During training camp in 1992, Jimmy Johnson was asked by a reporter if he would be disappointed if his team went relatively injury-free and missed the playoffs. Jimmy's answer was "It won't happen; we'll be in the playoffs." (video can be found here, at the 1:35 mark). In an era in which the media was a comparatively small-time operation, Johnson's public declaration of confidence still managed to create quite a stir. Unlike his prediction that the Cowboys would win the 1993 NFC Championship Game, this was no Heineken-induced bravado. Jimmy's statement was highly calculated; he recognized that his young team had all it took to capture the big prize, except the unassailable belief that they could. By so unequivocally announcing that the 1992 Cowboys would be a playoff team, Johnson was telling his charges, in no uncertain terms, that he thought them ready for the big show.
Why do I bring up this ancient history, other than the fact that stories of Jimmy's legendary ballsy-ness never get old? Because I was reminded of this moment this week when I read that Jerry Jones gave the Cowboys a pep talk, hoping to boost them out of the 1-4 morass in which they currently find themselves mired.Such a declaration differs from Jerry's usual sunshine pumping. In front of the media, he is notoriously cheery about his team's prospects and the talent he has acquired as its General Manager. Seeing Jerry wax ebullient, I am reminded of a kid on Christmas who can't hold in his excitement about all the new toys Santa has brought--such that he doesn't see that his mom forgot to buy batteries or recall that most of last year's loot was broken by mid-March.
Wednesday's pep talk belongs in a different category: it is intended to give his team a confidence he perceives that it lacks. Jerry's gambit is not an isolated incident; there have been numerous times since the demise of the Johnson regime in which Jones has seized an opportunity to talk up his team in the media. Each time this happens, I can't help wondering whether Jerry thinks it is really that simple-that he can somehow channel Jimmy and, via a public declaration of confidence, stir his team to greater things.
When you hear Johnson's former players talk about him, one of the themes that return again and again is the fact that they believed in him utterly. Over and over, he would tell them something--about preparation, about the upcoming opponent, about that week's gameplan--and it would come true. Such accurate prediction bred belief; belief allowed them to throw themselves with abandon into whatever Jimmy and his staff asked them to do--because they knew it would help them win.
In short, Jimmy's preseason declaration was effective because his talented young team saw him as a kind of football Nostradamus, with the power to divine and accurately foretell the future. This week, the question is: how do the 2010 Cowboys feel about Jerry? Will his talk give them a sense of belief about themselves? Will they blow him off? Do they respect anything about him other than his money?
Only kickoff time will tell...