This is what you get in the middle of the dead season. A player makes a comment that comes out critical of the team, and it ignites a firestorm of commentary. In this case, that player is Jason Hatcher, and the comments were about the Cowboys lack of leadership. While speaking to Deion Sanders on a radio show, Hatcher spilled out these words (paraphrased):
Who are the leaders on the Dallas Cowboys?
"Dude. I gotta be honest with you: That's a good question. That's a good question. I really don't know. It's just another thing we really need ... like the Ravens, we don't have that. We've got the talent. We've got everything we need. I think we get like a Ray Lewis, like, everybody buy into him. When Ray Lewis speaks, everybody listens to him. A guy like that. We really don't got that. I think we definitely need somebody like that."
Do intangibles matter? Would that make a difference?
I think so. ... You've got to have somebody hold you accountable. With a leader like that [Lewis], everybody is accountable and guys aren't doing their own thing. [Lewis] is in there. Everybody's going in one direction. So once you have that, you'll be good. We're still looking for it."
While he was saying it, I don't know if Hatcher realized how his comments would be interpreted and dissected. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but once they're out there, there is no calling them back. In response, the Cowboys-related webishpere exploded in debate. Our own, very excellent FanPoster, ScarletO, penned his own response taking Hatcher to task. Kudos to ScarletO for his fine work, everybody should read it.
I'll be somewhat kinder to Hatcher, not because I don't think what he did was pretty stupid - it was - but because in the end I'm not sure of a couple of things. One, will Hatcher's comments really mean anything down the road? And two, is there any real validity in what he said?
In addressing point one, these things tend to get overblown in the dead season when there isn't any real news. Sure it creates a quick fire, but it tends to die out by the time the real stuff of the 2012 season rolls around. Since Hatcher didn't call out anyone specifically by name, it will probably be long forgotten by the time the draft and the OTA's are happening.
It's the second point, about the validity of the comments, that's the real debate to me. And when I say the validity of the comments, I don't mean the question of there being any real leaders on the Cowboys. I'm sure there are, and they may be as good as Ray Lewis at it, or not, I really don't know. I think it's hard for any of us to know without being in the locker room, on the field, or interacting with the team on a regular basis. But that's not really the issue to me. The real issue is, how much does that matter? I tend to believe in talent, coaching, scheme, execution and that kind of stuff as more the key to winning.
Take the New York Giants. The Super Bowl winning New York Giants. Today, it would be easy for the people who follow that team closely to say, this guy or that guy was a real leader and they helped us win the Super Bowl. Okay, but just imagine if Tony Romo had connected on that pass to Miles Austin in that first Giants game. Imagine Austin caught it and scored like he probably would have happened 99 out of 100 times in that exact same scenario. The Cowboys in all likelihood would have knocked the Giants out of the playoffs. No Super Bowl, no "leaders" who got them there. No nothing. Yet, the players who are acknowledged as "leaders" post Super Bowl would have been doing the very same thing all season long. Yet their efforts might go unnoticed because the Giants would have been just another also-ran.
This is my point, one or two plays in a game, or over a season, can determine success, and there's nothing a leader can really do about it. For instance, Ray Lewis, our poster child for leaders according to Hatcher, couldn't stop the Patriots cornerback from knocking the ball out of the hands of the Ravens receiver on the almost-touchdown that would have sent them to the Super Bowl. He couldn't stop Billy Cundiff from shanking his game-tying kick. Sure, the Ravens enjoyed good success on the season, better than the Cowboys for sure, but still, it's execution on the field, not words on the sidelines, that makes winners.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there isn't room for leaders, and that they can't contribute to success. Michael Irvin in his day was a tireless driver of his teammates. There is definitely value there. I just tend to think these things get over-rated in terms of success. I don't think leadership is the problem for the Cowboys. A terrible secondary, an inconsistent offensive line, some questionable game-time decisions by a new head coach were more likely the cause for the Cowboys failure.
I'm all for leadership, but let's not forget what really wins in the NFL. So by these standards, I tend to think Hatcher's comments are, in the words of The Bard...much ado about nothing.