I was honored to have the opportunity to interview former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jay Novacek on Friday. The longer I hang out here at BTB, the more cool things keep happening.
Novacek is in Dallas for the Allstate Tailgate Tour, and will be at Cowboys Stadium from 4 to 5 pm before the Michigan-Alabama game being held there on Saturday, September 1st. Fans are invited to drop by for a chance to meet him. Then, at halftime, he will be participating in the Allstate 60 Seconds of Mayhem, when a fan from each school competes to win a prize. If you would like to go to the Sugar Bowl (and party in New Orleans) to see how many field goals you can kick, here is a link where you can enter the contest.
Now, if you are a bit too young to remember, Novacek was with the Cowboys from 1990 to 1996. He was an All Pro for five of those years, and helped the team win three Super Bowls. One additional thing that many are not aware of is that while he was a student at the University of Wyoming, he won the WAC Decathalon Championship. As an athlete, you cannot get more serious than that.
Of course, the main thing I wanted to talk about was the Cowboys, both in his day and today's team. I was planning on doing a verbatim transcript of my conversation, but due to technical difficulties (also known as operator error), I only got the second half of the interview recorded. So I will try to recount what we talked about in the first few minutes, and then I will go to some direct quotes. These are transcribed off a recorder, and any errors due to editing or accuracy are on me.
I started out asking him what differences he saw between the nineties dynasty and the Cowboys of today.
Find out what he said about this and other things after the jump.
The offensive line sprang immediately to his mind. He said that it all started there, from Emmitt Smith's running to Troy Aikman's passing. The current team is, as we all know, struggling with injury and getting the starters ready, and he said that is going to be the biggest thing for the Cowboys to deal with.
Novacek's name has been linked with Dez Bryant as a mentor of sorts. I asked him what he has talked to Dez about, and he said he was telling Dez to be in the right place when he runs his routes. It was kind of funny, because his exact words, as I recall, were "be in the right place at the right time . . . (slight pause) . . . when you run your routes." It almost sounded like a little double entendre there, but other than that, he just spoke about the tremendous talent Dez has and what an impact he can make on the game, and indicated he plans to stay in touch.
I asked him about whether he thought the Cowboys appear to be putting more emphasis on the running game. He agreed that DeMarco Murray and the addition of Lawrence Vickers does give them more impact on the ground, and talked about what that does for the team (here is where I got my recorder working).
You just give yourself a better chance to win the game, to keep the defense off guard. They have a great two tight end package - hopefully Jason Witten can recover - and they have a great power I running formation with Vickers there. Then you look at the wideouts with Austin, and Dez, and Cole Beasley, and Ogletree - you look at that and they have so many different weapons, so many different ways to be successful.
I thought the selection of the receivers he listed, and the order, was interesting.
I asked about what offseason moves he particularly liked.
I think everyone liked early, and I did too, what they've done with the secondary . . . If they can get Morris Claiborne in uniform, get him in games and more comfortable . . . just think Ravens, and that's what's exciting this year, that those guys are going to be able to make plays. They're gonna get beat, but they're also gonna come back and make plays. That's what they need. They're going to need to make plays at the right time, too.
Did he see anything they might have missed out on, like taking care of the offensive line?
You know, it's very difficult to say, this year we're going to improve in this aspect, this aspect, and this aspect. You can only do so much because of the salary cap and everything. I think the team thought it had an offensive line that was going to be good and win a lot of games, good enough to go to the Super Bowl. They've been beat up, they haven't had a chance to play together. Things just happened that you can't expect. You get them back healthy and get them playing as a unit, they're going to be good enough.
After laughingly refusing to give a prediction on the season, he did offer this:
A lot of that depends on the other three teams in the East and how they perform and their injuries. I know, back in my days, it seemed like whoever came out of the East without injury was gonna go win the Super Bowl. And it's kinda getting to that same thing that it was back then, those healthy teams are gonna be more successful.
The biggest changes he has seen in the league over the roughly twenty years since he was playing:
I'm not exactly sure. I know the changes that we see is at training camp and you only get to practice once a day, and they can only have so many days of full pads during the whole season. That's a huge change for us, those guys that went through two a days and three a days and full pads, and you had a full game almost every practice. That is what the biggest change is for us. That's something we have to get used to, that we don't go back and say "What are you guys doing? This is camp, you've got to practice hard." Those are the rules, and everyone is abiding by the same rules. That's a huge change for us.
Does he like the rules?
I think they went a little bit too far. You should be able to have two a day practices, have more pads during the season . . . This is why we're here. To play this game. It's a physical game, and you have to get acclimated to the hitting. I never liked it when I was playing, but looking back, it's not whether you liked it or not. Man, it sure helped us out.
Novacek knew Jason Garrett when he was a player, and shared his opinion of the man who is now head coach.
Jason is very good. I think there are two kinds of players, those that it just comes real naturally and easy for them, and there are those players that have to think of ways to improve, think of ways all the time to be a better player just to make the team. And when you have those opportunities to play, you have to capitalize on them, you have an opportunity to play. And when Jason was young, he was always thinking of ways to get better, of ways to improve . . . and when it did come time that he went in a game, we didn't miss a beat. I think those guys make great coaches.
That was all the time we had. I want to say, Jay was a very pleasant man to speak with. I know they stack these interviews up back to back, but he talked to me just like my turn was all he had to do today.
Remember, if you get a chance, you can go out and see Jay at Cowboys Stadium, and visit the 60 Seconds of Mayhem registration page to find out how you can enter to win a trip to the Sugar Bowl and a chance to win some major swag.