"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." While the philosophic truth by Santayana holds for the rise and fall of human civilizations, and some dark days in Dallas Cowboys franchise history, a more optimistic paraphrasing could read: Those who remember the past are empowered to repeat it.
At least that is what went through my mind while listening to a recent interview with Dallas Cowboys greats Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith. They were all guests on the most recent Rich Eisen podcast. While few online clips can be found at NFL Network, turns out it's really quick and easy to download the full audio podcast for free.
The 30-minute interview is a rare sit-down with the "Triplets" of the Cowboys Dynasty of the early 90s. Besides the terrific first-hand nostalgia value, it provides a marvelous glimpse into the mind's eye of three NFL greats joining one collapsed dynasty and helping create the cycle anew. Imagine the pressure of renewing the shine of the Cowboys Star while rebuilding the house of Tom Landry under the spankin' new management and coaching of a couple of unstoppable forces. For those that did not have the luck to live it, well, those who dare not remember the past...
Within this fantastic window into the Cowboys franchise history I began to see reflections of the current changes occurring at Valley Ranch. As the discussion progressed, from Irvin being drafted by Landry and seeing the regime change to Jimmy Johnson and the addition of Aikman, to the drafting of Emmitt and then the introduction of Norv Turner, I kept hearing whispers of the past speak of the hopes for the present. While listening to the interview in celebration of the 20th anniversary to the '92 Super Bowl Champions, the first of the Cowboys dynasty, I began imagining the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Champs, with Tony Romo, Miles Austin, and DeMarcus Ware discussing the change to the Jason Garrett regime. And then I wondered about the 20th anniversary, with Sean Lee, Morris Claiborne, and Tyrone Crawford or Matt Johnson talking about when things clicked under the Rob Ryan defense.
Perhaps that is the optimist and story-teller in me getting out of hand, but follow the jump for clips from the interview and my ramblings on how they echo of the 2012 Cowboys.
What really stands out in the interview is how much respect these three players had for their coaches. It's really a testament and insight to the solid bonds required/created by a championship team. As I listened to these Hall of Famers, it was almost remarkable how much of their success they attribute to the efforts of their coaches.
Troy: "Norv, he was the guy that pulled it all together as architect; that made it happen. All three of us at one point or another have said that without Norv Turner none of us would have gone on to do what we did."
You can hear Irvin clear his throat after Troy's statement, perhaps biting back a comment... perhaps swallowing his pride. Both Emmitt and he also praised Norv, who joined the Cowboys as offensive-coordinator in 1991. Remember, Tom Landry left after the 1988 season and 3-13 record. Jimmy took over in '89 and the Cowboys finished 1-15. In 1990, Emmitt joined the team and the first season of the "Triplets" actually ended at 7-9. It wasn't until 1991 and the addition of Norv Turner that Jimmy Johnson's grand project started showing serious results.
Emmitt: Norv got here, and everthing just came together. I mean, he put it together like Legos and he laid it all out.
It was interesting to hear Emmitt's take on his success as a receiver in Norv's system. He spoke of how Norv made it simple. Well, it sounds much simpler than it is...
And he [Norv] would tell me, ‘All you have to remember is check swing.' Check swing. [Aikman Laughs] Check the wheel, check the safety, check the corner, and then swing. That's it. And that's how simple it was for me.
It was also great hearing the Playmaker discuss the difficult days, before all the additions came together and things starting to improve. Irvin had to suffer through three losing seasons before making it to a playoff game.
Irvin: Coming in as a young guy, not fully aware at this level, it's different. [All three laugh] I thought, I'll get there, that I'll fix it, we'll go win some Super Bowls...and I get my head kicked in, every week, we get our heads kicked in. And I was crying, actually really crying. Then the next year we draft Troy, and I was like, oh, ok, now I got somebody, we're good, all I need is just get me the ball, I'll go from there. We were getting our heads kicked in, but the good thing is I saw he was crying too, it bothered him too, so now, now we got something to work with. Emmitt, you know, even that first year with him we were good, I felt we were coming together, but when Jimmy brought in Norv Turner...everything fit our talent best, and we really took off.
There is something to be said about hearing someone with the ego and personality of Irvin be so frank about the losing seasons. You could tell he respected those seasons of fighting to no avail, wearing them like a badge of honor or Purple Heart. It might have been the best thing for a "diva" like him to learn as a rookie and young player. It was also great hearing Troy talk about Irvin's personality and explain why it didn't get in the way.
Aikman had played against Irvin in college and his senior year at UCLA saw Irvin at Cowboys training camp in California.
Aikman: I thought, this guy is the most arrogant SOB there is [All three laugh]. Then I come to the Cowboys, and you realize in a real short period of time, this guy is flamboyant, he's confident, but he's about the team and he's working his tail off. Everybody on our team will tell you the same thing. Michael had the personality and all the things that a lot of current and former players will be criticized for, but he had the work ethic to go along with it and was the hardest working guy. So, I loved him from day one. I knew he wanted to win and he knew I wanted to win, so it was a great relationship.
It's this sense of team first, and working hard for the team not just your own glory, that seems to be the magic ingredient to each of these Cowboys greats. Perhaps having to struggle through some seasons and understand how many pieces are required to achieve Super Bowl success is something that really helped them lead such a close-knit team. I can't help but wonder if the 2012 Cowboys aren't also undergoing this same metamorphosis, one that always begins with the head coach.
Emmitt: Once I got here I saw what Jimmy was trying to do. One thing you have to do when you have a great leader like Jimmy and others out there, you absolutely have to buy into the system. You have to really give up of yourself, and the way you think about certain things and give it a shot.
Troy: [Jimmy Johnson was] Right guy for us at the right time. I always say there's a lot of coaches that go out there not to lose. Jimmy went out there to win and wasn't afraid of the consequences of making a tough call.
Irvin: Jimmy, he's demanding, sets expectations, and he expects you to meet them. Doesn't hope for you to meet them, doesn't wish you to meet them, he expects you to meet them...And really, when you give a bunch of guys, that kind of ‘This is what we're doing' people follow that...Jimmy is about order.
They go on for another 20 minutes, discussing many things and I suggest everyone gives it a listen. But it's statements like these that make me hope for the future of the Cowboys. It seems like this same kind of precision to detail, this order that inspires players and helps them fit together "like Legos" is what Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan are trying to accomplish. I keep seeing signs that remind me of all the pieces of the puzzle that came together to form the Cowboys Dynasty.
Jimmy Johnson was a defensive minded coach and it is often missed how solid the Cowboys defense was during the dynasty. But it wasn't until all the new talent (on offense) was integrated with Jimmy's coaching demands and philosophy, and then Norv's offensive schemes and play-calling that things "really took off." Like Jimmy, Garrett brings a new head coaching philosophy to the Cowboys with a proven offensive track record, and now the team has gotten new talent (on both sides of the ball) and had some more time for new schemes and potential-maximizing approach to defense under Ryan. Jimmy Johnson won his first Super Bowl in his fourth season with the team. It was Norv's second. It seems to me that Jason Garrett in his second season as a full-time head coach and Ryan in his second with the team are providing these same kinds of influences to the current Cowboys and can help things "really take off." I am not implying we will win the Super Bowl in 2012, only that this season should be a big step forward for the Cowboys if the future is to mirror the past.