time list behind Eugene Lockhart's 222 tackles in 1989. Nguyen's tackle total ranked seventh in the NFL for 2001. He led or tied for the team lead in tackles 11 times, while registering double-figure tackle totals in 11 games. His nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage also tied for the team lead. Nguyen's efforts helped the Cowboys defense earn a fourth overall NFL ranking by allowing just 287.4 yards-per-game. In 2001, the Cowboys allowed 1,710 rushing yards, a figure that was 927 fewer yards than the club allowed during the 2000 season. Those numbers represented the largest turnaround by any defensive unit in the NFL in 2001. Nguyen opened the season with a then career-high 15 tackles against Tampa Bay (9/9). Nguyen's efforts helped limit the Bucs running game to 71 yards on 33 carries (2.2 avg.), including 22 carries for 56 yards by Warrick Dunn. Against San Diego (9/23), he tied for the team lead in tackles with nine and recorded two tackles for a loss - while helping hold LaDainian Tomlinson to a 3.3-yard average on 27 carries. At Philadelphia (9/30), Nguyen tied for the team lead with 10 tackles despite dislocating the ring finger on his right hand during the game. He underwent surgery to insert a pin in the finger on Oct. 1. At Oakland (10/7), he finished third on the team with eight tackles despite playing with a cast on his right hand. In the Cowboys win over Washington (10/15), Nguyen led the team with 11 tackles, helping limit the Redskins to 226 total yards. In the win over Arizona (10/28), he led the team with 13 stops while helping limit the Cards to 75 rushing yards. He added a team-high 11 tackles in the overtime loss at the Giants (11/4). He again led the team in tackles at Atlanta (11/11) with 14, as the Falcons were limited to 201 total yards. He logged a team-high 14 tackles in the loss to Philadelphia (11/18), while helping hold the Eagles to 227 total yards, 100 yards below their season average. On Thanksgiving Day against Denver (11/22), Nguyen again led the team in tackles, this time with a career-high 16 stops. In Dallas's win at Washington (12/2), he tied for the team lead in tackles with eight and helped limit Stephen Davis, the NFC's third leading rusher entering the game, to 53 yards on 17 carries. In the Cowboys surprising 27-21 win over playoff bound San Francisco (12/30), Nguyen led Dallas with 10 tackles and added two quarterback pressures as the NFL's second ranked running game (146 yards-per-game) was limited to 56 yards.
2000: Nguyen opened the season as the Cowboys starting middle linebacker and, despite missing six games due to injury, finished the year with 64 tackles, four stops behind the line of scrimmage, four passes defensed and two interceptions. In his first professional start, he posted eight tackles and intercepted a pass, which he returned 24 yards against Philadelphia (9/3). At Arizona (9/10), he led the team with 12 tackles despite being slowed and missing playing time with a sprained MCL in his left knee. His knee sprain forced him to miss the next three games. He returned to action at the N.Y. Giants (10/15) and tallied seven stops, one behind the line of scrimmage, before suffering a strained neck in the fourth quarter that forced him from the game. He missed the next three games due to the neck strain, returning to action against Cincinnati (11/12). He saw action against the Bengals at middle linebacker in passing situations and recorded his second interception of the season. Nguyen posted four stops in spot play at Baltimore (11/19) before finishing fifth on the team with eight tackles at Tampa Bay (12/3) despite not starting. He was second on the team with seven tackles against Washington (12/10) while seeing considerable playing time off the bench. His effort against the Redskins helped limit Stephen Davis, the NFC's second-leading rusher, to 57 yards. He returned to the starting lineup against the N.Y. Giants (12/17) and tied for third on the team with 10 stops. He closed out the season at Tennessee (12/25) tying for third on the club with seven stops in his second consecutive start.
