Each year, prior to the start of the season, I write a post about the central figure in the Cowboys’ Season. It’s not always the player or coach who I believe will have the biggest impact on the team’s fortunes during the season. It’s not always the most notable figure or the one with the most PR. It’s generally about the person, group or thing that I would look to, once the NFL season is over, to help me characterize the year in a more comprehensive and Zen-like manner. Just to put it in the proper context, one day, when I tell my grandkids the story of 2010 for my beloved Cowboys, who or what will the story revolve around?
In 2007, I suggested the year would revolve around Tony Romo. I believed that the emergence of a successor to Troy Aikman would be more important to the team than anything else on the “radar” screen in terms of the team’s development and hopes for a successful season (and long-term future). True to form, Romo had a prolific season and despite the bitter end against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants in the playoffs, Romo had taken a major step forward and made fans (some like Montecito Tex may still not be there) believe he could be the franchise QB this team had been sorely lacking for so long. It really was The Season of Romo.
In 2008, in an almost prescient moment, I suggested it was the Season of Wade. I felt strongly that an inflection point for this team had been reached and that the primary question was whether or not Wade Phillips had a strong enough hold on his team’s volatile personalities (T.O., Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, etc.) to extract the kind of season the team was capable of given the record number of pro bowl players from the prior season. Unfortunately, in the end and as we all know too well, those personalities were too much for Wade to overcome and the team’s locker room issues made for better TV than its performance on the field.
In 2009, the team had a new home and a new look, with a much greater regard for team chemistry, and its biggest question mark revolved around the offensive line. One man had the responsibility of rebuilding the line and the team’s confidence in that group. Truly, it was the Season of Hudson Houck. For 17 games, he (and they) did a more-than-respectable job. Unfortunately, injuries and some strange moves (i.e. rushing back Colombo when Doug Free had been playing quite well in his absence) and strange play calling in the playoffs ultimately proved to be Dallas’ undoing in another, ugly, season-ending loss. In retrospect, I could also have called 2009 The Season of Character, since it was Dallas’ unity and commitment to the team goal that propelled it to its first playoff win in over a decade despite some significant adversity. Clearly, it was the team's character that had changed, even if the way their season ended had not.
And so here we are. On the precipice of the 2010 season and I am once again faced with a difficult task. As always, there are a lot of things that it COULD be the Season of;
The O-line? Is there any unit on this team with more hanging over its head than this one? The meltdown in Minnesota, the jettisoning of longtime stalwart Flozell Adams, the injury concerns and the fact that this group, aside from Doug Free, is all on the wrong side of 30. You could make an argument that, in Dallas anyway, every year is the year of the O-line until they get it fixed, right? But I couldn’t bring myself to call this their year simply because I think they are going to be okay. Somehow, some way, they are going to get the job done (if you ask me how, I may not be able to answer). They’re younger and more athletic at LT and older and more brittle everywhere else. They won’t dominate, but they won’t play like scrubs either. Assuming I am not way off base, they’re not the story of 2010.
The Safeties? It looks like the better teams in this league tend to get elite-level performances from their safeties on their way to deep playoff runs toward the bling. Dallas has had a tough time getting that kind of play in the deep half from its safeties for quite a while now. Personally, I miss Brock Marion. Did you EVER see him get beaten deep? Sigh…Starters Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh (injury notwithstanding) are not considered future HOF’ers by any stretch of the imagination and the pundits continue to point their fingers at this group when asked about the Cowboys’ weaknesses. At the same time, I think Ball (or Mike Hamlin, who’s a personal fave of mine) and Sensei will be more of a product of the front 7’s play than anything else. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, NO safety can cover an NFL skill player for 5 seconds, all things being equal. Our guys won’t make anyone forget Waters and Harris, but they can get it done, especially if Spencer can continue to develop and provide a bookend rusher for Ware. So, it’s a no-go to the ‘Year of the Safety’.
