As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I think I was anxiously cautious like most fans at the Super Bowl prospects of the team, but after the rapid descent of the team during the first eight games under Wade Phillips it became apparent that there was an institutional lack of accountability that had taken hold after the playoff win against the Eagles last year. Followed by a horrendous showing against the Vikings in the next playoff game, it appeared that the Cowboys had decided that one playoff win was enough for them and they would cruise into 2010 and everyone would bow down to the Star. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Arlington Palace, the team seemed to have read their own press clippings and the head coach appeared to be too scared or unwilling to create the necessary discipline needed to win the championship they felt was owed them.
Wade Phillips should have been fired after the Jacksonville game which in my mind, as a thirty-six year fan, was the most sorry display of Dallas Cowboy football I have ever seen. But it was the whitewashing at the hands of the Green Bay Packers (45-7) on national TV that made it clear that the season was clearly lost and a change had to happen immediately.
Enter Jason Garrett.
What followed was a week of practice in pads (hello Jimmy Johnson) and a very spirited defense of the Star against the New York Giants. The Cowboys competed for sixty minutes and walked away with a 33-20 win against the Giants in New York. You could see Tom Coughlin tell Garrett “well done” after the game. In one week of practice and preparation, Garrett let it be known that there was going to be a weekly competition for playing time and for a roster spot. The Cowboys had played the Giants only three weeks prior and for Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin to say that to Garrett speaks highly of Garrett and the immediate impact he had that week.
As the final eight games unfolded, it was John Kitna playing for an injured Tony Romo who lead the way to 3 more victories and a missed kick from sending the New Orleans Saints into overtime. They then played a spirited game against the Eagles in Dallas and lost by three.
The only argument against the final eight games took place during the Arizona game. There is absolutely no way they should have lost that game, but that game presented the opportunity for a new coach with an edge to prove that nothing should be taken for granted in the NFL. If the Browns can beat the Patriots, then the Cowboys can be beaten by anyone. It doesn’t matter that David Buehler missed an extra point to tie that game because the game should never have been put in his hands anyway. The Cowboys of Wade Phillips would have packed it in but the new look team showed up in Philly the next week and played a spirited game against the Eagles and won the game.
So here we are. Fans who have seen a 13-3 record and home field advantage flushed down the toilet; fans who have seen their team win a playoff game and then fold up like cheap suits the next week; fans who have seen a team go 1-7 and then find life with a new coach.
This question has to be raised-did the players buy in or did they realize that Garrett would put them on the next Train to Clarksville? I think the answer lies in the middle. I think the move to pads was necessary and I commented to my wife at the time of hearing that that we would see a different team and we did (she qualifies as a valid source for having put up with my ravings for the past twenty years). The turn around we saw the last eight games, I believe, was rooted in 53 guys wondering if they were going to get a paycheck the next eight weeks and the realization that they were not going to be around if they didn’t act like professionals and compete everyday. There are roughly 1600 players or so in the NFL and being able to play at that level is an honor and a privilege. Guaranteed money (signing bonuses and played game checks) has allowed today’s players to lose their edge and many don ‘t realize the opportunity they have. Those of us who played the game in junior high or high school or college, played because we loved the opportunity of putting on the pads, cracking an opponent in two, and being part of a unit that wins. The Cowboys showed that they can be that type of team under Garrett.
Football is Team Aggression. I think that Jason Garrett said it well at his press conference that, and I paraphrase, “football is an aggressive game and you have to practice aggressively to make sure you are aggressive on Sunday”. Sounds like Jimmy Johnson said that.
That brings me to the final point. Garrett lived and breathed an aggressive tenure where the Cowboys showed up everyday and were seven bad minutes against the Forty Niners from winning four straight Super Bowls. They were the ultimate lunch pail group because they showed up everyday to compete. Garrett knows this because he lived it.
Football is a violent game and it takes focused, violent people to make the climb. Lets hope that Jason Garrett can keep the focus. With some tweaking, the tools are there. Time to be an unashamed fan again. Looking forward to September already.