A lot has been made about the supposed lack of leadership of the Dallas Cowboys over the last several years. Our QB wears his hat backwards, our best defensive player doesn’t gush five gallons of saliva on his teammates while screaming at them or giving preacher-like speeches, so therefore we don’t have any leaders. Let's see if this is true.
Now if you want to debate that Wade was a poor leader, then we need to find Wade a representative, because it sure won’t be me. What I’m talking about is the supposed lack of player leadership.
The truth is that the difference between a team supposedly having great leaders and not having them, more often than not, comes down to national perception. And national perception is based off of whether you are winning or losing.
Take the Giants last year for example, a team that has also been unfairly criticized for lack of leadership when times were bad. The beginning of the year, everyone laughed at Eli for calling himself elite, and then laughed when the media said that he was only able to get a handful of his receivers to practice with him during the lockout. And of course his demeanor has always been constantly criticized.
During the season, when they had great wins like in New England, it was because they had great leadership and heart. When they lost 4 games in a row and were decimated by the Saints, it was because they lacked heart and leadership, needed to fire Tom Coughlin, and had to get it together.
Fast-forward a few months to them winning the Superbowl. Suddenly Eli and Tuck are great leaders and Tom Coughlin’s seat is nice and cool and he is headed to the HoF in many people’s minds.
Then take the Cowboys, who have been called leaderless underachievers for years, except…towards the end of the 2009 season. The Cowboys were in the middle of that December and had just lost to the Giants and Chargers, the leadership and month of December were already being blamed and they were given no shot against the undefeated Saints (except by Cowboys fans). Then something the “experts” didn’t see coming happened. The Cowboys won that game and ended the Saints 13-0 run.
“Experts” couldn’t believe that it was anything other than a sudden epiphany in team leadership, and by the time the Cowboys had won against the Eagles in the playoffs, Romo and Wade had the “Monkey” off of their backs and the Cowboys had turned the corner. Then the abomination that was 2010 happened and it was time to ask where the Cowboys player leadership was again. And that question is still being asked.
What was the difference between the two teams? Well, many plays over the course of a season or seasons, but as far as last year, there is probably one play that stands out in most minds. If Miles and Romo are able to hook up on that 3rd down pass, Dallas wins the division, the Giants are bashed for another late season collapse, and suddenly the Cowboys have the leaders to guide them into the playoffs.
Perhaps the light that Miles lost the ball in was actually the leadership radiating from the Giants’ sideline, and in that case leadership did control the outcome. But in reality, the Cowboys just missed an opportunity by inches, in a game of inches. It was just one of those plays that happens to every team. But that play decided which team had leadership, and which lacked it. Of course, the Giants’ finishing the comeback and then their Superbowl run also helped the perception that they have great leaders, but the point is that they would not have had that chance if not for a play that had nothing to do with leadership. Really, regardless of the outcome, both teams have leaders.
You might say, “Well Scrim, we ain’t been winning lately, so what makes you think our leadership is any better than the media thinks?” Even if none of you actually asked that question, I’m glad that I pretended you did, so that I can answer it!
Back to 2009, our defensive star and gladiator, DeMarcus Ware, injured his neck and had to be carted off of the field. Imagine the fear someone must feel, even if only for a few minutes, to not know if they will be able to walk, or even move most of their body ever again. I don’t care how tough you are, that would be terrifying. And then to have the amazing relief of finding out that you will be alright, but with it also having to decide if you can take the risk of not being so lucky next time. What would you do? Well, if you’re most people, you move on to something new. If you have lots of money, you take the money in the bank, call it a good career and go live in the Bahamas. But if you’re DeMarcus Ware, you show up the very next week to put it all on the line again for your teammates.
Drew Brees admitted that the Saints did not even game plan for Ware, because no one with a neck injury would be able, or have the courage, to return to the field only a week after such an injury, right?
Knowing that his team needed him with the season in the balance, Ware would not be denied the opportunity to help lift them over the seemingly superior opponent. And not only did he play, but he played heroically and was key to the Cowboys’ victory with 2 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, including the game-winning strip sack of Drew Brees with 6 seconds remaining.