The RB’s? It’s clear to me that our QB has heeded my words about protecting the football since last year’s first game against the Giants. My continued “wax on, wax off” cajoling of him has finally paid dividends and Romo is more a known quantity (assuming he gets time to throw) than in the past. But can he become elite without a complementary running game that forces teams to respect it? Clearly, Dallas has not been able to put pressure on opposing defenses without throwing the football. The Cowboys’ absence of a ground game that can take over any given contest could be written off as more a result of poor play up front on the line than the backs themselves, but nonetheless, it’s been a while since Dallas forced opposing defensive coordinators to respect the run above all else. Also, since we’re calling balls and strikes here, doesn’t Felix Jones have a lot to prove this year given what we’ve seen from Chris Johnson and Reshard Mendenhall? Of the three backs, right now, he looks to be the one that should have gone 3rd in that group. Still, Dallas (and Felix) could run the ball more effectively this season than last and it wouldn’t tell the tale. Not this year.
I thought of other options too; Romo, Spencer, Buehler, Free, Redball and even the trainers/team doctors (think about it…injuries man…injuries!) but none fit the bill.
As I said, this season, because of some events surrounding it, is markedly different than any other year. But why? We know the Super Bowl is being played in our big, bold, beautiful new house. The team’s locker room leadership and emotional makeup has been largely remade since that 2007 season that brought all of the fireworks, the #1 playoff seeding and all the hullaballoo that surrounded it. The team has a lot of talent on its roster and many of the impact Free Agents and draft picks are the ones the team made since Bill Parcells left town. The locker room chemistry has more marquee value than possibly ever before. The coaching staff (with the OC having more seniority than the HC/DC…yes, it still makes me snarky, okay?!?) is the one the front office has hitched its wagon to. But what is it about 2010 that is so unique?
I kept asking myself the same question; why is THIS season is so different than any other. I realized it may be less tangible than I was comfortable with. So then I asked myself what FEELS so different about 2010? And then the emotions came rushing in. For the first time ever, I felt like the Cowboys’ on-field performance might be the “co-star” instead of the true leading man in this season’s documentary when they finally see fit to make it.
Our owner, regardless of how his team fares, gets to host the Super Bowl.
Our NFL man is a key cog, if not THE key cog in the CBA negotiations.
Our GM has risked it all on a questionable O-line and the league’s best cast of skill players.
Our marketing genius engineered a “multi-state” training camp with more fanfare than the Detroit Lions’ entire season could ever muster up.
Our billionaire is going to make a mint this year regardless of anything that happens to our owner, NFL man, GM or marketer.
How could I have missed it?
Yes…it suddenly became obvious to me that 2010 could be nothing other than THE SEASON OF JERRY. This is Jerry’s year, more so than in any year prior. HE is not playing second fiddle to some name-brand head coach whose glory years are long gone by. HE hired the coaching staff and made changes at Special Teams and Defensive Coordinator. HE is not playing with Jimmy Johnson’s roster desperately trying to hold on to past glory. HE picked the players HE wanted (Spencer, Felix, Jenkins, Roy Williams, Dez, etc.) to go into battle with. HE got roster depth in places HE chose. HE cut ties with those bad apples in the locker room. HE made the decision not to buckle to popular opinion and pursue highly touted O-linemen or Safeties, instead drafting and trading for LB’s and WR’s that HE wanted. HE built the palatial home for the continent’s most valuable sports property and to host the grandest of events. HE has already said that if he wins a 4th bling, it’s the only one he would wear in public. HE is the one who has things the way HE wants them to be for the upcoming season and HE is the one who is totally and completely “all in” for 2010.
As a result, it’s time to prepare ourselves for one of two outcomes. If Dallas doesn’t have a good showing this season and falls on its face, Jerry will take the lion’s share of the blame in the press, to a greater degree than in the past, as he won’t have other big personalities (i.e. Tuna) to pin it on. They’ll say he blundered by keeping Wade, or not hiring a DC, or not drafting O-linemen or any of the myriad of other things that might be linked through him to that failure. BUT…if Dallas goes on to win the Super Bowl and bring home the bling, he’ll finally get the monkey off of his back for letting Jimmy Johnson walk away. He’ll be forgiven for Shante Carver and Dwayne Goodrich and Quinthy Carther and…dare I say his name like Lord Voldemort…T.O.! He’ll finally get the credit as a GM and an owner and a football man because, frankly, he’s been ridiculed by the pundits and tons of BTB’ers (yes, me too) for so much for so long. Jerry will be 68 years old when the season starts. One has to wonder how many of these round-up’s he has left, or rather, how many he has with a reasonable chance of coming away with a bling. As 2010 pertains to Jerry Jones, in the words of Michael Jackson (and Kenny Loggins), “This is it!”
My fellow Cowboys fans, welcome to The Season of Jerry.