1999: Nguyen made an immediate impact as a rookie with his stellar special teams play and solid performance as a nickel middle linebacker. He finished the season as the Cowboys leading special teams tackler with 18 stops, recording at least one special teams tackle in 12-of-17 games (including postseason) and earning All-Rookie honors for his special teams play. On defense, he had 34 tackles, five tackles for lost yardage, one sack, one interception and a forced fumble. In his first professional game, at Washington (9/12), Nguyen led the Cowboys with three special teams tackles. He also recovered a key fourth quarter on-side kick that helped the Cowboys overcome a 21-point deficit in a game that was won by Dallas in overtime. The following week against Atlanta (9/20), he recorded his first career tackle at middle linebacker in a nickel passing situation. Against Arizona (10/3), Nguyen tied for the team lead among linebackers with a season-high five tackles, including one for a three-yard loss on a screen pass. He also recorded his first career interception with a fourth quarter pick of Jake Plummer. Two weeks later at the N.Y. Giants (10/18), he equaled his season-high with five tackles while playing middle linebacker in nickel situations. Nguyen recorded his first career sack at Indianapolis (10/31) when he brought down Peyton Manning for a 13-yard loss on first-and-goal from the Dallas three-yard line. He also tied for the team lead with three special teams stops against the Colts. In the Monday night loss at Minnesota (11/8), Nguyen tied for the team lead with two special teams tackles while also forcing a fumble on a second quarter kickoff return that Charlie Williams recovered at the Vikings 24-yard line to set up the second Dallas touchdown. At New Orleans (12/24), he recorded four tackles and had a tackle for a 12-yard loss. In the season finale against the N.Y. Giants (1/2/00), Nguyen took over at middle linebacker in the second half for Randall Godfrey (back stiffness) and went on to tie his season-high tackle total with five while helping limit the Giants to 74 rushing yards. In the playoff loss at Minnesota (1/9/00), Nguyen broke up two passes and recorded three tackles.
COLLEGE: Following his senior season, Nguyen was one of the nation's most decorated collegiate players, earning All-America honors from Walter Camp, The Sports Network, The Sporting News, Burger King/AFCA, Football News and College Football News. The National and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, he also won the Lombardi Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award, while being a finalist for the Dick Butkus and Sullivan Awards. Nguyen was also named the Dallas Morning News Big 12 Male Athlete of the Year. He finished his senior season with a career-high 147 tackles, becoming the first player in school history to lead Texas A&M in tackles four straight seasons. He also added 20 tackles for losses, four sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. He closed his collegiate career with A&M records for consecutive starts (51), tackles (517) and tackles-per-game (10.1). As a junior, he was an All-Big 12 first-team selection and the team MVP. He was also an All-Big 12 first-team selection as a sophomore. In 1995, Nguyen was named Southwest Conference Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a redshirt freshman.
PERSONAL: Nguyen was a consensus Texas Top 100 linebacker following his prep career at Rockport-Fulton High School in Rockport, Texas. He earned district 30-3A Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior after tallying 188 tackles. He also earned Class 3A second-team all-state honors as a punter. Nguyen graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in agricultural development in August 1998 and took post-graduate classes during his senior football season. Since joining the Cowboys, he has taken an active volunteer role in the Dallas community. Most recently in 2005, he kept busy with the Tarrant County Asian American Chamber of Commerce College Day as the keynote speaker addressing the importance of higher education for Asian American young people; the Vietnamese Spring Gala as an honored guest supporting Asian Americans; the Relay for Life at Southern Methodist University as the guest speaker for the SMU Volunteers for the event; strutting the catwalk as a model in the St. Valentine's Style Show and Luncheon which is one of the largest fundraisers in Dallas benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; participating in teammate Terence Newman's Golf Tournament for Arthritis, a fundraising tournament for Arthritis research, and serving as a guest speaker at the 5th Annual Mosiac Gala for the youth honorees - the event is sponsoring Mosiac Family Services and Tsunami Victims. During the 2004 offseason, Nguyen served as the keynote speaker for the State Fair of Texas Scholarship Luncheon, attended Racing Against the Odds charity event hosted by Dallas sports writer and radio personality, Randy Galloway, which benefited the American Diabetes Association and attended the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Muscle Team Bash hosted by former Cowboy Daryl Johnston. He also traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Vietnamese American National Gala where he was one of six "Golden Torch" award recipients for his distinguished achievements in professional football and service in the community. During the 2002 season, Nguyen and his wife, Becky, served as guest participants at the Cowboys annual NFL 201 Football Workshop benefiting The Salvation Army. He annually participates as a celebrity football coach for the club's annual Dallas Cowboys Let Us Play! Sports Camp for Girls. Coach Nguyen led his group to mock "Super Bowl" victories in 2001 and 2002. In 2001, he took part in the Linebacker's Blitz Hunger at The Salvation Army as part of the Hams for the Holiday program, where players distributed hams to needy families. The Dallas Cowboys Salvation Army Angel Tree program, which provides clothing and toys to underprivileged children, the Children's Cancer Fund Fashion Show and Luncheon annually co-chaired by Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach and the Dallas Race for the Cure benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research are charity events that the Nguyen's support. Dat and Becky have one daughter, Aubrey Mai (6/26/03).