In 2010 we saw the kind of guts that our quarterback has in him. Driving to extend the lead against the Giants, he threw a pass to Miles just before getting drilled into the turf by Michael Boley, breaking his collar bone. The trainers came to his aid and to ask him what he was feeling. The only thing Tony was concerned with was if they completed the pass for the 1st down. Then later on, despite intense pain, he had to be held on the sidelines by medical trainers as he tried to re-enter the game to save his team as the game was slipping away.
Then last year we all saw as he led a courageous comeback victory against a ferocious Niners’ defense that had already broken his ribs and punctured his lung earlier in the game. As soon as Tony saw Kitna struggling, he told our 2010 hero to take a seat, because he was going to lead his team to a win in the game even if it killed him. And win they did, and he played most of the season with those injuries, while getting sacked a career high 36 times. Imagine the pain of 200-300+ pound men hitting you as hard as they can. Now imagine that multiplied by whatever pain you imagine broken ribs to feel like. Ouch. Good lord that must hurt.
How could anyone see these guys go through these things for the good of their teammates, and not want to run through a wall for them? I wanted to run out on the field to fight with these guys, and I absolutely would die from the shockwave caused by nearby NFL players hitting eachother at full force. When someone is willing to bleed for you like that, how can you have anything but respect for them?
Now of course the media types are trying to act like Witten playing with a lacerated spleen is some sign of improved team leadership. Anyone who knows Witten as well as they know Nuclear Physics knows that it was no surprise to see Witten fight his way onto that field. We saw him almost Hulk Smash the medical trainers in 2010 when they held him out with a concussion, and long before that we saw him run 30 yards without a helmet against the Eagles defense. We’ve always known the heart that our Senator possesses.
We’ve also seen Sean Lee negate surgery on his injured wrist so that he could be there for his brothers. We’ve heard how Ratliff played much of a season with both elbows badly injured. Last year we saw Jenkins fight through injuries like a warrior in just about every single game. And many other examples.
And those are just some of the stories of our guys overcoming injuries and adversity. We’ve also seen pro-bowlers like Ware and Ratliff spend time teaching pass rush techniques to UDFA’s in camp that they know have a slim chance of even making the team. We’ve seen Romo teach his backup receiver’s their routes in the middle of games. We’ve seen how incredibly pumped Dez gets after he or one of his teammates makes a big play. We’ve had warriors like Marc Colombo, who gave everything he could until his body just couldn’t keep up with his heart anymore.
How about the effort that our UDFA Quarterback and now starting WR put in day after day over the years to go from players that no one wanted, to a top tier Quarterback and very good WR when healthy. The 7th round nose tackle that has abused opposing centers and guards for years and always brings a real sense of toughness and attitude to the defensive line.
Now, we might not have always had the rah-rah, get loud type of leaders on this team. Maybe they don’t scream at their teammates in front of the cameras. But there are other types of leadership. There is the lead by example leadership, that I know for a fact our team has had plenty of over the years. There is the behind closed doors leadership, where you give your teammates constructive criticism in an environment and a way that doesn’t demean them.
Then there is another type of leadership. I think we have all met at least one person in our lives that has “It”. You can’t explain why, and maybe don’t even know why yourself, but something about the person just makes you willing to follow them through anything. They can ask something of you and you are excited about the opportunity to prove yourself to them. Not because you think you will be rewarded, but just because you want to succeed for them. The kind of person that you know will go above and beyond to sacrifice for their friends, teammates and family and will not throw anyone under the bus to cover for their own mistakes. I believe guys like Romo and Ware have that “It”. I guess I can’t prove it, I just feel it when I hear them talk and watch what they go through for their team. And I’m not just saying that as a fan, there have been plenty of good Cowboys players over my time that I didn’t feel that from. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s what I believe. And either way, I know for certain that I have seen plenty of players on this team display strong leadership over the years, and that is not just my belief, it is the truth.
Why do I write this post now? Because whenever the Cowboys win their next Superbowl, or at least when they next have playoff success, the media and many misinformed fans will point to some new-found player leadership as the key. And I want them to know that long before the playoff success and Lombardi trophy returned to Dallas, we true Cowboys fans knew the bravery and leadership that has existed on this team for a long time.